Thursday, 18 October 2012

Aussie Politics...A Novelty Story

How much do you guys outside Australia know about it? From your news I reckon it's mostly snakes and spiders and the occasional story about boozy fun. What's been unusual recently is that there has been a little coverage of Australian politics internationally--first Julia Gillard gave an inspiring speech about Tony Abbott's sexism then she went to India and fell over in heels. That's right Australia, people are as interested in our politics at the moment as they were a few years ago in South Korean politics when their parliamentarians had a brawl in which they threw their lunch at each other! The last time people were this interested in our politics was when Kevin Rudd was caught allegedly eating his snot.

So, degree of meaningfulness of international opinion on domestic affairs of small nations...0%


Friday, 12 October 2012

An Age Without Record

"For I suppose if Lacadaemon were to become desolate, and the temples and the foundations of the public buildings were left, that as time went on there would be a strong disposition with posterity to refuse to accept her fame as a true exponent of her power...Whereas if Athens were to suffer the same misfortune, I suppose that any inference from the appearance presented to the eye would make her power to be twice as great as it is." Thucydides I.10 trans. Crawley

Luckily for the Spartans' glory, they had the Athenian historian to tell posterity in indelible ink how powerful they had been when time inevitably overtook them. Many other peoples have been less lucky. Think about how little you probably know or care about the fall of the Roman Empire. You reckoned it had something to do with Caligula and Nero, those tyrants hymned by the famous historians Tacitus and Suetonius. Think again. It happened four centuries later when all the great minds were in the church, which is why you don't know about it... History relies on its historians. No event, no matter how significant, really catches posterity's imagination without someone with an attractive style to write about it. Thucydides goes to a lot of effort to show how important the conflict he writes about is, but the truth is, that in the context of all human history, its chief distinction is that it had him to write about it.

Which got me thinking about how little we live in such a historically blessed era. Not only do we lack a great historian, we don't write much literature of survival value, or even create many material objects likely to make it into the coffee table books of the distant future. Plato's philosophy survived Byzantine taste, in the main because of its entertaining and immediate style, ditto Francis Bacon's essays or Chaucer surviving changing literary fashions in subsequent centuries.

To me it looks as though it's more likely to be television that anyone is still holding on to in a few centuries' time, a medium which like classical tragedy or Eizabethan drama is actually intended to be enjoyed (a word to underline in relation to contemporary theatre, for example) by everyone from the most educated to the least. What we should spend more time doing is thinking about what will survive us and what will not...I think we'd be surprised what proves to be ephemeral.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

J K Rowling's New Book

I popped into our local independent bookstore recently to check out J K Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy. Sorry Jo, I’m sure you’ll be massively disappointed to hear (irony alert) that I’m not a potential fan. 

There are two main reasons for this—and they are interconnected. Firstly, the writing is just too thin. Rowling has a straightforward and somewhat flat writing style. For the average young reader (as in the Harry Potter series), this was a plus—they aren’t used to challenging texts, and in fact generally find the mere length of a Potter novel difficult enough. Some young readers will go on to read more complex works, however the majority will merely move sideways into equally lightweight YA novels which require the kind of skim reading that the digitally-connected now find easiest to do.  For a reader seeking a richer reading experience, however, Rowling’s style has neither the limpid clarity of Jane Austen, the poetic resonance of Hardy, nor the magisterial moral depth of George Eliot—all of whom deal with “ small worlds” (in different ways!).

Secondly, in detailing her particular “small world”, Rowling seems to engage in some pretty clichéd characterization. Like her writing style, there’s just not enough to it. I think Rowling has spent too long in the land of the YA novel where the tired old stereotype and the clichéd trope still haven’t passed their use-by date.

The big book about a small English town was written long ago. If you are interested, make an expedition to the wilds of the Nineteenth century English novel section of your local library—some of the finest minds, the deepest thinkers, the most compassionate of observers of our muddle-minded human kind can be found there.


Peter Costello's dragon-slaying battle against the tax system!

I thought we might review the last week or so in politics, because, to me, it seems barking mad! Since when is Australian politics scandal-ridden and American politics anodyne! To recap, this week we had Alan Jones dying of shame, the recrudescence of the HSU saga, more Slipper mania and to top it all off, Margie Abbott's insistence that her husband is a nice guy (which is a strategy from the US, taken straight from the playbook of Anne Romney). Meanwhile the Americans had a debate which Romney (surely one of the most boring men in the world) actually won. What is going on? Gone are those sane days in which the US could boast Congressmen propositioning interns while us guys stuck with Peter Costello's dragon-slaying battle against the tax system...


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Dr. Who...Memo to the Writing Room.

I'm a big TV nerd and one of my favourite genres is sci fi, so imagine my disappointment when Doctor Who started going off the boil again. I say again because, for those of us who recall it, the series was originally cancelled back in the days of yore because of such appalling examples of terrible taste as the giant killer liquorice allsort in what was supposed to be a satire upon Margaret Thatcher (don't ask!).

While it might not be in quite the same league, the totally unnecessary voice-over in a Southern accent in last week's episode (you remember, the one with the cute guy from Farscape in it, albeit occluded behind facial fur) seemed to me a harbinger. It was what people suffering from Gareth Evans syndrome (and who have been watching far too much To Kill a Mockingbird) call a good idea.

In the golden age of Hollywood they often used to lock recalcitrant writers up to get them to finish screen-plays (I heard one where the studio locked them in a train carriage) and while this may have worked with talented but difficult Continental artistic types, for Doctor Who writers it seems to cause a strange sort of brain malaise which can be described in the following terms:
(a) inability to tell a "good idea" from a good idea (see above);
(b) inability to remember that you've told a story before (see the episode following, which should have been titled "Yet Another Alien Invasion Involving a Hospital");
(c) inability to see that a story is too confused to follow (that first one with the Daleks and the undead).

You guys in the writing room need to watch the episodes from the eighties which display these syndromes... This a show that is so easy to write badly. It's meant to be eccentric, not unnecessarily wacky.


Monday, 1 October 2012

Playing Taglines...

You might think that in an age when advertising had spawned Mad Men and the Gruen Planet, it would have made great leaps and bounds since 1941 and you'd be right...and wrong. Yesterday I watched Citizen Kane and its tag line was the simple but effective "It's Terrific", which is descriptive, isn't it...! And I visited my local bookstore which is trying to sell J.K. Rowling's new book with the immortal line "The Big Book about a Small Town". "It's Terrific" looks pretty sophisticated by comparison. So I started thinking about the whole taglines thing. Mad Men's (for those people with an amazing memory or the DVD box set) originally was "Where the Truth Lies", which is cute, people, right, but you really have to think about it, like the show! And one of the few things that brilliant series shares with Fifty Shades of Grey is a good tagline--in that terrible book's case, "The Book Women All Over the World are Talking About...Quietly". Ah, the art of the tagline, seemingly neglected by some but linked massively with success...

Thus, in honour of christening this new blog, I reckon I ought to give it a tagline.

Cato's Whispers "It's Terrific! The Little Blog with the Big Voice" Or not...