The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'larrikinism'
An argument that the Australian ideal of the “larrikin”—the unruly, mischievous underdog thumbing his nose at authority and propriety—has devolved into a US-style anti-intellectual right-wing populism, and a fig-leaf for mining oligarchs to claim to be “ordinary Australians” (i.e., of the people) and say that it's not they but rather the inner-city latte-hipsters and stuck-up university-educated book-readers who have inherited the mantle of "the elites" from the despised British penal-colony administrators:
It is on that basis that certain pundits claim anyone with a whiff of intellectualism about them is an ''elite'' and therefore opposed to the interests of ordinary Australians. It is also on the basis of the myth of larrikinism that a number of super-rich Australians are able to present themselves as egalitarian.
Forget about the fact that Singo is more notable for his support of Gina Rinehart than for society's underdogs. Because the larrikin ideal works the way it does, it allows powerful Australians like him to gloss over the fact of their own elite status and to pretend that the real elites are elsewhere.Ironically, the original larrikins weren't reactionary heroes of the ordinary battlers but violent, socially disadvantaged young men who drew the short straw during a period of precarity.
The first larrikins emerged at a time when the underdog was stigmatised in Australian society. No one would have dreamt of calling themselves a larrikin in the late colonial years if they wanted to be held in regard by the broader society. Now something that even billionaire mining magnates can make their own, our ideal of larrikinism has changed substantially since the era in which the term was coined.
The fact that its history was characterised by social inequity and violence, however, should make us pause before making too much of our ''larrikin streak''.Australia does not have a bill of rights; in its place is an informal piece of customary law known as the “larrikin-wowser nexus” that constitutes Australia's cultural system of checks and balances. This is the assumption of harsh laws and an equal but opposite contempt for authority, dating back to convict codes of honour in the penal-colony days, evolved to a system where, once the copper's One Of Us, there's a tacit understanding that the laws will be selectively enforced only against those who are not One Of Us—witness, to wit, Australia's tough film censorship laws letting through populist Hollywood entertainment untrammelled whilst cracking down mostly on poofterism with subtitles that only Green-voting hipster elites would want to watch anyway, or PM-in-waiting Tony Abbott's emphatic support for freedom of speech, but only when it is used against those who are not One Of Us—Aborigines, Muslims, the “un-Australian” and such. Maybe, just maybe, the larrikin-wowser nexus isn't a viable substitute for a more formal system of checks and balances in a mature democracy.
Melbourne City Council workers have painted over a Banksy rat stencil in Hosier Lane, after the council neglected to tell them that the graffiti in the laneway (famous for its aerosol and stencil art) contained a priceless artwork among the graffiti.
Alexander said the city council would rush through retrospective permits to protect other famous or significant artworks in Australia's second-largest city. "In hindsight, we should have acted sooner to formally approve and protect all known Banksy works," she said.I wonder what's happening there. Have anti-street-art factions seized control of the council and decided to whitewash all of Hosier Lane as a declaration of a Rudy Giuliani-style zero-tolerance policy? What would they have done had they known that the works of an internationally renowned (and valuable) artist were there? Would we have seen the bizarre spectacle of a white-painted laneway with a solitary Banksy rat in one corner? Of course, one of the quickest ways to condemn street art in Melbourne is to bless it with the imprimatur of official approval; Australian graffiti artists are, by and large, larrikins who have only contempt for the approval of officialdom:
Vandals created another outcry in 2008 when they poured paint over the artist's stencil of a diver in an old-fashioned helmet and wearing a trenchcoat. That work was afterwards protected by a sheet of clear perspex, although vandals struck again and poured silver paint behind the barrier, tagging it with the words "Banksy woz ere."
Members of the New South Wales parliament could soon face breath tests before voting on legislation. The move was prompted after a number of reports of bad behaviour by apparently inebriated parliamentarians, including a frontbencher shoving a female MP after a Christmas party and the police minister having to resign after dancing in his underpants at a drunken party in his office.
The move is supported by the state's transport workers' union, on the grounds that if rail workers have to suffer the indignity of random alcohol tests, so should politicians.
Via Crikey, an account of an earlier Olympic torch protest, this one before the Melbourne olympics in 1956:
With this escort around him, the runner made his way through the streets all the way to the Sydney Town Hall. He bounded up the steps and handed the torch to the waiting mayor who graciously accepted it and turned to begin his prepared speech.
Then someone whispered in the mayor’s ear, “That’s not the torch.” Suddenly the mayor realized what he was holding. Held proudly in his hand was not the majestic Olympic flame. Instead he was gripping a wooden chair leg topped by a plum pudding can inside of which a pair of kerosene-soaked underwear was burning with a greasy flame. The mayor looked around for the runner, but the man had already disappeared, melting away into the surrounding crowd.The hoaxer was a veterinary student named Barry Larkin, who (along with eight other students from the University of Sydney) planned the prank to take the piss out of a Nazi-era tradition which they felt was being treated with too much reverence.
Surprisingly, Larkin was treated as a hero; even the rector of the University of Sydney reportedly walked up to him the following day and said "well done, son". If he faced any punishment, it is not mentioned in the article. It's hard to imagine something like this happening these days without universal condemnation from the press and criminal charges, larrikinism being best left to professionals (such as TV celebrities) who can keep it safe for all. Could 1956-era Australia have been, in some ways, less conservative than the present day?
Two stories have recently made the Australian press: firstly, the government pushed through its sweeping "anti-terrorism" laws, rolling back presumptions of free speech and civil liberties taken for granted with no meaningful resistance; there being nothing in the way of a formal guarantee of rights in Australia, post-Whitlam institutions of free speech and civil liberties crumbled like so many sandcastles in the path of an incoming tide. Secondly, there was mass outcry as a convicted drug smuggler, Nguyen Tuong Van, was executed in Singapore, only to be reborn as a national symbol alongside the likes of Ned Kelly and Breaker Morant, with unofficial national moments of silence at the time of his execution and numerous strangers attending his funeral to pay their respects. It is quite likely that shrines will be erected in his honour.
On the surface, the two stories seem contradictory: though, on a deeper level, they are an example of the larrikin-wowser dynamic at the heart of Australian society. The crucial point being that Australia does not have a strong tradition of civil society. It has a strong tradition of authoritarian and paternalistic governance (from the penal-colony days, through the Menzies era to the present, minus an anomalous period of fashionable liberalism in the 1970s, 80s and 90s) and arbitrary authority exercised as a means to an end (such as has been manifested in the oft-publicised incidents of police corruption), and of censorious social conservatism of the sort that would not fly in more cosmopolitan parts of the world. It also has an opposing tradition of borderline contempt for authority and propriety; the larrikin tradition, manifesting itself in everything from the Rum Rebellion to the stencil art scene, not to mention in numerous incidents of political, artistic or cultural radicalism or impropriety and, of, course the summary transformation of anyone who dies in the course of pissing off authority — even if they were undoubtedly guilty of unsavoury crimes (and most Australians, presumably, do not condone armed robbery or heroin trafficking in principle) — into a folk saint of sorts, as we are seeing now.
That's all very well, but the downside of this is that there is no centre to hold between the two; no entrenched, stable institutions of a liberal culture, but only a precarious balance in an ancient war between two extremes. Usually, these are well balanced, and things stay roughly where they are. Occasionally, one gets the upper hand, pushes the other back, and gains ground. It happened during the 1960s and 1970s, when the wave of cultural change that resonated through the Western world pushed back the the conservative status quo of Anglo-Saxon Protestant wowserism, itself undermined by the challenges of immigration and cosmopolitanism; it's happening in the opposite direction now, because of terrorism and the resulting culture of fear.
Guerilla Drive-Ins are a cross between a drive-in cinema revival, illegal raves and Make-style improvisational techno-larrikinism. Some people in Santa Cruz are reviving the mid-20th-century American custom of drive-in movies, only this time reclaiming public space using a car fitted with a video projector, a FM transmitter and a movie; those in the know are notified in advance by email.
Films scheduled include cult classics (Dawn Of The Dead, Harold and Maude, Delicatessen) and worthy documentaries and dramas (The Take, The Yes Men, City Of God). It's an interesting idea, though, IMHO, it would have been more ideologically sound if they used bicycles instead of cars.
Quoted from Graham's blog, whose comments appear to be broken:
Bizarro sex ed animations, produced by the BBC. Theres one for the girls and one for the lads. Not Safe For Work. Also notice the difference in the title banners. And could you imagine the response from Murdochs hounds if the ABC even broached anything like this? More evidence that weve fallen behind the mother country in the prudity stakes. (Edit: or ahead, depending on your point of view.)
Actually, I don't think it's a matter of Australia having fallen behind the UK, so much as "respectable" Australian social morés always having been more conservative and less permissive than in the old country. It was like that in the 1950s, when Melbourne and Sydney were (on the surface) much more buttoned-down and less accepting of any deviancy than London; and in the early 1960s, when
a British model British fashion model Jean Shrimpton went to the Melbourne Cup wearing a miniskirt (which was the done thing in London), it caused public outrage and indignation.
Part of this would probably come from the frontier/outpost mentality ingrained into the Australian psyche. Australia is a new country, half a world away from civilisation, and thus needs more discipline to hold the line against barbarism. It is, the reasoning can be extrapolated as, not yet mature enough to be trusted with as much leeway as they have in London or Los Angeles. The fact that it was originally a penal colony, ruled with an iron fist by colonial governors, could have something to do with the political culture as well. The convicts are gone, but the paternalistic streak remains in Australia; from John Howard and his idol Robert Menzies to fictitious civic patriarchs in films like The Cars That Ate Paris and Welcome To Woop Woop, Australia has traditionally been a country of stern father figures laying down rules they expect to be heeded. Australia has also been a traditionally censorious society; other than high-profile cases like Baise-Moi and Nine Songs, many mainstream films have scenes cut or shortened prior to being allowed to be shown in Australia; meanwhile, a number of books, including, allegedly, 18th-century erotic novel Fanny Hill, are banned in Australia. And given how popular Howard's retro-styled leadership is (after all, one can only give so much credit to Rupert Murdoch's news-management for the last election), one can conclude that much of Australia finds this sort of governance reassuring.
Of course, that is only one side of the story. The streak of paternalistic conservatism in "respectable" bourgeois Australian society is counterbalanced by another phenomenon: the larrikin tradition. This tradition, of borderline contempt for authority and propriety, has been in Australia since the days of convict settlements and corrupt, arbitrary government, and is just as firmly ingrained, underneath the surface of society, as conservatism. The larrikin element can be argued to have informed everything from Australian contemporary art from the Angry Penguins onwards to youth counterculture (from bodgies to ferals), from contemporary scofflaws (it's no accident that Melbourne is home to the Cave Clan, dozens of zines and one of the world's most active stencil graffiti scenes) to the fine Australian tradition of political pranks.
And so we get the dynamic between wowserism (the bourgeois paternalist conservatism) and larrikinism, with both sides of the equation reinforcing each other. The larrikin vein beneath the surface of Australian culture is proof that Australia isn't ready for the sorts of license they have elsewhere in the world, and needs a firm hand to guide it. Meanwhile, the conservative, conformistic streak in respectable Australian society fuels the undercurrent of resistance. It is a balance, and a positive feedback loop, between order and chaos, just as that described by Discordianism.
It appears to me that the prominent larrikin-wowser dynamic, and its various consequences, is the main difference between the Australian and British cultures. Britain is less conservative or censorious as a whole (in fact, some have called this Britain's "repressive tolerance"), but doesn't have the larrikin tradition (not that it's a terribly orderly place, just that its disorder seems to be confined to drunken neds punching each other up outside pubs at 11pm, and has no deeper cultural manifestation).
Sentenced: Republican guerilla Gregory Anastasiou, aka Lucifer, was gaoled for five years for a campaign of arson attacks against those symbols of British colonialism and upper-class hegemony, the hedges of Melbourne's leafy inner eastern suburbs. Anastasiou previously served time for a similar series of hedge burning attacks in the 1980s, and was a cult hero of sorts, giving rise to the Hedge Burner Fan Club.
Another mystery solved: If you've ever wondered what that "GUMPY IS BACK AND HE'S NOT HAPPY" billboard in Richmond meant (it was around too long to be a teaser for an ad campaign), the latest issue of 3RRR's subscriber magazine has the answer. Gumpy, it turns out, was one of the members of 1980s Beastieesque rap act Mighty Big Crime (best known for their single 16 Tons), and then went on to form teeny-bopper hippie-retro-kitsch band the Freaked Out Flower Children (best known for having professional scantily-clad blonde Sophie Lee in its lineup). Not quite Bill Drummond, but...