Monday, 20 August 2007

Living on a Prayer

Opposition leader Kevin Rudd spent a drunken night in a strip club four years ago. Who cares? Well apparently everyone does. This story made in onto television and newspaper headlines for a fourth day in a row today. I found this suprising, coming as I do from a country where the "private life is private" doctrine has been firmly entrenched. Modern Britain is a place where accusations of cocaine abuse (still undenied) can't stop David Cameron becoming Tory Party leader, and where repeated infidelity has done nothing to hamper Boris Johnson's mayoral ambitions. The Brits, the conservative old prudes are now extremely liberal and forgiving. Easy going, larrikin Australia, by contrast is twitching its sour-faced puritan nose up in disgust at a minor indescretion.

But t'was not always so. Twenty years ago the mysterious loss of former-Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's trousers (apparently after being drugged by a prostitute) was met with light amusement rather than disgust, and around the same time Prime Minister Bob Hawke admitted that his legendary beer intake probably did more for his popularity than any policy. The transformation between then and now is bizzare, and just goes to show how succesful John Howard's terminally reactionary agenda has been. This once amusing and wayward nation is now a hundred times more serious and conservative than Mother England. Yet the oddest thing is that this is not how Australia perceives itself. I'll never forget the drunken Aussie backpacker who, telling me about my own country, declared "the British are very conservative people". Presumably he also thought that the Australians were not very conservative, but it was his country which had just re-elected a man whose main leadership goal is to drag the nation back to 1956. And even not the real 1956 (far too many interesting characters and union upstarts there) but the 1956 which exists only in the head of disheveled old scroats like John Howard. It is Australia that hangs the Union Flag over all and sundry (albeit counterpointed with the southern cross) to remind people that this is first and foremost an Anglo-Saxon country, so mind your mouth. It is Australia whose memorial day has mutated from a national day of mourning and remembrance into a jingoistic carnival of nationalism and militarism. ANZAC day now has more in common with the parades at Red Square than the ceremony at Whitehall. The whole idea of Australian identity has become overwhelmingly serious.

John Howard has taken traditional, decent Australian values like mateship and "a fair go" away from their exuberant and genuine origins in the labour movement and reinstated them within a morbid and indulgent fetishisation of Gallipoli and the ANZAC myth. In doing so he has destroyed their real meaning and removed them of any contemporary resonance. Mateship and a fair go ought to, for instance, mean opposing unfair industrial relations but now we are told that it means supporting them, because that's what the ANZACs would've done, kept their heads down and got the job done, not sat around complaining.

The conservative assault on Australian history is positively Stalinesque. The diggers were a bunch of scared young men who died because a foreign king told them to go to war, but now we have superimposed over this images of chisel-jawed Aussie blokes who died for "freedom". Does that include the freedom to turn back immigrants? What ought to be a parable showing the folly of war and slavish, weak governments (the Australian establishment betrayed the diggers at least as much as British generals did) becomes a story glorifying military conquest and nationalism, all whilst comfortably maintaining a foreign monarch as head of state. Self-reflection went out of the windows years back leaving only a blinkered machismo and a faint whiff of cheap sentiment. The coalition would probably put a rose-tint on the flag if suggesting changes to the flag didn't identify one as a communist, immigrant-loving pooftah.

I want to see the old Australia come back, and not the fake, quaint, imagined old Australia but the real old Australia. The Australia that built the modernist buildings that so impressed me on arrival, the Australia on show at the Eureka Stockade rebellion, the Australia of the Whitlam era, driven by hope and self-belief, not by fear and mistrust. It is not too late to turn back the tide of pathetic, arrogant, narcicistic, greedy, xenophobic hatred that has been stoked up for the past years, but it all hinges on the election. A defeat for Howard would be a tiny ray of light. Another victory would be the final nail in the coffin.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Creating The Emperor

My new job is of questionable veridicality. On the one hand it is almost certainly real, but then I float through my days in a technopiate haze and stumble out at the end of the day a little unsure.

On the average day I enter my state of the art workplace through the security system (to keep out undesirables presumably) before whizzing up to the 21st floor and taking my seat in this glacial tower. I then undertake my two jobs, which are;

- Cross referencing people's scanned identity documents with the details on their scanned application forms looking for anomalies and scanning errors.

- Checking other verifiers flagged scanning errors and deciding whether they were right or not (meanwhile someone does the same with mine)

This sort of job is as menial as it sounds and consequently I spend a lot of time gazing out across the city, thinking of ways to improve it, like an admin Le Courbusier. Conversation is kept to a minimum so I often listen to ambient electronica whilst working, adding to the general sense of cyber-unreality.

One of the plus points though is that no-one keeps track of my work rate any longer, and I am free to net surf for quite ridiculous amounts of time (hence the now regular updates here). I seem to have landed a George Costanza role.

Anyhow, during this morning's shift I came up with an idea for a new type of condom called 'The Emperor'.

- It will be manufactured in purple, the colour of the Roman emperors, which will make it a more visually attractive. The company will use the profits of condom sales in the west to finance the distribution of Emperor condoms in Africa along with a sexual education anti-AIDS programme to counter anti-contraception propaganda by Christian groups.

- In the African context the purple will also represent the democratisation of protected sex, since this once most elite of colours will be available to the world's poorest people.

- The packet will have a symbol of Imperial Rome on, the Colosseum or whatever, to represent Rome's pre-catholic past and set the product aside from catholic intervention in Africa on sexual issues.

- Finally, Bono and Bob Geldof will not be allowed to endorse the product.

But to whom does one go with a product like this? And does Bono have your legs broken if you don't polish his halo?

I don't know but I shall try and find out or lose my kneecaps trying!

Monday, 6 August 2007

A Blessing in Disguise

There is a general lament in Britain about the lack of housing affordability, but having now witnessed a country where property is still (just about) affordable to younger people I hope Britain stays as it is. Knowing that you have little hope of being able to buy a house has turned people to regard their youth as a great fin-de-siecle rort of resigned abandonment. There is something of the raw liberation of Wiemar about this decadence before the deluge, albeit on a more innocuous level.

In Australia by contrast, as soon as the teenage years are over the Australian dream of a plot of land enters the brain and as the years pass it grows and grows, rotting away any joie de vivre like a personality cancer. Money and mortgages are all anyone ever thinks about. They claw after more and more cash with a deranged obsession, like grotesque characters from a second rate parody of Thatcherism, forcing themselves to work with the flu and always finding reason to stay back (Australia works more unpaid overtime than anyone else). Of course however much you have there's always someone on more to bitch about, and so every pay rise saps away a little more humanity and replaces it with envy and hatred. Gradually life become measured out entirely in payment installments and how much you are earning, or, more crucially, how much you aren't.

I am not suggesting that money is a bad thing per se, my upbringing was not affluent enough to allow that indulgence, but to place it at the centre of one's whole being is truly sick. If you have money it should be enjoyed frivilously, not fetished. The fixation of some people here could not be any more perverse if they tried to fuck an ATM.

On the plus side I just read a tabloid scare story about house prices going higher than ever, so maybe there is still hope. Throw away your 1950s dreams Australia, the party is just beginning...