September 27th, 2006


Of Course

"Everything I write is, more or less, a strange tale."

--Haruki Murakami, the introduction of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.

New Thoughts on the Cultural Cringe!

People don't read out of obligation, people don't read out of sympathy.

I have had that thought in my head for the last couple of days, but I've been unable to figure if it means anything. The drugs, the fever, the fact that I just couldn't focus. Whatever. But it clicked over, finally, because I was reading a review by Russell Farr (punkrocker1991) of the Outcast anthology put out earlier this year. In his review of the nineteen stories found in the collection, Farr finds that only seven are worth writing about, and out of those seven, he only has fully positive things to say about two of the stories chosen: Lily Chrywenstrom's "The Rubbish Witch" and "Things of Beauty" by Susan Wardle. Everything else, while supposedly 'good', suffers from bad story telling, such as twists that don't work, miraculous coincidence, predictability, lack of detail, and just plainly being not up to standard with the author's other work. However, it is how Farr ends his review that most struck me, for, while only finding under half of the stories in the collection worth a positive mention, and noting that the book's design and layout are not professional, but merely competent, and summing up the anthology as showing some of the CSFG's best fiction to date--which is damning with praise, I guess--it has left him wondering if Australian writers are "selling themselves short in not spending enough time in developing their voices". Then Farr ends his review by saying,

"As always, buy this anthology, support the local scene: this is your chance to own a handful of really good stories at less than three bucks a throw."

Well, no.

Clearly, the tone of the review is that the anthology is rubbish, and that you shouldn't buy it. It's twenty bucks, after all, and you can still use a twenty to buy something you like without reservation; and while you can't expect to like every story in a collection that is released, you should be, at least, able to claim that you aren't buying a collection where the reviewer can only single out two of nineteen stories as being unreservedly good.

I am not trying to single out the CSFG here, or even Farr, for his review. There's nothing wrong with Farr's review, except that it ends with this line, that suggests, somehow, that you ought to buy an Australian collection regardless of its content, just to support the scene. You should buy, that line says to me, not out of interest, or because you plan to read it, but out of obligation, out, even, of a sympathetic desire to help the poor, struggling nation that suffers from countless publishing set backs for locals, which include, of course, being part of the market for other Western countries. Now, it could be that Farr is not saying the last--I'd pay that, but the truth is, I have heard that meaning implied plenty of times when someone says, 'Buy to support the local market.'

Iit's stupid. It's ridiculous. I've even said it--shit, it's the fallback option when someone says, 'Why should I buy this Australian made product?' Buy Vegemite, by things made by Dick Smith, by Australian music, watch Australian film, do it all because it helps the local scene grow.

And you know what?

It doesn't.

Maybe this is where the cultural cringe comes from. It comes from listening to everyone around you say, 'Buy Austrailan because it supports the local scene.' Not, 'Buy Australian because it's good.' No, it's buy to support, buy it because locals want to write and make t-shirts too and because everything Australians made is somehow not worthy of your support on a normal day because it somehow doesn't match the work being produced in the rest of the world.

It's patently untrue, of course. Australia has a huge and excellent live scene for music. You people should be lucky enough to see the bands I do for fifteen bucks. Australian films and literature is not as strong as the music scene (at least to me) but that doesn't change the fact that good things are produced--and those things should be bought, not because it helps the scene, but because they're good and because they're worth your money. But how of course are you going to find those good things when everyone is walking round saying, 'Buy it to support the scene.'

Anyhow, what can I say? I'm tired of hearing people say, 'Do it for the local scene.' The local scene will grow, will die, or will stay stagnant regardless of what I say and do; but perhaps people will actually go and read some of the things produced here because they're good, and because they simply lack distribution, if the line, 'Support the local scene,' is dropped from usage. It only works on those who are overly patriotic and know the local scene anyhow--I mean, who is going to buy something because it helps keep afloat a scene that they have nothing to do with?


EDIT: * Please note, since putting up this post, the review has been altered to represent a less negative opinion.