Newsletter 327

Published March 7, 2020
This image seems perfect for a caption competition

Bad sight of the week was Donald Trump defiling the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad with his impure presence and mangling the name of the immortal Tendulkar. Surely that should have been enough to send 110,000 Indians into an uproar, but so bizarre is the world of politics nowadays that they all seemed excited to be hosting the oaf. By now one would hope that India is confident enough of its place in the world that it has no need to kowtow to a President whose private views on their country wouldn’t be especially flattering.

In India, with the devious Mr. Modi in charge, the taste for strongmen is well developed, as are the dangerous politics of religious division. In the United States it’s division on all fronts, as democracy slides down the drain. In Australia, we have something that seems less frightening but more like a bad comedy routine, as Scummo seizes upon the coronavirus as a way of distracting the electorate from his mishandling of the bushfire crisis and the sports rorts saga that simply won’t go away. It’s bleakly comical that he refuses to release any of the reports, documents and emails that supposedly prove everything was A-OK.

By now one might imagine that the deficit of public trust has reached terminal proportions but the truly disturbng thought is that this deficit is now so advanced, all around the world, that voters seemed to have worn out their capacity for outrage and become cynical about the entire political process.

Cynicism and complacency are manna from heaven for the Scummos and the Trumps. If ever the stage was set for a dynamic, charismatic political leader to step forward, the time is now. Alas, it’s hard to see Albo in that role, as his two greatest assets seem to be: 1. He’s not Scummo 2. He’s not Bill Shorten. As for Bernie Sanders, if he emerges as the Democrat nominee it will be the ultimate test as to whether the class politics of past still have any resonance in the age of the Internet. If Bernie can mobilise the working class voters who should be rallying to his call he will prove that people are still capable of recognising where their own best interests lie. If he bombs it will entrench the idea that people can be persuaded to vote in a way that is diametrically opposed to their benefit by a non-stop saturation of lies, misinformation, right-wing infotainment, and the mobilisation of fear and prejudice. You’d have to be an optimist to back the first option.

This week’s art column looks at a group of related exhibitions held at the UNSW Galleries and Gallery 4A, under the title Wansolwara: One Salt Water. This is an event that I would have liked to feel positive about, in that it deals with the art of the Pacific in a time of radical transition. As the region is also in the frontline of the global warming debates there’s an urgent political issue that serves to unite and activate the diverse island cultures.

What I found was that Wansolwara probably had greater impact as a talk-fest, when it kicked off in January, because the actual displays were more limited than I would have hoped. So while I couldn’t be completely negative, it was just as hard to feel positive. The propensity for artists to rely on either the simple presentation of self, or a research project that seems to accumulate bric-a-brac but raises no interesting ideas, are growing tendencies in world art. This springs from a culture of self-congratulation, and a paranoid belief that all criticism somehow springs from purely destructive impulses. The result is that artists are praised and encouraged to make work that is relatively one-dimensional, never pushing the boundaries as far as they might. The other effect is that it leaves no entry point for an interested general public, who simply turn away feeling that the work is only addressed to a small, like-minded clique.

The movie this week is Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn, which features the director in the lead role as a detective with Tourette’s Syndrome. It’s a new twist in the old hard-boiled genre, and I found a new way of seeing the film – at a preview with members of the Tourette’s Association. I was slightly trepidatious, but can now report that the Tourette’s people were much quieter and better behaved than the usual crowd of film reviewers.