Art Essays

Newsletter 272

Published February 2, 2019
The face of Australian politics

Although Australia often seems to ape the United States in the most abject fashion there are a few significant points of difference. This may not have occurred to our buffoon of a Prime Minister who thinks that wearing a baseball cap and eating a meat pie will make him look like a man of the people, while his government awards billions of dollars to Catholic private schools as part of their latest round of “reforms”. Such tactics show the high esteem in which SloMo holds voters’ intelligence.

Even allowing for such special favours, the Church occupies a much lesser position in Australian society than it does in fanatical America. Take for instance a plan to introduce Bible literacy classes into America public schools – a plan that President Trump has called “great”. The claim is that these courses will study the Bible in its historical context. To critics of the scheme it’s merely a way of smuggling religion back into the cirriculum, thereby undermining the separation of church and state.

In Australian schools, the number of students in public schools identifying with “no religion” has reached 45 per cent. Meanwhile the NSW Teachers Federation has complained that the weekly requirement for 40 minutes of Special Religious Education is “antiquated” and should be scrapped. This may sound shocking to deeply moral men such as Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison, but the teachers say it’s just “chewing up time” that could be put to better use.

It’s hard not to agree that the SRE requirement is merely a waste of time nowadays. It would be a shame, however, if students were encouraged to be scornful about reading the Bible. Like it or not, some knowledge of the Bible is essential to the most basic levels of cultural literacy. This is not to say students shouldn’t read the Quran or the Hindu or Buddhist scriptures in the same way, but Australians with zero understanding of the Bible will always be bamboozled by the history, law and culture of the society in which they live.

One of my ambitions this year is the read to Old Testament (King James version) from cover to cover, instead of merely dipping in, as I’ve done for decades. It’s highly unlikely I’ll emerge from the experience as a true believer, but it should fill a lot of gaps in my knowledge. I’m also reading the Egyptian Book of the Dead, but I don’t expect to become a disciple of Ra.

Once again I’m left thinking about the Ramsay Foundation and its grand scheme to fund courses on Western Civilsation. In theory this sounds like a great idea but it has generated huge hostility because of the lingering suspicion it will also be peddling the ideological message that “the west is the best”. Whether students are studying “Western Civilisation” or “Post-Colonialism” surely the whole point is to develop a capacity for critical thinking. The student that is effectively brain-washed by a university course is a poor advertisement for higher education.

This has been a long digression but it’s not a topic that permits a quick yea or nay. The latest art column looks at Destination Sydney re-imagined, a 3 venue, 9 artist summer show that was first trialled in 2015. While that show was a flawed success, the new version is even more flawed, although plenty of people, less fussy than me, are apparently enjoying it. A critic should never be worried about being out-of-step with the crowd, but neither should the crowd view criticism as anything but a argument that can be considered and rejected.

The film being reviewed is Green Book, a feel-good movie that has proved to be surprisingly controversial. I’ve tried to give an overview of the issues but nothing managed to overturn my enjoyment of the film. I suspect that most viewers would have to work really hard to dislike Green Book. It might be easier than reading the Old Testament, but with this case I can’t see any obvious benefits.