Monday, October 10, 2005

The thin veneer of culture?

This year's Andrew Olle Media Lecture (broadcast last night on ABC TV; MP3 and sometimes-shonky transcript available) was delivered by John Doyle, aka "Rampaging" Roy Slaven of Roy & HG, one of the stars of Australia's 2000 Olympic Games gift to the world, The Dream.

He's an experienced writer, and it's a strange speech. It jumps from topic to topic like someone randomly changing television channels, or (my other theory) like a boxer dancing around the ring, trying to land a few killer punches.

A punch like this, for example:

[The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), a national non-commercial broadcaster] still strives to put forward an alternative view. So that when the commercial media is dictated to by myopic intrusive ownership and ill-informed populism, is forced through thoughtless need to make irresponsible programs that lack both style and substance, caresses inflammatory and cheap nasty demagoguery that seeks to marginalize the already marginalized, that seeks to describe the world in simple terms, provide simple solutions to complex problems and is purely a servant to fiscal outcomes, then the ABC will always seem to aggravate, annoy and frustrate, and it's precisely when the ABC is doing this that it is serving its charter.

Or this:

Suddenly the world is awash with opinion. [...] Any half-baked dickhead who can string a few sentences together is given a go, particularly if the opinion is inflammatory or somehow ratchets up the climate of fear or loathing – simply and obviously because it sells more newspapers. [...] The Internet allows anyone anywhere to access information that might be true, might be false, but you can find whatever information you need to prosecute any argument you want. [...] In the past, information bound culture. There was a shared sense of a gradually expanding library of sensible and responsible scholarship, whereas now information is serving more to fracture culture. [...] Battles won in the past are having to be won again. And as long as elite opinion is reviled, untested populist positions will prevail.

And I think this might be the theme tune:

... the Big Bang was caused by a collision of two other universes in a cataclysmic event. [...] I remember reading some years ago about the series Dallas being beamed in to the New Guinea highlands. It was being viewed by mountain tribal people who were just a generation removed from first contact, people who'd had little or no connection with European society at all apart from the odd Christian missionary. [...] They saw a lifestyle that was heaven on earth. Irresistible. Vast houses, huge cars, heated pools, money, booze, guns and loose women. And no morality to speak of. Ancient and modern cultural universes brushing against each other. Again a cataclysmic event.
The truth is that in the belly of any society there’s a violent brutal core that exposes itself when the thin veneer of culture is stripped away. The marauding Rascols blowing into Port Moresby from the New Guinea highlands are no different to the clans of Mogadishu; and those filmed roaming the streets of New Orleans armed to the teeth, all with hunger and many with hatred in the belly are similarly the result of neglect and cynical indifference by politicians and media alike. [...]

Andrew [Olle] missed out on seeing the events of September 11, a blunt cleaver that questioned Western certainty. One of the pilots of the first American Airlines plane to smash into the World Trade Centre was Mohammed Atta. He spent his last hours on this earth in Las Vegas roaming amongst the gambling dens and strip clubs theoretically to further steel his resolve, such was his loathing of the excesses of the West. The quest for our media is to ask why it happened and to understand the motivations of those who are willing to end their lives at a young age on the altar of sectarian anger; to join the dots between that state of mind and the mindset of those in the New Guinea highlands cutting down their pristine forests to feed the generators that provide the power for the television to screen Buffy, or The OC or Backdoor Bonanza 3, or, if they’re online, to power the modem to any cyber freakshow the mouse takes them. If the examination isn't exacting or truthful and without fear or favour, then this universe's accidental experiment with self-awareness and consciousness may well have been a total waste of time.

Trying to join the dots here, if the media are part of the problem, are we going to have to think for ourselves??