Monday, July 30, 2007

Sticky Wicket

Those few amongst you who give a squat what Justin Lowe thinks or feels won't be too surprised to know I have ambivalent feelings toward Mark Davis, he of Ganglands fame, a boomer railing against his tribe. As a 1964 baby I have been afforded the somewhat dubious honour of sitting on the demographic fence, but that's what defines me as an X, surely. The snaking shadows cast by fireworks, nefarious, skulking, grumbling, caustic as Lear's fool. Not a generation at all. Y is a generation. An honest to goodness biblical generation, not something spawned in a Sex Pistols song. We haunt the stage, we 1964-73 mob. I am a 43 year old man who finds more in common with 24 year olds red-eyed with the hours they have to work to pay off their HECS debt than the 45 year olds barking at them to earn their 12 bucks an hour. I paid next to nothing for my education, for what it was worth. I did not treasure it, rather railed against it if truth be told. Kids now know the value of their time on the campus. For that they are damned and damned in equal measure from one side or the other of the old boomer divide.

For a start, these kids read, voraciously. But not the right stuff, of course. Ring any bells, ye of the '68 putsch? Poetry is a matter of life or death for them, as is history, music, in fact pretty much everything but post-war politics. Ring any bells dropouts, draft-dodgers, groupies? I love listening to the Anne Summers of this world harp on about how dyslexic and sub-literate are the youth (Y for youth, get it now?) of today. But like I say, I sit on the fence. I still remember listening to those posturing manifestos drawled from campuses all over the world, the same empty slogans borrowed from previous generations who actually lived and died by them, the icy assumptions of children in thrall to power ("all men are rapists" has to be my lasting favourite). Where would the Anne Summers, Ray Martins, Robert Mannes, John Pilgers et al be now without the latitude of post-war youth? It was a unique experiment in child-rearing they have yet to appreciate because that kind of latitude will never be repeated. They ate the whole cookie.

But I am concerned here with Mark Davis, what brings him back ten years on to rake over the still hot coals of Ganglands. It wouldn't happen to be a publishing deal would it? I speculate. As I say I sit on the fence. I am working my way to an interview I heard on ABC radio a few weeks back, prompted by Mark Davis' article in Overland magazine, and reproduced in concise form in the Melbourne Age. It began

Somewhere deep in the fabric of Australian cultural life it is forever 1974. The Whitlam government is still in office. THIS DAY TONIGHT is still on television. Patrick White has recently won the Nobel Prize. The last fading bars of Eagle Rock echo from the Sunbury stage.

Sonorous, peripatetic syntax in a Pilgeresque kind of way. Pressing all the right buttons, hints of an underlying message, the promise of a cut away.

Instantly Mark Davis has fallen into the trap he accused the Boomers of in Ganglands - of stereotyping an entire generation. He writes like a Boomer, he is a Boomer, so what exactly is his point in this whole line-drawing exercise.


He is selling a line, selling a book, himself.

Every word Mark Davis has ever written was addressed to his Boomer market, not to the issues, and for that he betrays himself as a boomer. Child of the golden age, occluded from staring into the sun too long, eating that campus food, listening to the echo of his own priviliged feet down the corridors of one of the plushest campuses on the planet.

I get ahead of myself, once again, because my point was a talk I heard on ABC radio recently between our Mark, the ubiquitous Richard Neville and a rather shrill Sally Warhaft, editor of the excellent fledgling Australian journal The Monthly. I was tooling down the M4 at the time between my Blue Mountain exile and my weekend job in North Ryde, so I thought I'd check in on what the Boomers were doing. I mean I switched to Radio National.

And there was Mark Davis employing his best bed-time manner on a rather wistful, dilatory Suzanne Donisthorpe as she pretended to chair a debate between these parties. Sally Warhaft was supposed to represent the "benighted" (Suzanne's words), but it very soon became apparent she was neither happy with our Mark or the moniker. Ms Donisthorpe, I have to say, seemed to have already made up her mind about the whole debate sometime in 1998 or thereabouts, and I see why she is more producer than presenter. She sounded tired. Sally Warhaft sounded anything but. Richard Neville sounded reasonable with all the wisdom of his colourful and privileged years.

The round table sound became something of a triangle with very pointy ends as Sally W vented her daddy's girl spleen at the perennial nerd that is Mark Davis. A more courageous man I have rarely heard on ABC radio unless you count that Steve Waugh innings in 199-, but that betrays one weakness of mine too many.

Mark Davis, for those of you who have the misfortune to live beyond the realms of this fascinating if rather hide-bound debate, has been arguing since 1997 that the reins of cultural, economic and political life in Australia are in the hands of a kind of club who all fucked and fought each other on campus in the 60's and 70's and now shrug off any suggestion they are THEM, THE MAN, THE HEAT, THE ESTABLISHMENT, another creak in an already creaky door. They simply don't have it in them to grow up that much (that, at least, is the kernel of his argument that got stuck in my teeth).

Sally Warhaft is, on her own admission, in her mid-thirties, however a little prickly around matters of chronoglogy in this particular performance like one with something to hide. In the midst of defending her demographic call as editor at The Monthly, she slipped once or twice, but you could forgive her, you HAD to, she was that shrill.

"If there was anyone that HOT out there, they'd be found."

This from the apparent spokesperson for the benighted on the pointy table of aunty's reason. This millenial aphorism following up some rather scintillating attacks on Generation Y's ability to express themselves ("I get fifty to a hundred UNSOLICITED manuscripts a week!!!" poor dear. "They are largely unpublishable.") This, on top of some isolated case of a happy student oblivious to the fact there weren't one but two world wars, seemed to be her case for a defence of the infedensible.

That talent is not self-evident is one of the tragedies of the boomer generation, I'm afraid. Their lense is geared to the spectacle, the next big thing, their expectations heightened (whether they want to admit it or not) by the technical, sociological and economic fireworks of 1914-18, 1939-45. Unfortunately for the rest of us, culture doesn't work that way.

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