CULTURE: by Symeon J. ThompsonNews Weekly
I tell you naught for your comfort
, November 9, 2013
News just in:
Missing; presumed lost:
One gentleman-adventurer noted for engagement in the culture wars. Last seen wearing a three-piece suit and fedora with an orchid in his buttonhole, heading towards unknown lands where the maps say “Here be monsters”, grinning madly.
Last traces included the footprints of some large canine.
Please call 1800-Help-Poets! If you have any information….
Crackle. Buzz. Incoming transmission.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m off the map and desperately seeking some scrap of civilisation worth reporting on at length. My only companion left — a great black dog with coal-red eyes. He can talk. He tells me he often walks with those seeking the light.
I’m so far gone because I went seeking the Holy Grail of the culture wars — a way to engage in them that might last. I’m seeking the secret of a sustainable economics of creativity that’s genuinely humane. It’s a costly business, fighting any war; but if we don’t find a way, then we risk losing the whole thing — or at least it seems that way.
The decline is inevitable — or at least this is the fear. And as I’ve trudged these lonely roads, those I’ve met have not filled me with cheer. This piece has been very difficult to write.
Les Murray once told me that he thought Australian art was doomed because Australian identity had fragmented so much that authenticity was gone. Great Art might still be made, but its Australian-ness was questionable.
G.K. Chesterton’s last recordings were full of horror about what was to come, and what came was World War II and its aftermath.
Chesterton got his start by getting stable work as a publisher’s assistant and columnist. This allowed him to hone his craft while earning a living from it, thus he became a master at writing for a paying audience and was able to use his money to support as many causes as he could while creating the likes of Lepanto and Father Brown.
Publishing’s different now. Consolidation, globalisation and monopolies have led to the rise of national and international newspapers that live off their advertisers. When they had advertisers, things were great. The advertisers are disappearing and, with them, the profits needed to run the organisation.
A friend of mine ended up running the New York desk of The Australian in the 1970s. He’s one of many who held positions of respect who now find it difficult to earn a living in the profession to which they once gave their lives. He was one of the many writers who recommended I find anything else to do with my life but writing.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently praised Quadrant, founded by B.A. Santamaria’s friend, the poet James McAuley, as a beacon of light in the sludge that is most Australian journal publishing (excepting such publications as News Weekly and few others); but, as any reader of Quadrant knows, it’s in serious trouble. Its grant from the Arts Council has been massively slashed, despite publishing more original Australian work than any other journal; and so far its appeals for private benefactors haven’t worked.
The National Institute for the Dramatic Arts (NIDA), one of the most recognised and respected training grounds for performers in the world, is reported as putting paying businessmen before its own students in the use of rehearsal rooms. You read that correctly! Businessmen learning presentation take precedence over acting students rehearsing plays at their own theatre school.
The Australian Film Television and Radio School, one of the top 25 film schools in the world, rightly boasts of the high employment rates for its graduates. But I remember that the main job advertised for directing graduates from my year was for a reality TV show.
One glimmer I’ve come across was something called RAW: Natural-Born Artists: Translations, which seeks to help emerging creatives by showcasing their work. I wandered around the Roxy Hotel in Parramatta, recalling that the last time I’d been there was for ghost-hunting. This time I was looking for a different ghost — the ghost of human creativity.
There were some beautiful paintings and craftworks, and the fashion parade at the end of the night showcased clothes that were actually interesting. The vibe was young and enthusiastic and genuine. They’ve got the right idea, and it’s a great start; but a single event does not resuscitate a culture — and I should point out that it’s not designed for adults, even if there were some families wandering about.
My recent paper at the annual Chesterton Society conference was more of a lament. My head was spinning at life’s complexities and I’m becoming jaded by our contemporary culture’s banality and immorality.
But I haven’t given up. The world is no less beautiful. The truth is no less true. Hardship inspires — what’s that, there?
Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).