Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Ideas Remainder Bin

Flipped through this new book on my way back from Centrelink this morning. My overall impression is that it makes a nice little coda to Howard’s re-election, by confirming the bankruptcy of the boomer Left. Typically for the times, there is a hugely misleading back-cover blurb:

“The same names recur in the same places having much the same debates. There is a great deal of our public intellectual life not well-represented in the mainstream media and public forums” (from editor David Carter’s introduction to The Ideas Market).

Oh goody, you might think. Finally, a follow-up to Mark Davis’s 1997 anti-boomer tract, Gangland, only this time written by GenX, and by more than one of them, at that.

No dice. About two-thirds of the contributors are the same old boomers, a la Catharine Lumby, McKenzie Wark and not to mention Mark Davis himself. While Guy Rundle is of the younger age bracket, he could hardly be accused of lacking outlets (mainstream media and otherwise) for his views.

Lesser-known GenX writers do get a look in, but on a probationary basis only, it would seem. Scottish-Australian academic Alan McKee plays the harmless doofus by insisting that he’s not a public intellectual, but Pauline Hanson and high-rating radio shock jocks are. Similarly, perennial yoof-meister Marcus Westbury parades his credentials as a university dropout; an ironic – if not crass – counterpoint to the earnest tone of the remaining handful of GenX contributors, whose Chapters Based on My PhD clearly haven’t so far got any of them jobs on even the lowest rung of academia.

“Baby boomers” gets mentioned in the index three times, both of which turn out to be a third party quote (one quote is itself duplicated within a chapter). Intriguingly, both these quotes, which are boomer-pejorative, centre on the failure on the 1960s (Western) cultural revolution – and naturally, the very idea here is given short shrift. In other words, there is a near-total taboo within The Ideas Market on discussing what I would think is the defining issue for GenX thinkers: how to start afresh from the wreck of economic fundamentalism that was either stage two of, or the force that leapt into the vacuum created by (take your pick, it really doesn’t matter now), the boomer cultural revolution.

On this point, RMIT academic Kevin McDonald writes today:

John Howard's great political achievement has been to forge the two potentially contradictory cultural movements of moral conservatism and "I'm worth it" individuality into a political constituency.

Sorry, Kevin, but John Howard has done nothing that wasn’t already set in stone by about 1980, when boomers pulled-up the drawbridge of social and economic progress, leaving themselves comfortable while succeeding generations were left to fend for themselves in a neo-Hobbesian world of the nasty and brutish.

Without even jobs in academia for GenX (or those without Scottish accents, anyway), I might be getting a bit ahead of myself, though. After all, why should it really matter that
Australianness has now gone full-circle back to the 1950s and 60s, to become again a topic that is best left to expats (like the four authors of Imagining Australia) and tired old bores (and in McKenzie Wark’s case in The Ideas Market, both)? Perhaps the legion of unemployed GenX academics still calling Australia home, myself included, should follow the million or so of our age-peers and emigrate to places where we, too, can contribute to upbeat books on Australia – an Australia in which there is finally no one left to read their platitudes.

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