Thursday, January 20, 2011

Media: Twisted American Exceptionalism

After a few addictive years in the US, our household sometimes can’t help itself and hooks into Fox News. Sadly, Australians aren’t offered the equally tendentious but left-leaning MSNBC, a lack of fairness and balance easily explained by the identity of the owner of both our cable provider (Foxtel) and its American stablemate. 
Last weekend, on Fox News’s The Journal, I was astounded by this statement from Dorothy Rabinowitz, who is on the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. She was commenting on the reaction to the Tucson shootings, including President Obama's address
Dorothy Rabinowitz

Let me say that this whole event must have told people around the world what a nation we are. 
I cannot think of any other nation that talks about itself as a family. You can go around Europe.

Does Rabinowitz know or care that at the very moment she uttered that garbage, tens of thousands of people were out in Queensland, armed with shovels and mops to help out total strangers whose houses had been inundated by the floods ?
That Australia’s foreign minister was in hospital being treated for an infection he suffered while wading through floodwaters to help people (foreign students among them) and rescue their belongings?
That across Australia, we shed tears for every life lost, every home or livelihood destroyed?
There were people in Victoria, 3000km away, whose own houses were underwater in floods that have assumed almost biblical proportions, who dismissed their own predicament and urged us to focus our thoughts on their fellow Australians in Queensland. 

Does Rabinowitz have any inkling of an idea about how Australians responded to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre ? How, despite opposition from lobby groups funded by the Christian Coalition of America and their National Rifle Association, 643,000 firearms – the per capita equivalent of nearly 10 million in the US – were surrendered by their owners? Or how overwhelming public opinion forced heavy restrictions on self-loading and other firearms and Australians universally approved an income tax levy to compensate gun-owners who had parted with their weapons? 
Doe she have any idea of the grief-stricken vigils held across the country after the Port Arthur massacre, or the foundations established to support child victims of violence? 

So, Ms Rabinowitz, are we not a family? If you prick one of us, do we not all bleed?

I’m not claiming any special quality for Australia or Australians here. All around the world people, communities and whole nations come together to grieve and to celebrate, to help and support one another in times of emergency and disaster.
And all around the world, citizens have a perfectly well-developed sense of themselves and their country as a single and singular entity – a family, if you like. 

So where do you get off, Ms Rabinowitz?

American Exceptionalism is a concept that holds that America, due to its origins, natural bounty and founding creed, is different and singular. 

But this is American Delusionism, a malign mutation that holds that America and everything American is better than anywhere and anything else.
Sadly, this distortion of the concept of American Exceptionalism is not confined to Rabinowitz. We heard ad nauseam on Fox during the US health care debate the absurd notion — despite all evidence to the contrary — that the US has The Best Health Care System in the World . This became a rarely-challenged (and never on Fox!) mantra of the medical insurance industry and the politicians that did their bidding. 
Similarly, during the US car manufacturers’ crisis, the public was assured that Detroit made The Best Cars in the World, even as US consumers were begging to differ.

There’s a sinister, unspoken logic to American Delusionism as practised by Rabinowitz and her ilk: as those traits she ascribes to Americans alone are human qualities, then only Americans are wholly human — that those Europeans, and those Africans and Asians and South Americans and, yes, we Australians, are, in a sense, sub-human.

It’s disgusting utterances like these that give purpose and legitimacy to those who wish America harm and, more damagingly, confuse and dishearten her friends. They should be disavowed by any American who values their country’s standing in the world.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MUSIC: Don Walker at FAC

Don Walker and the Lucky Strikes
Fremantle Arts Centre
Sunday 23 January, 2011 at 2pm

Don Walker and Dave Warner (a little bias showing here, maybe) were the best and most literate of the Australian pub rock writers that emerged in the late Seventies. Both of them produced material that was about much more than it seemed, and both of them inhabited their songs with authentic characters (almost always young males, admittedly) from the suburban streets and small towns they themselves came from. Neither of them needed to be esoteric or loquacious to be imaginative; both of them harnessed their creativity to the disciplines of excitement and accessibility needed for success. In Don’s case, that success was enormous and enduring – thirty years after Cold Chisel’s heyday, I suspect his APRA check would still match those of the international megastar songwriters.
Get down to see him on Sunday if you can; he’s an intense and captivating performer as well as a gracious and charming man, and his West Australian pick-up band the Lucky Strikes (there’s that Lucky Oceans again!) is a tasty treat. Don's work since Chisel, as a solo artist and with Tex, Don and Charlie, is every bit as interesting as his big-time stuff,  and well worth getting acquainted with, if you haven't already.
The surroundings at FAC are unbeatable, Freo is always cool even if the day is hot, and you can run the gauntlet of Operation Octopus and spend the money you save at the door at the bar.  
Steve Prestwich 1954 - 2011
I was knocking these notes together when the unwelcome news of the death of  Steve Prestwich came down the line. Brain tumour diagnosed two weeks ago; operation; gone.
Walker and Prestwich formed a fertile partnership at the heart of Chisel’s sound, with Don’s staccato piano working down around Steve’s blue collar drumming rather than up with guitar and vocals in the melody. It was that bedrock of rock solid percussion that drove his songs and made Chisel in their late ‘70s prime maybe the best live rock’n’roll band in the world, even if most of it didn’t know they existed. 
Steve had that Scouse knack of letting you know he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and that you were probably one of them. But there you go.    
There are some lines from Don’s Home and Broken-Hearted that stick in my mind: 
The beer we bought for Christmas
Ran dry this afternoon
On the radio it’s New Year’s Eve
What a low down time of the year to pack your luggage and leave  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Theatre: Romeo and Juliet

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Paige Newmark
Designed by Jake Newby and Ingrid Proos
Featuring Rose Riley and Cody Fern, Kristian Barron, Anna Brockway, Nick Candy, James Hagan, Glenn Hall, Stephen Lee, Sam Longley, Claire Munday, Will O’Mahoney and Nick Pages Oliver
King’s Park
7 January – 5 March 2011

There seems to be a prevailing notion that West Australians lose all interest in the theatre from November until the Festival rolls into town in mid-February.
We should be grateful, then, that a succession of production houses has given us a summertime Shakespeare in King’s Park. And it’s more the pity that this year’s is such a disappointment.
In part it’s the fault of the play selection. Much of Shakespeare is well suited to a summer night in a park, but in such a setting Romeo and Juliet loses the intimacy of its lovers and the sickening pallor of the death of the young that lie at its poetic heart. Lost, too, is the claustrophobia of the close streets and walled gardens of Verona, where every chance encounter can easily end with taunts and blades, until one leads to love and disaster.
None of this is necessarily fatal, but director Paige Newmark doesn’t solve any of these problems, and creates many more besides.
There are times, most excruciatingly during Capulet’s (Stephen Lee) weird North Country ranting at Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris (Kristian Barron) when the urge for flight all but overcame me. It’s unfair to single him out, though; other seasoned members of the cast had similar over-the-top episodes that surely would have been tempered by more sure-handed and sensitive direction.
Of the supporting performances, only Will O’Mahoney’s fiery Mercutio delivered the sort of surprise and humanity that are the great strengths of Shakespeare’s characterisation. His death, after one of Andy Fraser’s excellently staged swordfights, had a fey courage as gripping as you’d see anywhere.
Romeo and Juliet belongs to its heroine, and Rose Riley, who is only a couple of years older than the girl she plays, brought impressive beauty and strength to the work. She doesn’t yet have the range to fully realise the massive complexities of this great character, but there’s little doubt it will come, and soon.
 A lot more work remains ahead of Cody Fern. Romeo may not have to be as boundless as the sea, as is Juliet, but Fern still has a mighty mountain of poetry to climb, and at times the challenge pretty much overcame him.
None of their efforts were helped by some misguided interpretations, most disconcertingly in the justly famous scene where the lovely and heartbreaking realisation by the young lovers that their one (and, as the audience knows, only) night together is over was reduced from high poetic drama to something akin to an exchange on Facebook after lights out.

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 12.1.11 here