Newsletter 348

Published July 27, 2020
Eliza Scanlen finds it's not easy being green

As of this week the Sydney Morning Herald has asked me to send readers to the version of the art column that appears on the newpaper’s site instead of taking the direct route to my own website. It’s perversely flattering they seem to believe I may be discouraging people from buying the paper on Saturday, although I don’t think it’s true. I don’t have the crossword! Or the real estate pages! Or the racing guide!

Anyway, not wanting to make an issue of this, I’ve agreed to use the link they’re providing. If you’d prefer to read the articles in the form in which I wrote them I’ll be posting the unexpurgated copy on my site by the following Wednesday at the latest. There are almost always differences in the published versions which get cut to accommodate ads, and are subject to frequent small alterations. As far as I’m concerned the versions I post myself are the definitive ones. Even the typos are definitive.

Last weekend I drove down to Wollongong to visit an artist, and took the opportunity to review the shows at the Wollongong Art Gallery. There were three exhibitions: by eX de Medici, Halinka Orszulok and Pamela Griffith, and that’s the substance of this week’s column. As the coronavirus seems to be creeping up on us again, I’ll simply keep playing it by ear from week to week, exploring a range of exhibitions and topics.

The movie being reviewed is Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth – the best Australian movie you’re likely to see this year. It’d be nice to believe this marks a new step up for our underwhelming local industry but this would require a supreme optimist. What Babyteeth proves is that there’s no lack of talent around, if we consider the direction, the script or the acting. My longterm suspicion about Australian movies is that funds get lavished on all the wrong projects, for all the wrong reasons. Every so often there’s an exception to the rule.

A subject touched on during the Babyteeth review is the controversy that flared up around one of the film’s leads, Eliza Scanlen, who was accused of ‘racism’ over a short film she made that won an award at the 2020 Sydney Film Festival. Scanlen ending up deleting the ‘offensive’ scene and apologising to her detractors, but I wonder whether this was stretching politeness too far?

With so many instances of outrage over perceived slights based on race or gender, every concession on behalf of the accused seems to lead to even greater demands from the accusers. There’s something pernicious and twisted about a person that goes around perpetually looking to be offended. To live one’s life as a victim-in-waiting is a terrible form of bad faith, with results that are entirely predictable. When the ‘victims’ experience the delicious feeling that they have their oppressors on the run, they can’t resist becoming ever more demanding and vindictive. It’s infantile, it’s disgusting, it’s profoundly anti-intellectual – and it’s swiftly becoming the new norm in the United States.

Differences are a fact of life. It’s only when those differences become reasons for treating people unfairly that we should be concerned. To imagine that a person is placed beyond any possible criticism by virtue of their race, creed or colour is just plain dumb. Like the coronavirus, spitefulness and stupidity attach themselves to human beings of all races, genders and income brackets. If we can’t avoid encounters with these negative characteristics of the new puritans, we should at least hold firm against their advance.