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Fuck the Flag (the Big Day Out, Again)

Lynda Hawryluk (lyndahawryluk) has a good post on the Big Day Out and Overreaction:

So the organisers of the BDO got it a little wrong and wrote the narrative before the story unfolded. They also made the mistake of referring to the flag-wearing yobs as gangs and the use of the flag as being akin to the display of 'gang colours'; an unfortunate choice of words in a city divided in some areas on racial lines, with the members of whichever 'race' the Terror is exploiting this week described as a 'gang'. The BDO organisers would have been better off advising their security staff to keep an eye on drunken yobs in general; and not just blame anyone with a flag on their shirt or in their hands for the actions of a few. The problem isn't the flag itself, it's what some people use it as, and what it represents for them. It's always the few that ruin it for everyone, isn't it?

And it is the few. That's what no-one is saying.

Perhaps my last post wasn't very clear, but I don't actually care about the flag. The comments so far seem to focus a bit on that.

What interests me is that it is unfolding in Sydney, in a city that, as Lynda notes, is divided on racial lines. A city that has had to wear the badge of the Cronulla Riots at the end of 2005, despite the fact that, really, they weren't much of a riot. Maybe that's going to cop a bit of flak, but, while the day was stupid, and that it was inspired by racism and people did get hurt, nothing in it really equals the riots that were taking place in France, or the riots in LA in the mid nineties. The work 'riot', in this case, is misapplied--a heavy handed label given out by a media that is all too keen to make each event in the city as dramatic as possible. Just as every time the media has done this, it has had an unfortunate result. Every time someone from outside Sydney brings up the Cronulla Riots to me, I always find myself saying, 'It's not as bad as you think.' I wish it hadn't happened. It showed an ugly side of the city, and that side exists, but it is about ten percent of truth in its total representation of Sydney.

However, the thing that irritates me about the decision made by the Big Day Out organisers is that it adds to this image of Sydney that has been created since Cronulla. Racism exists, yes. I'm not telling you it doesn't. The city is divided on lines of race. You can cut up the geography of Sydney into a map of racial heritage, and argue that they form ghettos, and indeed, some do. I'm not going to tell you that everyone loves everyone. There are very real issues. But for all that, the people in Sydney are slowly growing to deal with those issues. As the city grows in population, the racial divides become thinner, and the ghettos fracture. People and cultures are mixing. Slowly, yes, and not always in a good way, but that negative portrayal of Sydney after Cronulla just isn't true. When you find large events like the Big Day Out, however, shift days, and the organisers talking about gangs of flag wearing Australians, you find that the wrong image gets a little bit more strength added to it. Especially since the other image--Sydney as a city struggling positively with a whole range of cultures and nationalities and the issues they produce--doesn't get much air time. No one pays for that. No one pays to see what the majority of us in the city try to live. They pay to see the minorities, like those people in flags, and they label them with the always loaded term of 'gang' and let everyone feast over it.

So it is said: I don't care about the flag. I don't care if the move is UnAustralian. I don't care what politicians and the old men who died for the flag say. I don't care about the flag. Repeat it with me. What I do care about is the negative image that Sydney is being given in relation to race. I work against that image. I don't want that image. Neither should you.


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Jan. 23rd, 2007 02:30 am (UTC)
Yeah, this makes sense. I didn't think of it that way, but you have a point...
Jan. 23rd, 2007 12:23 pm (UTC)
Jan. 23rd, 2007 08:05 am (UTC)
A good post, Ben. The true picture, as you say, is both more complex and subtle than the media would have you believe.

And I agree with you that the negative image of Sydney being projected is a shame - I worry about how this is being portrayed in Asia. I have a lot of Asian friends who simply assume "Aussies are racist" and I think a lot of it comes from minor, media-driven stuff like this.

But, being a Sydneysider, it's nice to think we're a bit more diverse; a bit more tolerant. A little further down the road...
Jan. 23rd, 2007 12:22 pm (UTC)
hey, man, long time no see. how's it been going?
Jan. 24th, 2007 12:57 am (UTC)
Pretty freakin' busy dude. :)

You're working these days, aren't you?
Jan. 24th, 2007 01:23 am (UTC)
'working' is a real interesting term, but academic like, nah. looks like that phase of life might be done.
Jan. 23rd, 2007 10:01 am (UTC)
Sigh: I seem to have a severe case of verbosity. Here's the comment I just tried to post: http://lyndahawryluk.livejournal.com/#item76461

Who knew there was a word limit?
Jan. 23rd, 2007 12:21 pm (UTC)
haha. yeah, there's a word limit. i found that out a while back.

i've never seen those stickers round. maybe i'm just blind to them, though i must admit, i never go looking at bumper stickers. something to do when next driving!
Jan. 23rd, 2007 01:53 pm (UTC)
Stands to reason really; if you're going to write a comment that's as long as a post, you might as well get yourself a blog...

I guess I just notice these things because every time I return to Sydney it feels different. And because I've seen stickers like that up here, but not very many down there in the Big Smoke. My favourites here include: ''Speak English or Fuck Off'; 'My Girlfriend Swallows' and 'I Use Cats for CrabPot Bait'. That last guy isn't joking either.

The number of Australian flags out and stuck on cars around the time Australia was in the World Cup was quite impressive and struck me as an interesting phenomenon.

I've come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of patriotism at work in Sydney of late; the 'good' (harmless) patriotism that existed during the Olympics and the World Cup, and the 'bad' (harmful) patriotism that existed when the gang rape trials were on and after the Cronulla Carnage, and is now rearing it's ugly head in the BDO stoush.

Jan. 24th, 2007 01:28 am (UTC)
aw, man, this didn't post the first time.

anyhow: as i was saying, they gave away those flags round the world cup. one of the big newspapers, i believe, had them. the whole city had a world cup thing going on, but yeah, i do agree with the two kinds. funny how the good kind is associated with sport--but even there it can get out of hand.
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