Monday, August 03, 2009

Now THAT'S a Knife!: 'Crocodile Dundee', 'Australia' and the Snobbery of the Great Australian Cultural Cringe.


Prompted by my own recent revisit of, inter alia, the stars of the Crocodile Dundee flicks (here is a review definitely worthy of reading!), my wife and I re-watched the two first movies (the third one was a dog, I must admit), and it was fun, despite them being almost a quarter century old. How time flies...

Australia had some of the same kind of 'air' about it, but it was different mainly because CD was Paul Hogan's movie—and Paul Hogan is probably the last and most successful of definitely 'Australian' comedians. The breed has now all but become extinct. There are a lot of funny people around, but you'll find them in the context of such shows as The Chaser's War on Everything—whose last episode was a riot that had me gasping for breath with laughter from beginning to end.

But the times of the Paul Hogans and Garry McDonalds (a.k.a. 'Norman Gunston') is well and truly over. In New Zealand it's pretty much the same. When Billy T. James died, it was a comparable event in the demise of that country's comedy life. The Zeitgeist has kissed these people good-bye, and I think they may never rise again. In fact, I know they won't.

Paul Hogan has also been a major source of what's bee called the Australian Cultural Cringe. Wikipedia sums up this phenomenon by the following:

The idea of cultural cringe [is] the belief that one's own country occupies a "subordinate cultural place on the periphery", and that "intellectual standards are set and innovations occur elsewhere". As a consequence, a person who holds this belief is inclined to devalue their own country's cultural, academic and artistic life, and to venerate the "superior" culture of another country.

That's one way of looking at it, and it's partially true. But it leads to something else: overcompensating snobbery. Predictably, the phenomenon is confined to what you might call 'native' Australians—not 'indigenous' but just 'born here'. Immigrants tend not to need this kind of sentiment, because they came here and saw it, by and large anyway, as a better place than whatever decrepit ones they may have left behind.

Part of the Great Australian Cultural Cringe Snobbery is actually actively directed against what you might call 'working class people', who are, by and large, considered to be of inferior intellect, when compared to those who elevate themselves to any kind of intellectualism. Of course, that's pretty much a world-wide phenomenon, but in a country like Australia, where manual labor more often than not gets paid better than blue collar stuff, the implicit derogation of those who do said manual labor is just a tad off-putting. Country folk cop it hard. Australian urbanites by and large have very little or no respect for those living in 'small town' or 'rural' Australia. That, too, is paralleled, for example, in the US, where you can draw the line between the 'blue' and the 'red' states. The former consider the latter to be hicks with little intellect between the ears.

Admittedly, the intellectual life in the 'countryside' is somewhat...well, it ain't there, really. But in my experience it ain't there in the cities either, and among 'intellectuals' it is so scarce that their self-appellation amounts to a joke—at their own expense, and they'll never know. The truth seems to be that humans by and large simply aren't very smart or thinking much beyond what appears to be needed to be thought about; and even then there's some doubt that most people do what's needed.

Back to the Cultural Cringe Snobbery. Maybe one has to be an immigrant to realize how stupid it is to feel that way. Maybe one has to have been born on the ground of old civilizations to realize just how decrepit and on-their-way-out they are; how litte they have to offer right now anymore, even though, in terms of inherited history there's a lot there—including, one may have to be reminded, the blood spilled on the ground one walks on every day. The longer humans have been anywhere, and the more there have been at any given time, the more blood has fertilized the ground one walks on. It doesn't need grand-scale 'civilization', of course. Barbarism, as long as there are enough people around to fight each other, will produce bloodbaths just as effectively.

To the immigrant it's also immediately clear that CCS requires a reference culture that's held up as the gold-standard. In the case of Australia that's the UK—to the extent that even young 'progressives', or at least they think of themselves that way, are prone to dismissing the Australian Republican movement as irrelevant and a waste of time and money. Meaning that they effectively support the continuance of the constitutional monarchy absurdity in force right now. But anyone with two or more neurons interacting can immediately discern that it's really about not abolishing the connection to the gold-standard nation. In support of the anti-republican argument these folk usually drag in the other required end of the measuring stick, the rusty-iron standard, which in the Australian case is, of course and no extra points for guessing right, the US. The whole thing is really too funny for words, with the whole of the joke on the ARPs (that's Anti-Republican Progressives).

Which reminds me of another recent case of a joke that's entirely on those appearing at the top of the importance-heap. But I'll leave that to my next blog. This one's been long enough.

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