Issue 7, Volume 17
No, it isn’t VB, Vegemite, or tying your partner to the bed using venomous snakes – it’s something much more dangerous. In fact, the things that many Australians can be reliably predicted to be interested in aren’t Australian at all: they belong to our Pacific cousin, the United States.
Australians are drowning in a high-fructose corn-syrup diet of American food, TV, politics, and consumer goods. American ‘burger joints’ are all the rage, and every man and his dog has an iPhone in their pocket. Who the hell cares if Brad and Angelina are getting back together? Us, apparently. My gripe with this situation isn’t some kind of reactionary patriotism. The fact is, for many Australians, American ubiquity has meant a gradual erosion of our distinct national identity.
Take food, for example. Naturally, America is a cultural powerhouse, and it is only expected that American-style food would be available the world over. But what does it say about our nation, that we cannot develop indigenous cuisine? After all, our most globally recognisable food icon (the Outback Steakhouse) is itself American! I dare any reader to find an Australian food that is as well-known as this impostor.
In the legal sphere, the results are, disappointingly, just as obvious. I inwardly cringe whenever a student screams ‘Objection!’ at the judge in a witness exam competition – a breach of decorum that would raise eyebrows in an Australian courtroom. Yes, I know, I’m a pedant – there’s no need to point it out in the comments. But again, I’m sure that it would not benefit Australia to imitate the American legal system. Having worked in the criminal law space, I know that many arrestees complain that their ‘Miranda Rights’ have not been respected. Misconceptions about our legal system, such as this one, are perhaps one of the most pernicious results of American entertainment that floods our screens.
It truly is a cultural deluge. Indeed, Australian actors and personalities are only said to have ‘made it’ once they have made the transition to the more lucrative American market (Rove McManus was called a failure when he could not follow the footsteps of Russell Crowe and Margot Robbie. We compare ourselves with our cousins so zealously, that we are dissatisfied with the small pond of Australia. It’s a common refrain amongst my friends at the VCA that, some day, they wish to move to the ‘big smoke’ of New York. For my part, I don’t see why enriching the Victorian cultural scene is seen as so banal.
This dynamic is nowhere more pernicious than the domain of politics. Ben Shapiro and The Young Turks battle for the minds of our young people, and American culture wars play themselves out in miniature on the Australian stage. I myself have been drawn into comment on Facebook news stories at how aghast I am at the actions of Donald Trump. And American elections? Legislated homophobia? The long history of slavery and segregation in…America? These domestic political machinations affect us not. one. bit. Worse, we can’t influence their outcomes, as Australians.
It’s no mystery why we have reached this point, in a world drunk on American cultural exports. The news is no exception, and it behoves the ABC as much as the New York Times to report breathlessly on Trump’s latest outrage, or the Westboro Baptist Church. After all, it generates clicks from an Australian population desperate to tap into the dramatic political bloodbath across the Pacific. It represents the pinnacle of capitalistic news media, geared towards entertainment and consumption. It is outrage-porn at its finest, and American politics is a spectator sport.
As a result, political issues have been transplanted into our national discourse from across the seas, and in many cases, have no relevance to the everyday lives of Australians. Indeed, I fear we have begun to perceive problems that do not exist. It’s enough to make you sick, that we have been subordinated to such a point, that we see ourselves as living within the American cultural miasma. I am not saying this issue is unique to Australia, but that should be cold comfort. Global monoculturalism might be the dream of corporate media executives, but should be abhorred by any of us who truly believe that variety is the spice of life.
Hamish Dundee is a fake name, so don’t bother looking him up.