Newsletter 380

Published March 8, 2021
Ted Cruz heils the new era of Fun for All

First of all, apologies for the late delivery of this newsletter. Please address all correspondence to the NBN, which went into a day-long meltdown when I needed to work on the mailout. This morning normal service has been resumed. And they’ll never, ever do it again… not until the next time, as Morrisey sang.

After Trump it seemed as if American politics was about to become boring again, as Joe Biden systematically tries to fix all the craters left by his predecessor. This may be good news for the planet in general but it has removed the daily crazy fix so many of us were imbibing with our morning coffee.

Happily the Republican Party has tried hard to keep the entertainment coming by endorsing Trump’s attempts to overturn the election, and then cravenly backing him in another impeachment trial, even though many of them undoubtedly hate his guts. Mitch McConnell has been perfectly schizo, denouncing Trump both before and after the trial yet voting to acquit him. Only a handful of reps decided enough was enough, the most notable being Liz Cheney. (Please note. We now live in a world in which Liz Cheney is a hero). As a return for their courage/common sense the rebels have been censured by party hacks in their home states. Meanwhile Trump is threatening to kill ‘em all in the primaries, installing a new wave of stooges in their place, making America look more and more like the Island of Dr. Moreau.

To see how far matters have degenerated one need only glance at last week’s CPAC events, which were hardly more than a collective outpouring of lies, hatred, bigotry, conspiracy theories and paranoid accusations – not a policy in sight. The theme was “cancel culture”, which is pretty hilarious coming from the people who tried to cancel the entire 2020 election.

The speeches that appeared on YouTube were at best sinister (Josh Hawley, Mike Pompeo), at worst, completely deranged. Both Ted Cruz and Don Jr. tried their hand at stand-up comedy but couldn’t raise a laugh even from the most staunchly right-wing audience. It’s difficult to choose the worst “joke”. When Cruz began by telling his listeners that “Orlando is awesome” but “not as nice as Cancun”, his attempt at self-deprecating humour was met with a collective hoot and a boo. One commentator wrote that Cruz was as shameless as a streaker at the Super Bowl.

But when Don Jr. tried to attack Liz Cheney by saying she was about as popular as her father at a quail hunt, he really plumbed the depths. Dick Cheney, as you may recall, accidentally shot one of his friends at a quail hunt. If someone shot Don Jr. in the head the bullet would pass through, unimpeded.

There was so little substance to these rants that Cruz was reduced to screaming “Have fun!! Just lighten up! Just have fun!” This may be his way of justifying his fun trip to Cancun while his voters in Texas froze their arses off thanks to a power grid designed to help energy tycoons, not ordinary citizens. Talk about laugh.

This may be the new Republican message: “Liberty is fun!” Yes, let’s have freedom from boring, oppressive welfare payments, clean air and water, a living wage, adequate health care… Let’s have fun!

Not even Scummo has tried the “fun” approach (yet), although his rationale for taking a Pacific holiday during the bushfires gave Ted Cruz his best excuse for the trip to Cancun: “My daughters made me do it.” Let’s hope the new hedonism doesn’t catch on. Can you imagine Peter Dutton and Michaelia Cash screaming “Let’s have fun!!!”

No, our mob may be lacklustre, self-serving and hypocritical but they’re not stark, raving mad. Should we be thankful, or worried about their apparent self-control?

This week’s column makes a rare excursion across the Harbour, to look at the last solo exhibition at Artarmon Galleries after 65 years in the business. Edwin Wilson’s Mullimbimby Revisited is an equally portentous event, as the artist says it will probably be his own last show. That remains to be seen. Wilson may be feeling his mortality but his productivity is phenomenal. Painter, poet, horticulturalist, scientist and memoirist, if Edwin Wilson has never been famous it’s not through lack of application.

If you were hanging out for a blockbuster, I’m also including a ‘first look’ review of Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London, which has just opened at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. While the ‘masterpiece’ formula may be familiar this is the first time ever that the NG has decided to send a collection of works on an international tour. The fact that the tour concided with the pandemic saw the works languishing in storage in Japan last year before finally arriving on these shores. At any other time an exhibition that contained Rembrandt’s Self-portrait at the age of 34 and Van Gogh’s Sunfowers would be a guaranteed crowd-puller, but these parlous times make everything a gamble. With the NGA’s boldness be rewarded?

Just to make things even more hectic this week, Liz-Ann Macgregor decided to announce that she was stepping down as Director of Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art and returning to bonnie Scotland. The newspaper asked me for a few reflections on Liz-Ann’s career in Oz, which I’m slipping in as a blog.

Finally, the film being reviewed is Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, the most low-key feature ever to receive wall-to-wall raves across the United States. Frances McDormand is in top form as a grey nomad, but the entire movie is a sad, slow elegy for the America that Hollywood once knew and loved. If Frank Capra’s characters were bursting with energy and idealism, Zhao gives us a galaxy of impoverished drifters, resigned to their fate. Ah yes, America is great again, now let’s have fun!