Thursday, March 04, 2004

Don Watson lecture at Adelaide Writers Week

Hello from Adelaide. It's stinking hot, particularly in the Hindley Street Net cafe where I'm writing this.

Not sure if Don Watson's (no relation, BTW) talk got any media coverage on the east coast, as I believe they say in these parts. I've been meaning to read “Death Sentence” (an Xmas present for me) for a while now, and then write something about it, but a few aspects of yesterday's lecture deserve stand-alone mention, I believe.

There was a drunk Indigenous heckler up the back, who uttered some choice lines while Watson spoke, such as:

“Speak English!”


“This is a Young Liberals Convention!”

The irony of the first heckle should be obvious. As for the second one, for those who haven't been to Adelaide Writers Week before, it suffices to say that the vast majority of the crowd is invariably neither Young nor Liberal.

But the heckler had a point, methinks. The crowd was listening all a bit too reverently to Watson, and his message was rather too full of upper-middle class pieties. Watson twice blamed journalists for failing to cross-examine (I'm paraphrasing) Ministers (etc) when they did needlessly brandish managerial language at a press conference (etc). I'm puzzled as to why Watson sees fit to apportion blame here – it is the boomers, his ilk, who have so thoroughly degraded the profession of journalism in Australia as to make such a prospect effectively impossible: a young journo – well, one who wants a job in the morrow – actually asking a palpably impertinent question to a senior politician.

Another Watson misfire was his identifying of consultants as the original Typhoid Mary's carrying the plague of managerial language (although this got a good laugh in the peanut gallery, of course). The most egregious use of managerial language – anywhere, ever – is to be found in writing job applications. This is not (mainly) the result of some managerial fad peddled by consultants. Rather, it is simply Hobbesian human nature at work – when the demand for jobs far exceeds the supply of them, why shouldn't the power-holders systemically brutalise the power-nots? This brutalisation is all the more cutting when a job applicant, like me, is forced to hide their real high literacy behind a sham of words, a less-extreme version of what Polt Pot did to Cambodia's intellectual in the 1970s. To his credit, Watson did note the specific anti-intellectualism of managerial language's excesses. He also noted, though, in response to a question about what to do about the problem here, that “I don't have any answers”.

Well, here's an answer, Don. You and your generation created this mess – so fix it, you gutless little fucker. And I think I'm speaking English here, in the sense meant by that heckler up the back.

P.S. In an irony of ironies, Watson isn't averse to a doing a bit of consulting himself, nowadays.

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