A friend of mine argues that the reason old white guys are so anxious about the Fall of Western Civilisation is that there’s no longer much content to it. Whatever culture we had, it has been replaced with the blandest and cheapest form of capitalism. Our education system is about preparing people to exchange their labour for sub-poverty salaries. Our ability to enjoy nature is tempered by our desire to dig up whatever might be profitable underneath. And school children read Harry Potter because they can always watch the movies and buy the merchandise if they struggle with the prose.
So when former Prime Minister Tony Abbott gets up to the podium and praises Western Values, we know — even without hearing the speech — that there is something not serious about his claims. Back in May, Abbott’s account of Western Values somehow necessitated the amendment of s 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Apparently, creating a safe haven for people to say the ‘N-word’ is an essential part of our cultural heritage. More recently, he claimed that Indigenous Australia prior to colonisation by the Bristish was ‘prehistory‘.
‘Western Values’ should not be a cloak for racism. One of my concerns, as a conservative, is what conservatism looks like in a multicultural society following the colonial period. How do you reconcile an Anglo-Australian with their cultural heritage when their prosperity depends upon extremely recent atrocities against Indigenous populations? How do you encourage everybody (regardless of cultural background) to connect with the best and most inspirational of their cultural heritage to shape their ongoing identity and contribute to the ongoing development of contemporary multicultural society?
Worse, ‘Western Values’ should not be treated like a monolith of pap liberalism. The same enterprising spirit of individual values was the same motivating force behind the global slave trade. John Locke wrote the Californian Constitution which defended the rights of slave owners against interference from the legislators. It’s the dynamic energy of Western Values — the constant synthesis of theses and antitheses — that makes it a fertile place for innovation and expansion. Sure, our conception of the individual was an interesting creation of Western culture, but our concept of the community is even more interesting. It is the tension and how we — through historical accident — conceptualised them and reconciled them that created our present condition. That’s the bit that’s worth both celebration and critique.
Here are five policies that Abbott would back if he were serious about promoting Western Values.
Having just finished the new season of Twin Peaks, I was caught again in a classic question about cinema: what is it about? Being a narrative dork, my instinctive answer is that cinema is about storytelling. Where once we sat around fires and sang each other heroic epics, or passed on ghost stories at the dinner table, now we watch movies or television.
I freely admit that I privilege narrative over other purposes of cinema, but the risk is that I miss other functions of cinema, like the artistry of composition. Perhaps again revealing my biases and predilections, I am quite fine for a short film or digital media piece to contain absolutely no narrative, but just be beautiful, but that’s because short films and digital media isn’t real cinema. Narrative is king.
Twin Peaks invites a challenge to that view. The narrative takes a back seat to the aesthetic and ideas, challenging the audience to overcome its perceived need for closure, coherence, and completeness. But, again, we are in the area of television (or, perhaps, episodic cinema). Is the fascination with Twin Peaks more that it’s quirky in contrast with ‘real’ cinema/television? It’s nice for a treat, but we really want the substantive stuff?
I tried to test this out by looking at two mainstream movies that prioritised aesthetic over substance… but I suspect I chose poorly. What follows, gentle reader, is a blog post that wasn’t what I intended to write when I watched these two films. What follows is the ravings of a man driven half insane by visions that no mortal man should ever see, visions strange and unnatural, visions of demons that haunt the minds of others deep in the void that exists behind their eyes whose incessant chants call to the Old Gods who, not dead, are long in sleep and whom we dare not wake lest they return to the world of men.
I watched The Neon Demon and Jem & the Holograms and I regret it so much.
Comparatively few people in Australia will ever walk into a museum or art gallery. This is the cornerstone to the argument that taxpayers should not be forced to subsidise what is, essentially, an elite activity. And going to see the Hokusai and Dior exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria somewhat reinforces that view that our cultural industries are servicing a very privileged sector of the community.
On this point, I don’t just mean an observation on the sort of people who were attending the exhibition (although it’s true both exhibitions were crowded predominately with Baby Boomers), but also an observation on the way that information is presented to the audience. The exhibitions perform back to the audience a statement about themselves.
It’s scary to be conservative during the marriage debate in Australia, Internet. At any time, without warning, somebody could jump out of the bushes and cover us with glitter. It’s a horrifying thought and I live in constant fear.
And the ridicule! I dare not express any opinion that contradicts the completely unreasonable belief that people ought not to be subject to discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. If a doctor expresses the belief that gay patients should be subject to conversion therapy, who knows what the Left might do? Perhaps they might report this act to the authorities for being a breach of professional standards? Who can know?
Clearly, every conservative now lives in fear of ridicule and humiliation. It’s completely unfair. It’s completely unbalanced. Sure, the Left lives in fear that we will literally kill them — either by running them down with cars or by stripping them of healthcare and food — but there can be no justification for political discrimination.
The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, commented this week that refugee lawyers are ‘unAustralian’. Of course, as night follows day, there was the expected backlash. How dare the Minister make these comments? Rule of Law! There’s nothing more Australian than being a lawyer! Laws are Australian.
For me, the surprise was how tone-deaf the response to the Minister has been. Lawyers and legal groups have all tut-tutted with censorious rhetoric without understanding the enormity of the puzzle behind Dutton’s comments: society does not trust lawyers.
There is no way to adequately capture the joy of watching War of the Planet of the Apes. It is a film which plays expertly with the audience’s expectations, deftly swapping between genre of film without ever breaking faith with the viewer. It tackles complex themes competently, and brings enough comedic relief to prevent the film from becoming overwhelmingly bleak.
More importantly, it is a brave film. In an age where we are struggling with our narratives about war and conflict, War of the Planet of the Apes shows how cinema can contribute meaningfully to our public debates.
One of the most difficult things I had to learn was the concept of ‘piping’. My stories are frequently boring; long, meandering anecdotes which demanded a lot of investment on behalf of the audience for very, very little payoff. Piping is the material you have to cover before you get to the meat of the story and my stories had way too much of it.
Valerian has a lot of piping. Long, tedious explanations couched in clunky, awkward exposition. At one point, one of the characters openly asks Siri for random facts about her home city. ‘What is the population?’ she asks. Obviously, she’s going to a trivia night and she’s brushing up on her factoids.
There are lengthy explanations of particular mechanics of the world, only for those mechanics to be used for five minutes and then never mentioned again. Some characters have Tolkienesque introductions, only to deliver thirty seconds of plot before vanishing into the void. And there’s a 30 minute brothel scene.
There are worse James Bond movies. Much worse. But does that mean that Atomic Blonde was good?
Because a bunch of politicians can’t fill out their paperwork correctly, people are calling for a referendum. Some (journalists) are even saying we need to scrap the Constitution and start again.
First up, it is utterly, utterly horrendous that we are even contemplating this discussion when we have real work before us: to enshrine Indigenous Australia in the Constitution. I find it nothing short of offensive that actual problems with the Constitution have been eclipsed by the needs of our political class.
Worse, the debate about the Constitution has been dominated by people who don’t understand what they’re talking about (journalists again). There appears to be an unspoken assumption that the Constitution is supposed to be convenient to them and their needs. My concern is that the broader community depends on these journalists to give them the information they need to participate in debates about the Constitution and whether it continues to suit our needs.