Wednesday, June 22, 2011
I am an Australian, which means different things to different audiences.
Australia has many elements it holds proudly, and just as many that give us a bad case of self-consciousness.
Interestingly, the arts continue to be considered one of our weak points.
Not that we don't have exceptional artists, but our national appetite for our own work is low at best. These days, it's commonly known as our "cultural cringe".
Our own stories aren't interesting enough for us. The Australian accent, so popular throughout the world, in our films makes us uncomfortable.
But are we being too hard on ourselves? Has our rapid growth and success in certain areas...cough....sport....cough.....given us unrealistic expectations of ourselves?
Often the wisest words come from the unlikeliest places, like a bearded lady. In my case, last week I was on my way to a preview of Hairspray the Musical (sidenote: it's brilliant by the way) chatting with a taxi driver who had immigrated from Bangladesh a number of years ago.
His take on Australia sheds a lot of light on the root cause of our cultural cringe. For him, he said, it was a matter of ego vs reality.
In Australia, our pride makes us suggest we are an advanced developed nation. We deserve to be players on the world stage!!!! This is despite us having only around 200 years of history as compared to the hundreds (and thousands) in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
My Taxi driver's suggestion, over a large wry smile and an even bigger moustache, is that all the evidence suggests we are a DEVELOPING nation.
Our public transport and infrastructure is slowly catching up; our economy is based on mineral commodities; as recently as 10/15 years ago we were having 'national identity' discussions; we are way behind the developed world on broadband and technology infrastructure; we were insulated from the financial crisis in part by the relatively low penetration of modern large transnational financial institutions; and we struggle to develop a sustainable arts sector due to the slow pace of embracing broader tenets of cultural achievement beyond sport.
Sound developed to you?
Perhaps we need to take a deep breath. Perhaps part of success is realising that it takes time to develop a cultural palette and therefore an industry to service it.
Perhaps we should just focus on producing good work and realising that the audience is there, with money to spend, and they will come. But only if it's good.
Perhaps we should relax and focus more on reality rather than our ego.
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