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Newsletter 351

Published August 17, 2020
ABC Arts. Yes we have no bananas... or anything else, really

Although I try and resist the impulse to believe that everything is going down the drain, in certain cases it seems indisputable. Take the ABC for instance. A sustained period of Coalition rule has just about gutted the national broadcaster although Scummo won’t even admit he’s made any cuts. When the organisation is talking about getting rid of 250 jobs it’s a media massacre.

On the grapevine I hear that one of the threatened positions is that of Arts Reporter. The thinking, apparently, is that the Arts doesn’t require any in-depth reporting or investigation. It’s a soft topic that can be lumped in with general news. This means sending out a journo to tell us who won the Archibald Prize, or following up a press release when the nightly bulletin needs a bit of ‘colour’.

Nothing could echo the government’s view of the arts more perfectly. It would be all light entertainment and fluff. The possibilities of the ABC doing an incisive story such as the Four Corners report on the looted Indian antiquities acquired in such vast numbers by the National Gallery of Australia, would be zero. I couldn’t help noting that the ABC was largely missing in action during the recent dispute over the NSW government’s lunatic attempt to dismantle the Powerhouse Museum. All the running was made by the press, and by radio stations such as 2GB and 2SM. In days of yore this would have been a natural ABC story.

From what I’ve heard from many people working within the ABC over the years, the broadcaster has done a lot to speed its own demise. This would be a very long newsletter if I tried to list all the symptoms of decline. I’ve never quite understood why the organisation seems to believe that any arts program should be fronted by stand-up comedians – a tribe that are virtual ABC welfare recipients. Meanwhile any vestige of criticism is banished from the airwaves, as obviously being too “negative”. It’s hardly necessary to point out the lack of arts-based documentaries or original series. Not only do such things constitute an unjustifiable expense, programmers apparently imagine viewers couldn’t cope with such high-brow stuff.

When one thinks of all the programs that are bought in from the BBC or Channel 4 – and these are a mixed bag, too! – the absence of local content is truly woeful.

The nation that does not value its own culture, its own artistic and intellectual life, is destined to get dumber by the day. Add in Scummo’s ‘reforms’ to higher education, which have doubled the cost of a basic arts degree, and one can see that every possible measure has been taken to ensure that any trace of critical thinking is expunged from the national psyche.

Speaking of a lack of critical thought, this week’s art column looks at the monumental new Brett Whiteley catalogue raisonné. It’s a publication that caught me in two minds, being fully appreciative of the huge amount of toil put in by editor, Kathie Sutherland, but struggling to overcome my habitual distaste for so much of Whiteley’s work, which too often seems either complacent or pretentious.

No matter what I write about our homegrown genius I’m sure it will only hasten sales of the catalogue, published in a limited edition of 1000, at a cost of $1,500 – a mere snip for anyone who can afford an original Whiteley.

Things are still very slow at the movies, with distributors holding back their most promising new titles. Instead, we’re getting some mediocre films and some genuinely strange ones. This week’s review concerns one of the latter: Quentin Dupieux’s Deerskin – in which Jean Dujardin plays a man who falls head-over-heels for a deerskin jacket that per-suedes him into becoming a serial killer. I’d recommend it just for the scenes of Dujardin’s conversations with his jacket. It should send a terrible warning to any fashion victim.