Flat White

Australia’s problematic arts culture

14 July 2020

7:12 PM

14 July 2020

7:12 PM

The ideological closed shop that is Australia’s creative classes isn’t really a secret even if the artists themselves insist on how open-minded they are. 

It was on display yet again recently when Scott Morrison announced a $250 million arts funding package. 

For many arts commentators and creators the great crime of this announcement wasn’t whether it was financially ‘enough’ – and nothing a Liberal government could ever offer the Yartz could ever be enough — but rather that Australian pop star Guy Sebastian was in attendance at the event. 

Best known for winning Australian Idol, inoffensive FM-radio friendly hits and currently as a judge on The Voice, Sebastian’s great crime wasn’t the artistic original sin of being successful but rather the heresy of appearing alongside ScoMo and violating the arts community cultural groupthink. To paraphrase Orwell’s Animal Farm: Labor politician good, Liberal politician, bad.  

The Australian Arts community sycophancy for the Left and the fact that you should never engage with the other side is hardly new.  

In 2005, it took the form of playwright Hannie Rayson writing the play Two Brothers – a scathing attack on conservative politics — before proudly conceding she didn’t actually associate with any political conservatives herself. No research or insight required. 

In 1975, it was mocked in David Williamson play Don’s Party where a group of the cultural elite having a 1968 election night party in anticipation of their hero Gough Whitlam winning power, watch him lose narrowly instead. The party then degenerates into drunken self-loathing and fighting at this unacceptable result.  

These days though the angry throwing around of retro-70s furniture and cans of Foster’s has been replaced by a baying-anti-intellectual mob on Twitter.  

Being an iconic figure of the cultural left himself Williamson clearly knew what he was talking about. Williamson should beware though – his play with its sexism, comic treatment of male violence and womanising must be on someone’s list, somewhere for cancelling. 

Sebastian wasn’t the only cultural construct keeping Australia’s cultural gatekeepers awake at night recently. The short film Mukbang has just won a Sydney Film Festival prize with its depiction of an Australian school girl’s obsession with Korean online binge eating culture which some local writers described as ‘profoundly problematic’ given — to them — it represents a white girl appropriating another culture to find herself. 

That this is problematic, is problematic – and ironic – given this year’s Academy Award Best Film winner was South Korean’s Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite which satirizes American cultural tropes such as consumerism, class conflict and capitalism with a horror-movie slasher ending that itself appropriates and parodies the American genre. 

Rather than recognize the creative insights this melding of culture brings (these days a quaint notion that ironically used to inform Australia’s multiculturalism), these critics are more fixated on finding offence, which may explain why the Australian film industry has never produced a decent satire like Parasite. 

Mukbang was made by Aussie actress Eliza Scanlen currently making her name in Hollywood. Having been described by the judges as a ‘director with a fresh voice’ she then had the public humiliation of apologizing for her ‘problematic’ movie. A kind of celluloid taking a knee. 

Meanwhile in an ironic twist that seems way too clever for today’s baying mob, one of the Mukbang critics writer Michelle Law has cancelled herself as it has now surfaced a short film she made in 2014 includes some cultural appropriation of its own with a young girl discovering her womanhood via ancient Mayan rituals. 

One hundred mea culpas and some self-flagellation followed by reassurances from the fan base about her bravery later, Law has taken herself offline for a week. Brave indeed. 

Of course, Law has nothing to apologize for and for that matter, nothing to accuse Scanlen of. Cultural appropriation in this context is really just a self-indulgent cultural Seinfeld – a debate about nothing. 

All this is very funny and should be laughed at, often, at every opportunity. There must be a book in this somewhere, or maybe a film that could be the next Parasite rather than the next Muriel’s Wedding.  

Maybe Michelle Law could write it. With a soundtrack by Guy Sebastian. 

Michael Scammell is a freelance writer. He culturally appropriates at https://mdswords.wordpress.com. 

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