(Above: mmmm, not to mention high fructose Janet Albrechtsen thinking).
It's been awhile since we've dropped in on Dame Slap, sometimes known to the cognescenti and the illuminati as Janet Albrechtsen, but a visit always brings rich cerebral rewards.
Yep, there's nothing like Anti-American Left clutches at the usual cliches, and while some might think it's a jolly good thing to avoid Dame Slap's classroom, truth to tell we'd miss the sound of the lawnmower droning away making fresh mown hay.
After a tirade about cliches, here's the choicest of Dame Slap's insights into the 2010 Sydney Writers' Festival, and the sound of smugness:
... Ironically, the very same smugness explored a few days earlier by Shriver during an intelligent discussion with broadcaster and journalist Caroline Baum. When talking about humour, Shriver said she doesn't care for the clubby nature of most political satire where it is assumed you are all on the same side. "It's what annoys me about liberals in general. Conservatives, as a type, do not assume when they meet someone that you're a conservative . . . Liberals are presumptuous and especially if you seem like a half-way decent human being. The assumption is, of course, you are wildly left-wing." Everyone is regarded as being in the same club. It's "very self-congratulatory", Shriver said.
Yep, it's all hands to the pump when it comes to self-congratulatory smug cliches, as fully endorsed by Dame Slap.
Let me count the approving ways they stack up. Liberals are presumptuous, especially if you seem like a half-way decent human being. Conservatives are a type, but do not make assumptions about type. Tell that to the next dreadlock hippie the next time they order a coffee in Double Bay or Toorak.
Dame Slap is of course indignant about the way birds of a feather flock together, as opposed to conservatives, who never flock, but do like to take regular rests on loon pond:
The festival's big event at Sydney Town Hall on Saturday evening started and finished as a caricature of all that has gone awry with the Left. Not just the refusal to try for nuance, difference or debate on a panel. Progressives seem to think gathering people of different skin colours can be used as proxies for different views.
Not just the sleep-inducing sound and sight of five voices all nodding and shaking their heads to the same anti-American melody. Yes, we all voted for Barack Obama, yes, we all want action on climate change, no to religion, nuclear power, the Tea Party movement, the Bush administration ("evil was being actively pursued every single day"), Sarah Palin and Fox News ("I blame Australia. Thanks, Rupert.") This is the same kind of blubbing uniformity you find at a Tea Party convention.
Shocking! Here on the pond of course we would have voted for what's his name and Sarah Palin, and we don't want any action on climate change, and we are deeply in favour of the Exclusive Brethren and Scientology as meaningful religions, we say yes to nuclear power as a matter of course and think Alice Springs should be evacuated and turned into a deep mine shaft for waste, and we of course think the Tea party movement is riddled with sanity, especially it's abiding fear of world government coming by Xmas, and whenever our thoughts turn to the Bush administration we think of shining goodness being actively pursued every single day, especially by Donald and by Dick, and it goes without saying that we love Sarah Palin, who can see Russia from the porch, and as for Glenn Beck on Fox News, no matter that his ratings are dropping, what a contribution to intellectual discussion in the world. Thanks Fox News, thanks Rupert. Oh and thanks Rupert for the Daily Terror and the Hun and The Australian, the thinking person's dunny facility.
Phew, I think that cleans up everything and establishes loon pond's capacity for group herd think.
Oh dear did that sound more smug than ironic? Dame Slap is on the case:
... it's the smugness of the Left that strikes you the most. Are there different views? Not among decent-minded people surely. Not among our audience anyway, who reek of sensibility with their sensible shoes, their sensibly warm cardigans and scarves.
Oh dear, you wretched cardigan wearers with your sensibly warm cardigans and scarves and your sensible shoes, what an affront to group think and cliches you are! Next thing you know you'll all be out with your Sense and Sensibility readers. What a bunch of Pooters, the lot of you (and as usual on this site, time for a plug for George and Weedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody).
But wait, Dame Slap is just warming up, in the way you sometimes find in hysterical conservatives confronted by unwashed people:
It's true the audience seemed content, clapping, heads nodding and shaking in tune. Perhaps this is what the elderly do to relive their salad days of unruly protest marches. Past the age of youthful chanting and traipsing the streets holding up anti-American placards, the audience -- with a mean age of 60 -- seemed to be here to have their views affirmed. And so did the aging activist Anne Summers, who chaired the panel session. Alas, the taxpayer-funded Sydney Writers Festival is not meant to be a political or ideological gathering. Or a protest march for oldies.
Of course not. Still if we're going to think about abolishing view-affirming subsidy on the basis of audience age, I can imagine that the administrators of the SSO and the Australian Opera are now trembling in their shoes.
Writing should, as we all know, take place in a vacuum, and have nothing to do with politics or ideology or society, or if it must, it should be about the rutting rituals of middle class America, as exemplified by John Updike (no, steady we can't mention the likes of John Cheever or William Faulkner). Above all, writers should not gather or protest, or in any way disagree with the thoughts of Chairperson Janet. That would be unseemly.
It seems what most upset Dame Slap was the tendency of certain people - cliche laden types appealing to sensible cardigan wearers - to criticise the United States. When we all know that Rome is a thing unto itself, and is above any kind of contemplation or criticism, especially by writers. Think of it as the Jesus Christ of nations.
What would the dear sensibly shoed things know about war or Iraq or Afghanistan. Worse still, some people were cheeky and deployed irony, a well known indication of liberal tendencies:
Shriver, now living in Britain, told the audience to forget about moving to America because "if this is as good as it gets, then it doesn't get very good". Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American scholar, remarked on the enormous similarities between Iran and America: the sense of greatness, the role of religion in society. Americans treat their founding documents as "scripture", he said. "That's called fundamentalism." So America "feels like home," he said.
Oh no Reza Aslan, that feels like Janet Albrechtsen and The Australian. So Australia must feel like home.
There was no sign of reality. As one panel member said, "I just don't like reality." No honest scorecard of America, a big country that makes big mistakes, to be sure. But also a big country that delivered big help to Europe during World War II, to Bosnian Muslims in Serbia in 1995, to the thousands of people devastated by the Asian tsunami in 2004, to the Burmese in 2008 left to die by their military leaders, and so on. No recognition that the soft power of Europe has done precious little to rescue people in need.
Ah yes, let's keep a scorecard on reality and the United States. That makes sense. Let's first of all mark down the French for their love of secularism, wine and cheese, and their offering of the statue of Liberty to the United States. Let's tote up the dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, first at the hand of the Russians, as the mujahideen were helped by the United States, and now by the United States, helped out by whomever could be persuaded to turn up to the war.
Of course the completely meaningless and impossible task of such a metaphorical scorecard shouldn't obscure Dame Slap's main point. When it comes to smugness and cliches, if she deploys them, in the cause of justice, freedom and the United States, they're AOK.
How does it work? Well first of all, you must impugn thoughts to people without consulting them as to their actual thoughts, since thoughts imagined and prescribed by Dame Slap are sufficient for thoughtful thinking:
No doubt, the authors on stage subscribe to the view of novelist Peter De Vries, mentioned in Hitchens's new book, Hitch 22. De Vries said his ambition as a writer was for his books to attract a mass audience, "one large enough for his more elite audience to look down upon".
No doubt Janet Albrechtsen subscribes to the view of Gerard Henderson that there are dangerous elites out of touch with a mass audience, it just so happens that these are trendy liberal socialist inner city elites rather than conservative inner city elites.
When one panel member on Saturday evening seriously suggested that obesity in America was the fault of George W. Bush, it was time to wrap things up for anyone with a modicum of free thinking.
Or time to think about the peculiar nexus in the United States between high-fructose corn syrup, ethanol and massive government subsidy. You don't have to look far for the connections:
Despite its legal snafus, ADM moved into the new millennium with its political clout intact. George W. Bush has diligently maintained the four pillars of ADM's business model: heavily subsidized corn production, a stiff tariff against foreign ethanol, the sugar quota, and ethanol's tax exemption. He even signed off on a fifth pillar, for good measure: The Energy Policy Act of 2005 stipulates that the U.S. gas supply must contain at least 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2015, about double the 2005 level. Since corn ethanol has a vast head start over rivals, most analysts assume the mandate will mainly affect corn ethanol production. (How cash and corporate pressure pushed ethanol to the fore).
I'm guessing - in the way that Dame Slap likes to guess about liberals - that she doesn't drink high fructose corn syrup laden soda while in the United States. I'm guessing she's never been inside a Fatburger store. For all the talk of the conservative elites, I've never actually seen any of them chowing down with the workers, or munching at the factory food that's being flung at them.
When even Paul Sheehan can have a moment of understanding that the rubbish being doled up can actually kill you (Debunking the myth of food, from fetish to Frankenstein), you have to wonder about Albrechtsen's glib dismissal of the role of subsidy in farming in the United States. And this from an ostensible conservative who pauses for a moment in her rant to praise the role of small government. Pull the other one, and while you're at it pull all the special pleading ear marks too.
Never mind, there's none so deaf as those who work for Chairman Rupert:
Let's Talk About America should have been called Let's Attack America, remarked my friend as we walked out.
Never mind that the United States has a serious obesity problem. And so - with a diet gifted by the United States to us - does Australia. But that's what happens when you're a paranoid. A perception, or an insight, or a statement of the bleeding obvious is always perceived as an attack or a slight. Rather than an angle on a problem that needs fixing. Truth to tell, eternally optimistic Americans would be appalled at that kind of paranoia. Tea partiers excluded of course.
Meanwhile, Dame Slap has one last thought:
Memo to festival organisers: please bump up ticket prices for the 2011 festival so governments can stop subsidising you. And taxpayer money can be used somewhere useful next year.
Yes festival organisers. Bump up the prices so high only conservative elitists can attend. That way you'll keep out people wearing sensible cardigans. And let in only people like Janet Albrechtsen with fully clothed minds ...
Memo to Rupert Murdoch: please institute paywall for The Australian as soon as possible and bump up newsagent pricing so that we no longer have to read Janet Albrechtsen. And the money we save can be donated to useful causes in the next year ...
(Below: what every fashionable conservative is wearing in lieu of sensible cardigans. A cartoon literally true, while morally profound).