Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Ian Macfadyen pinpoints the essence of Australian culture"

Ian Macfadyen adroitly pinpoints the precise qualities of Australian culture which I have striven intuitively to identify for years. His brilliant distinction is to parse out the American and English qualities of Australia, then take what is left and discern it's precise nature.

"Australian poets are celebrated because, although they are poets, they also like to share a beer with blokes down the pub; novelists and playwrights make much of the fact that they like to go to the footy and we make tribute to intellectuals, who, although they are historians or philosophers, still have a "larrikin" streak. All this is justified as a sort of red-blooded, Socialist anti-elitism with accompanying homilies that we must remember our roots. The real reason is that deep down these Aussie intellectuals are still small boys frightened of being beaten up in the playground.

"This dominant class of Australians might be called the AWCs, or Affluent Working Class. They have what might be called an unelaborated social and intellectual code. The tenets of the group’s culture forbid its members to adopt a more elaborated approach to life. The AWCs are therefore distinguishable from those who pretend to a more elaborated code who are the ISAs or Intellectually and Socially Ambitious Australians. They are people have aspirations to intellect, art, science, sensitivity, communication or anything else connected with introspection or self expression.

"I reiterate that membership of these classes has nothing to do with income, family background or even intellect but simply to the adoption of a set of attitudes. Hence it is as easy to find a AWC in the boardroom or a film festival as it is to find an ISA in a factory.

"The implications for comedy in such a cultural divide are profound. Since the AWC culture precludes displays of intellect it is very difficult to imagine an Australian program based, as is the American show "Frasier", on the fortunes of a middle aged, divorced psychiatrist. Andrew Denton, while having a loyal following amongst people who might be described as tertiary educated, struggles to attract a more general audience. He is a "smartarse" if ever there was one.

"More importantly, along with the standardization of intellect amongst AWCs, comes a standardization of feelings. It is generally accepted that Australian blokes are not allowed to get emotional about very much except for a few activities specially designated and designed for that purpose i.e. sport. It is regarded as quite unmasculine, in fact downright sissy, for men are get emotional about politics, religion, literature, social welfare, the environment, animals, science or relationships.

"This means that an AWC sitcom character could never give vent to the voluble Jewish angst of a George Costanza or Gerry Seinfeld. He couldn’t express the vulnerability of a Garry Shandling, nor would the rapid-fire wordplay, banter, feint and counter-feint of a relationship such as in "Mad About You" ring true in an AWC relationship. Indeed verbalisation itself is not an allowed AWC characteristic, and so the snappy dialogue of the New York genre of sitcom cannot work here.

"Even if Australians were given to expressing frustration, the problem is that in real life AWCs don’t really have that much to complain about. If frustration is the engine of situation comedy, an AWC sitcom is soon going to run out of fuel. Not only does Australia not have the oppression of a class system, or a rapidly changing society Australians are not particularly prone to envy, or horror at what’s happening around them. In fact AWCs have so little to concern them that people have to invent things for them to feel strongly about, such as football games.

"Now, in reality, many Australians confront daily a great range of problems both material and social however the AWC culture tends to forbids complaining about one’s lot."

This is brilliant and substantial analysis, found here ( )

I will leave you with the wonderful closing words:

"The Australian cultural commandments: thou shalt not whinge, thou shalt not try to be better than others and thou shalt not carry on like an idiot, militate against sitcom as we know it. Australians are therefore happy to watch British and American characters keeping up appearances or talking to their neighbours over the back fence about their parenting problems, but these are things which Australians are not allowed to do. Since sitcom is a comic elaboration of the human condition, sitcoms work best with characters from cultures who can and do elaborate on their circumstances. It becomes extremely difficult to create a sitcom about characters who are not allowed to, or cannot, elaborate on their condition; characters who are verbally, emotionally and intellectually minimalist.

It may be that situation comedies only arise in societies which are in transition or decline. In social terms comedy is both a diagnostic and therapeutic process. Comedians are often the first people to point out the problems, while at the same time helping the audience deal with the implications arising from those problems. Barry Humphries was probably the first person to identify the staggering conformity in suburban decor and lifestyle which, now, for us characterises the Fifties and Sixties; that astounding sameness in furnishings, clothes and attitudes of which we were only dimly aware before Edna Everage made it all public.


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