Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The incoherent Olympics-related rant I had to have

I worked for a couple of months last year alongside an English guy - let's call him Clive - who had moved to Australia in early 2007 to get married. Clive was a bit of a lad and not entirely suited to the job but we got along all right, mainly due to a shared interest in quoting Sean Connery's lines from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (It's amazing the common ground you find or invent, and desperately latch onto, when you have to work with someone nine hours a day.) Clive was also a real know-all who, as is often the case, actually knew very little: nine out of every ten statements of "fact" consisted of hearsay, urban legend, or just plain bullshit. A little Clive went a long way, and while his claptrap was sometimes amusing at 9:30 a.m., it had usually ceased to be so by 5:30 p.m - especially when he started talking about Australia.

Now, according to Clive, before he moved to Australia he didn't even realise we had cities other than Sydney. He thought Australia was basically Sydney perched on the edge of an enormous empty continent with a few big rocks and some blackfellas outback for the tourists. Despite admitting to this breathtaking ignorance, Clive liked to think that his outsider status conferred upon him the ability to see Australia as it really is. This vision of Australia turned out to include more or less every negative stereotype and cliché about Australian life and character, all mixed up and regurgitated as "fact". I am a patriot of the least rabid stripe, but even I took umbrage at Clive's reductive misrepresentations: we're not all racist; we're not all drunks; we're not all lecherous Alvin Purples. (There was rich irony in the fact that Clive was a racist and a drunk, and would have given Alvin a run for his money in the lechery stakes.) The whole edifice of "national character" is childish and absurd, especially at a personal level. I have nothing in common with the bloke who lives across the road, but I've met Frenchmen and Egyptian women and Irish Setters with whom I have become firm friends. I also like and love various Australians - but their nationality isn't why I like or love them.

Anyway, Clive was a bit of a tool and I probably shouldn't have let him get to me. But the thing is, ignorant as Clive was, he hadn't come to his conclusions about Australia on his own. There had to be input from somewhere, and unfortunately that somewhere was Australia itself. Clive was simply responding to the face we show to the world. It's all beer and Warnie and "Where the bloody hell are ya?" Look at the behaviour of John Coates, IOC member and head of the AOC, who greeted the news of a British swimmer winning a gold medal with "It's not bad for a country that has no swimming pools and very little soap." Grow the fuck up, man. Not that this kind of thing is limited to "our" side: if the exchange of insults continues we can surely expect some jibes from a like-minded (no-minded) British official about "convicts" or whatever. It's not good-natured, it's juvenile; it's not gamesmanship, it's behaving like a dickhead; and it's certainly not patriotic, unless you're idea of patriotism is to represent your country to the world as a bunch of insecure, victory-obsessed oiks.


TimT said...

Coates might have been reading Auden.

It is odd that the English,
A rather dirty people
Should have invented the slogan
'Cleanliness is next to godliness',
Meaning by that
A gentleman smells faintly of tar

Then again, he was writing for a largely American audience.

Most of the Australian-related courses I took in English literature at universities loved going on about the convict foundations of Australia, and how it formed the basis for our whole national literature. It was kind of dumb, apparently all the immigration of non-convict peoples before and after didn't have anything to do with Australian writing. I think it suited the anti-romantic sensibilities of some of the lecturers.

Kirsty said...

You didn't study Rosa Capiello's 'Oh, Lucky Country'? Not Romantic, but certainly post-convict immigration. Maybe that was only set for Australian Women's literature subjects?

TimT said...

I didn't do many, just some introductory first year courses and touched on it briefly in later courses. Not sure if I read Voss(?) for first year. The subject also came up in some music courses on modern Australian music - Aussie composer Pete Sculthorpe liked to emphasise the 'melancholic tradition' in Australian literature.

Mark Lawrence said...

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!
Oik! Oik! Oik!