The Null Device

The Sparta of the south

The Age has a piece on another cultural trend in Howard's Australia: the transformation of Australia's obsession with sport into an aggressive, militaristic conformism, intolerant of dissent from the majority view:
It was being used as "gang colours", the producer said; "racism disguised as patriotism". There had been reports of people the previous year, hot on the heels of the Cronulla riots, bullying others into kissing the flag and pledging their allegiance -- and shouting the sportscry "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi oi oi!". Not only the slogan but the whole attitude of barracking seeps across to other things. Eggheads (probably a less derisory term in Australia than intellectuals) are castigated for holding thoughts and attitudes divorced from those of the mainstream. Questionable, but isn't that what intellectuals and artists occasionally do everywhere? Tolstoy no more passes for a typical Russian than Shakespeare could pass for a typical Englishman.
But, as the barracking mood has spread across the country, there has been an exponential growth of the idea of something or someone being "un-Australian". Not part of the team. This idea has become so entrenched that people have been deported who have spent virtually their whole lives here but were infants elsewhere. Undesirable, not ours — although they may have been almost entirely shaped by an Australian upbringing.
The notion of being "un-Australian" is a silly one and should be sent back to the America of the Cold War, where it belongs. If we are truly a nation, then every citizen is a member, enriching it with the narrative, patterns and choices of their lives. Whoever heard of anybody being called "un-French", or even "un-English"? "Un-New Zealand" wouldn't even get to first base — not only because it's a mouthful, but because neither Maori nor Pakeha can claim the whole.
Adding to this is a creeping militarisation of Australian public life:
The barracking mentality has become more prevalent at the same time as a deepening khaki tinge has entered our national life. We don't hear much now of Australia as a pioneer of democracy: it's Gallipoli, the Western Front, Kokoda. Our history has been militarised. Then there's our military Governor-General, who does quite a good job (when he's allowed to). There are also things like the recent advertisement for Boags, which has a soldier in uniform, saluting, with his glass of beer. Or The Australian deciding that the Australian of the year should be the digger — advancing democracy around the world. You would think it was 1942.
But now the link (between sport and the military) is much more explicit. It is used to fire up sportspeople. Cricket teams off to England to play for the Ashes have stopped off at Gallipoli. And at the Athens Olympics, one of the girls in the softball team enjoined the others to "think of the Anzacs". "It lifted us," commented another. "It really lifted us."
"Think of the Anzacs" could also be a good motivational phrase to encourage Australians to knuckle down and accept the American-style working conditions being brought in as part of the government's industrial relations laws. When you're working longer hours, competing against your coworkers not to be dismissed, think of the diggers who had it much worse.
A military presence has become part of the scene at major football matches. Four days before last Anzac Day, a Hawthorn-Carlton match began with the two teams lined up before an enormous Australian flag, the crowd being asked to stand while two buglers played the Last Post. Then there is the special Anzac Day match: although only 13 years old, it is presented as being as traditional as Waltzing Matilda. War planes flew overhead, veterans were whisked around the ground in a lap of honour, while on television the army logo appeared throughout — along with an advertisement for recruitment. The risk is that sport and militarism are becoming increasingly aligned to produce a blunt equation: sport + patriotism = the military.
This could bode ill for other aspects of the local culture:
With the virtual collapse of high culture, and the weakening of its local forms (which looked so promising 30 years ago), we may be left with little else, particularly as sport is so deeply Australian. Most of our popular cultural icons have been sold off. But in becoming more sports-obsessed, the country could also become increasingly illiberal and increasingly militaristic.
If the article is true, Australia is in danger of turning into a latter-day Sparta, a muscular, militarised, fiercely conformistic nation with no place for those who aren't part of the team.

There are 2 comments on "The Sparta of the south":

Posted by: Derek Sat Jan 27 16:29:15 2007

Funny you should mention that. Here in Canada, the latest Grey Cup football playoff parade was accompanied by military tanks and planes for the first time.

Here's a Gov. Canada article about it: http://www.army.forces.gc.ca/lf/English/6_1_1.asp?id=1534

Posted by: gjw http://jimbob.suprglu.com Sun Jan 28 08:57:16 2007

The funny thing about all this militarism; it's completely failing as far as the actual, real, millitary is concerned. They are having serious recruitment problems, to the extent that they are debating lowering the fitness requirements and allowing people with previous drug convictions in. And this isn't just true for the lower ranks; the defence force can't find enough electricians or other tradespeople who want to join.

It seems Australians love the rah-rah when it's something distant, and theoretical, and completely confusing, like the ANZAC myth. But when it comes to grabbing an SLR and heading for the trenches, they scamper back to their comfortable urban lives.

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