Monday, June 04, 2007

Gangland ten years on

Upon request, here are some thoughts on Mark Davis’ Gangland ten years on.

Whatever its upfront disclaimers about not being a boomer-bashing (nor hence by implication, an Xer-boosting) tome, Gangland undoubtedly slotted in the mid-90s Xer zeitgeist, often called “Grunge” at the time. Richard Watts (an Xer) attests to this point. Don Arthur (a tool, and boomer, I presume) makes snide of it, with a bad-taste reference to Kurt Cobain and Xers’ garages, a joke made all the sicker by a suburban garage being a trophy far beyond my, and many other Xers’, means in 2007.

It is odd that Davis’ recent Age article makes no mention of this zeitgeist. Like Peter Pan, Davis doesn’t want his book to date. The mid-90s’ grunge generation, born between 1963 and 1976, has certainly not moved on at 30, nor 40, in the way boomers at those ages went from hippies to yuppies overnight and en masse, circa 1980. But middle-aged nihilism is not good fodder and colour for Saturday supplements; shorn of youth, it is dangerously unpackageable.

Davis’ continuing playing of the yoof card may keep his arguments eternally fresh, but it also renders them necessarily illogical. His mid-90s DIY-publishing boosterism came to massive fruition, of course, with the internet, blogs etc. But rather than levelling the commentariat playing field, DIY-publishing has lead to a Babel-esque diffusion of ideas, and so the dilution of a shared sense of belonging (or a set of “core values”, if you must) among intellectuals. And in the turd on the icing on the cake of Davis’ playing of the yoof card, DIY-publishing in younger, post-Xer hands has morphed into the anti-intellectual dystopias of YouTube and MySpace.

Sidebar (update): Davis’ “Instead of the usual suspects, why aren't . . .” list

Richard Watts was chuffed to be included on the list in Davis’ recent Age article. With respect, it is comprised of a minority of those who already get ample commentariat exposure despite having nothing new to say (Andrew Leigh, FFS?), and a majority of those who serve on commentariat’s B-team – for a reason.

Three names not on the list that I’d put up for not being over-exposed, yet definitely having things to say are Christos Tsiolkas, Elliot Perlman and Waleed Aly – all Xers.

Tsiolkas got quite a few positive mentions in Gangland. More recently, his novel Dead Europe was subject to a bizarre and withering critique by boomer Robert Manne, who had issues with the novel’s nihilism and supposed anti-Semitism. Manne’s shock at the novel’s (undoubted) nihilism in turn shocked me – evidently this academic and critic does not know a single university-educated Australian male born between 1963 and 1976.

Elliot Perlman’s novel Three Dollars (1998, and so too late for Gangland mention) tells a quintessentially Xer-in-the-early-90s story. Predictably, it was widely slagged-off for being too fantastical fiction, by boomers still apparently living the 80s high-life decades later. His next novel Seven Types of Ambiguity was subject to a bizarre ad hominem critique by boomer Peter Craven.

Waleed Aly first caught my attention with an Age article on the Pope’s travails with Islam earlier this year. Aly nailed the issues, and displayed an impressive grasp of Catholic theology to boot.

None of these three could remotely be termed “insiders”. Tsiolkas works as a vet nurse (PDF) to pay the bills and Perlman is an expat for presumably the same reason. I’m not sure what trained lawyer Aly now does for a living, but his recent anti-lawyer serve here is magnificent. Oddly or otherwise, the three have also all been (although I’m relying on memory here re Perlman) keynote speakers at three of the four annual Emerging Writers’ Festivals held in Melbourne since 2004.

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