BOOKS: by Bill JamesNews Weekly
THE TRIUMPH OF THE AIRHEADS and the Retreat from Commonsense by Shelley Gare
, March 21, 2009
Like, whatever ...THE TRIUMPH OF THE AIRHEADS
and the Retreat from Commonsense
by Shelley Gare
(Sydney: Park Street Press/ Media21)
Paperback: 293 pages
Rec. price: $32.95This is a curate's egg which is not only good, but cheer-provokingly good in parts.
At her best, Gare is a journalistic Annie Oakley, nailing unerringly every target tossed up in front of her.
Down go mindless celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Kate Moss.
Down go useless, obscenely priced consumer accessories, television reality shows and newspaper "lifestyle" supplements, human relations jargon and New Age mumbo-jumbo, misogynistic rap music and political correctness, postmodern claptrap in universities and systemic illiteracy in the school system.
All rollicking good fun as far as it goes, but the book suffers from a lack of rigour and focus.
Too often Gare lapses from sharpshooter to grumpy old woman, blasting away at random with a shotgun.Political predilictions
Airheadedness becomes anything which jars with her political predilections, and anyone within range finishes up with pellets in them.
She has a particular animus against capitalism, and appears unable to grasp that it is free markets, operating in free societies, which make possible critiques like hers of their examples of greed, deceit and stupidity.
In command economies run by authoritarian political regimes, these faults - along with far worse ones, such as abolition of human rights, and mass murder - become entrenched in huge, unresponsive bureaucracies.
Capitalism, like democracy, is not perfect - just the least objectionable system on offer, because it offers the possibility of perpetual scrutiny and reform.
Gare's distaste for Western liberal capitalist democracies is encapsulated in her casual dismissal of the whole leadership of the developed world as airheads.
That's right. Not China's gerontocracy, not North Korea's Kim Jong-il, Burma's vicious little medal-heavy generals, Cuba's Caudillo Castro, Africa's raft of psychopathic kleptocrats such as Robert Mugabe, Venezuela's aspirant president-for-life Chavez, Iran's mad mullah Ahmadinejad or Libya's flaky Gadaffi or the warlords of the Taliban.
No, only George W. Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard, apparently (the book was published in 2006).
In a similar vein, she identifies the West's pre-war Hitler sympathisers (almost every single one of whom subsequently fought loyally against fascism when it came to the crunch) as airheads, conveniently ignoring the infinitely greater numbers of the Western intelligentsia who acted as apologists for Stalin and Mao during the Cold War, most of whom still haven't recanted or apologised.
She doesn't know what she thinks about the Sixties, exposing the radical chic of widespread Western middle-class admiration for murderous criminals such as the Black Panthers (she could have added Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara), but describing the decade as "serious, thoughtful and compassionate".
And today, sophisticated and altruistic Sweden and Switzerland win out hands down over the "suspicious and unkind" England and USA.
That's right, the same Sweden and Switzerland which remained neutral in the wars against Nazism and Stalinism while hundreds of thousands of American and British lives were lost fighting fascist and communist totalitarianism.
Another indication of Gare's respect for history can be found in her reference to the Hebrew slaves building the pyramids, as in The Simpsons
and Cecil B. De Mille's The Ten Commandments
That is not the only laugh in the book.
As the sworn enemy of irrelevance and triviality, she interrupts an account of a Supreme Court Justice heading up a Royal Commission to inform the reader that he is "a keen bush-walker" (a comment reminiscent of the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore revelation that Hitler was "a wonderful little ballroom dancer").
"There's a lot to be said for seriousness," she opines, and displaying a determination not to be amused which Queen Victoria would have envied, proceeds to treat obvious jokes with obtuse solemnity.Not listening
My favourites are the one about the man who said that the Pope was free to bring his wife to a function, and George W. Bush's complaint that those who accused him of not listening to people had forgotten about all his wire-taps!
It is a pity that Gare wrote her book too early to include more recent outbreaks of airheadedness, such as the Bill Henson case.
She would have made mincemeat of that parade of deadly serious social commentators wheeled out to assure us that barely pubescent minors were perfectly capable of deciding for themselves whether they wanted images of their naked bodies displayed in public.
Well, she would have ... wouldn't she?