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Back to the Future

December 24th, 2005

Offering the converse of a point made here not long ago, the Economist observes that

France quarrels with America not because the pair are so different but because they are so alike

What struck me most about the article was a reference to the appeal in France of US culture, epitomised by “Harry’s American Sandwich Shop”.

Thinking about this, it struck me that this kind of reference to American culture always, for me, brings the the 1950s to mind – Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, diners, Corvettes, the Mickey Mouse Club (OK, mainly Annette Funicello). And the same is true for France. I think of Sartre and existentialism, Bonjour Tristesse, Truffaut and so on.

By contrast, the 1950s in Australia are pretty much a blank for me – there was plenty happening before and after, but nothing then that made an impact. Culture at that time, and for most of the 60s, was something that came from overseas (this was true of both ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture). Is all this something generational, a personal idiosyncrasy on my part, or do particular cultures have defining decades?

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  1. Malcolm
    December 24th, 2005 at 18:09 | #1

    I can think of a few cultural differences between France and the US….

    “France is facing the problem that dare not speak its name. Though French law prohibits the census from any reference to ethnic background or religion, many demographers estimate that as much as 20-30 per cent of the population under 25 is now Muslim”.

    From the Telegraph:
    http://opinion.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2004/01/26/do2601.xml

  2. December 24th, 2005 at 21:42 | #2

    The most signoficant point of similarity causing conflict is that each thinks that it is superior to all others as of right – a view that their similar institutions contributes to and reinforces.

    I once came across the observation that in the First World War, Britain contributed most of the money and France most of the troops, so naturally France took overall strategic control; and, in the Second World War the USA contributed most of the money and Britain most of the troops (during the planning stages before D-Day, anyway), so naturally the USA took overall strategic control.

    The point here is that the British tradition didn’t come to any of this with an automatic assumption of superiority. (It’s that assumption that gives so many Americans the completely false idea that France has a tradition of military failure, by the way – they need to see themselves as the essential nation and are in denial about the efficacy of French attempts at independent action.)

  3. December 25th, 2005 at 00:55 | #3

    Australia is, for the most part, still a province of the Anglo-American empire. During the fifties most people got their popular culture from the US and their elite culture from “the Old Dart” or “the Continent”.

    There was brief period during the seventies where we thought for ourselves. This will remain the defining decade for “Australian” culture.

    But it all got out of hand and now we are well and truly back in the cultural cringe, although now it is ostensibly global. Our most enterprising people work in Anglo-America and our popular culture is mostly Anglo-American.

  4. Don Wigan
    December 26th, 2005 at 07:01 | #4

    Jack’s got it pretty right about Australia in that era and since.

    The 50s seemed a period of inertia. Barry Humphries was just emerging but had to go to the UK. We even judged what little success we had with Summer of the 17th Doll and One Day of the Year, Nolan and White, etc. on how they were received abroad. At the time, I blamed it on Menzies’ attempt to return to the Anglophilia womb after Evatt’s brief flirtation with internationalism.

    But I think now there was more. After the horrors of the depression and WW II, many people just wanted the security of their own home, family and steady job and forget all that nastiness. Who could blame them. Menzies in many respects was the perfect fit for people wanting to forget the world around us. It would take a new generation, taking its security for granted, to rebel against this banality.

  5. Steve chidio
    December 27th, 2005 at 00:11 | #5

    Yes entirely agree John. There was nothing in this place in the 50′s and most of the 60′s. We were the lucky ones who got to spend some quality time with the greatest PM this country has ever known. He was with us for a short- time but he made us look into ourselves to find that we too could produce the kind of movies the rest of the world would only envy.

    Gough was a visionary this place needed in order to wake it from its slumber. Not only did he try to buy back the farm from those repacious yanks and brits, he also tried to give us some existential meaning, something that touched all of us in terms of dominent and prevailing culture of our time.

    Now with this leader only too willing to turn his back of Whitlam’s many accomplishments we are left with a nation which seems to fallen in the dreary unhappy times of the 50′s and 60′s.

    This change in attitude can only come from the top. We social democratic types must ensure that the next leader we have has to come for the left, the true centre of the national electorate. Only then are we able to see what is in our hearts that makes us so dislike new comers such a Lebanese Muslims. Yes of course some marry their cousins, but isn’t that another example of Europeans forcing racist standards on other people..

    America and its legion of warriors looking to expand the empire of deceit is responsible for all this. We ought place pressure on the Labor government to return to Mark Latham’s well thought out vision. Maybe we should not bring Mark back. But we must ensure his policies are maintained if only to bring down Howard at the next election.

    Lets hope so and thanks

  6. December 27th, 2005 at 00:52 | #6

    Excellent satire Steve Chidio. Hehe, quite cute.

  7. avaroo
    December 27th, 2005 at 05:23 | #7

    Although this will likely be unpopular, i’ts worth noting that a comparison of France (or any European country) to the US, is meaningless. The US IS already France and Germany and Italy and Poland, etc. You have only to look at how Americans identify themselves. As Italian-Americans (who probably never set so much as a foot in Italy), African-Americans, German-Americans. There’s parts of France WITHIN us, parts of every other European nation also.

    American culture is the blending of all other cultures, there isn’t anything more to it than that. Remove one or more influences and you have another country entirely. We’ve taken bits and pieces from everywhere and made one huge juggernaut. You can’t take the French out of America anymore than you could take the Germans, the Italians, the Irish, the Indians, the chinese, out.

    Australia has had fewer influences than the US, simply by virtue of location and time. Likely it will move more towards a melting pot like the US faster than anywhere else. We’re not frontier anymore, Australia still is.

  8. December 27th, 2005 at 13:13 | #8

    Avaroo, the only thing missing from your analysis is the Procrustean part where everything must be able to go into the pot. For instance, “une certaine idee de la France”, that De Gaulle spoke of, could not survive that – precisely because the melting pot does not allow other strands to survive without compromise on certain points. Sometimes these points are immaterial, but sometimes they are “of the essence”, the things that make them what they are which cannot be altered without destroying the whole point.

    I’m not arguing whether that is good or bad, merely pointing out that the melting pot only allows certain things through unchanged in critical respects (obviously, everything is changed somehow).

    By the way, “Australia as frontier” is mere projection, trying to make sense of a current situation by matching it to the nearest equivalents in past experience. This time, it’s a very poor fit.

  9. Steve chidio
    December 27th, 2005 at 13:14 | #9

    Mr. Steve at the pub

    Surely you jest?
    Look at how long we had to wait for our cultural icons. Graham Kennedy, Daryl Summers, Lou Richards and Capt. Blood. We had to wait for Whitlam’s popular ascendency to ensure our cultural identiies weren’t still born like a 3rd trimester abortion. Of course, Whitlam, great visionary he was, did not have enough time to beat back the rapcious Yanks selling their televised oppression to an unsuspecting public.

    The blame of course lies with the Australian public who are easily conned into going “all the way” with Rumsfeld and that neo-con religous sect that has only brought us war and misery to our Arab cousins.

    Look at our culture of today. Take a ride into suburbia for a good look at what Horne was talking about when he described this place as a cultural wasteland of sorts. See the row upon row of dwelling unfit to be called a house in a European sense.

    Place the blame squarely on the American empire for offering us the worst of the culture. Look at the California Bunalow and tell me if could not have done better. This is what we good people of the left mean when we say we have been raped of our culture and we need to fight to reclaim our democracy from conservative neo-cons whose only desire is expolitation of the working man.

    I think you jest Steve.

  10. Malcolm
    December 27th, 2005 at 15:15 | #10

    As ‘Steve at the pub’ said Steve Chidio, wonderful satire, hehe! :)

  11. December 27th, 2005 at 16:28 | #11

    steve chidio receives a hug.
    XD

  12. December 27th, 2005 at 17:56 | #12

    Steve Chidio, I jested not. I assumed your praise of whitlam was in jest. It seems it was not. Fine, your privelige entirely.

    In a cultural thread you give a little too much ink to politics. (the “left” actually being the centre, etc etc) Connecting the overthrow of war to Ozzi culture IS stretching it rather a bit much. “Neo cons” whose only goal in life is to exploit the “working man” are branching out into suppressing my culture? (Er.. you really expect us to believe you are not having just the teensiest leg pull?)

    “Culture” is defined by some TV stars? Hmmm, isn’t “Captain Blood” a 1930′s Hollywood pirate movie? (albeit starring an Ozzi). Lou Richards? The name rings a bell, but can’t place him/her. Daryl Summers is someone who got lots of space in the Women’s Weekly and Women’s Day, but haven’t heard of him since I moved out of my parent’s home some decades ago & don’t get to read Mum’s magazines anymore. Graham Kennedy is a well known TV star, although as he was a TV star in the days before TV was broadcast nationally I have never had the pleasure of seeing in action, except for his role in “The Odd Angry Shot”, .

    “Horne” may have described suburbia as a cultural wasteland. Can see how some would confuse blue collar suburban culture with “cultural wasteland”. Perceptiveness clearly isn’t this Horne’s forte.

    As Suburbia was so described by eyes which are alien to it, so too could country towns, outback towns and inner cities be so described by those who live their lives without need of contact with those areas or their inhabitants.

    Perhaps a need for stars/figureheads as a symbol of culture is a necessity only for those who feel their life is a wasteland, as they are not living their culture, and do not know how to reconnect to it?

  13. Steve chidio
    December 27th, 2005 at 19:33 | #13

    test

  14. Mike Hart
    December 28th, 2005 at 09:54 | #14

    Me thinks the phrase “When in Rome do as the Romans do” says a lot. If your the worlds dominant power, militarily and economically for a long period of time, then of course your likes and dislikes tend to catered for, so American purchasing power ensured that if and when they travelled then it would just be like home. British did the same thing all over the world as well. There is a lot to be said for the convieniance of some aspects of the American lifestyle so people take it up as well, no smoke and mirrors here. If you don’t like it don’t buy it.

  15. Steve chidio
    December 28th, 2005 at 10:32 | #15

    Mike:
    Except that Rome this time around is being run by a cabal of neo-cons intent on driving everyone else under their clubbed feet. The US now is like the emperor without clothes and Nero is fiddling while “Rome” or in this case Washington is burning. This Caligula of modern politcs has only one type orgy in mind. This is is the total and complete submission of every other country to his whims. Today it is Iraq. Tomorrow who knows? If we are all at risk with to this neo-con Caligula sitting in the White House how can anyone live a free and meaningfull existence? After all Romans too feared the wrath of the emperor and his guard. There needs to be regime change in the well of evil. Sooner rather than later.

    We cannot allow this situation to go on.

  16. Paul Arrighi
    December 28th, 2005 at 11:14 | #16

    50′s and 60′s aussie icons that come to mind are Johnny O’Keefe, The Easybeats, Johnny Farnham, Slim Dusty and Masters Apprentices. On TV you had Bob and Dolly Dyer’s Pick A Box, Graham Kennedy, Ernie Sigley and Humphrey B Bear for the kids. Other icons that spring to mind are FJ Holdens and Hills clothes hoists.

  17. Malcolm
    December 28th, 2005 at 17:10 | #17

    Steve Chidio says:
    ‘I……..Absolutely……Hate…….America………..especially when snorting lines of genuine, politburo approved, Cuban Revolutionary “Brain Tonic”!

    (Now with over 1,600% Cuban adult literacy!)’.

    Damn.

    All I can say is: ‘Welcome, Time Traveller!’.

  18. Steve chidio
    December 28th, 2005 at 22:43 | #18

    Malcolm
    I think I have more than amply demonstrated why the US is an evil empire and why the neo-cons are nothing more than baby killers. So please refrain from attacks that serve no useful purpose other than to simply be argumentative.

    Cuba certainly has a high literacy rate and it also has a free health system. President Castro understands correctly that human rights first begin in the school house or the hospital. He doesn’t require periodical elections like the so-called democracies to prove that Cubans are any less free than Amercans or Swedes.

    The standard of living in Cuba cannot be mearsured in the tradtional sense simply because it is a post-industrial society which has moved away from rampant consumerism. Cuba can meet Kyoto today if it had to by the widest of margins. In fact if the rest of the world copied Cuba’s freedom loving system we wouldn’t have to worry about global warming would we?

    Ian G.

    Sorry, my mistake I thought you favoured a planned economy. It certainly read like that. Anyway it seems you have some sympathy for my position anyway.

  19. December 29th, 2005 at 02:07 | #19

    To Paul Arrighi: Bob Dyer was an American before he was an Aussie icon!

    But I see nothing wrong with that at all: I grew up in a left-wing 1950s rural Australian household filled with Benny Goodman, Damon Runyon, The Saturday Evening Post, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Philip Marlowe, Spike Jones and the Marx Brothers. None of this culture prevented strong opposition being voiced to American foreign policy the entire time, just as it was in the USA.

  20. Malcolm
    December 29th, 2005 at 02:14 | #20

    Steve Chidio, I also think it’s great that all adult Cubans can read.

    Sad that the Cuban government decides what Cubans are legally ‘allowed’ to read.

    http://www.friendsofcubanlibraries.org/index.htm

    (Still not sure if you are a parody)

  21. avaroo
    January 6th, 2006 at 05:19 | #21

    “Avaroo, the only thing missing from your analysis is the Procrustean part where everything must be able to go into the pot.

    able?

    “For instance, “une certaine idee de la Franceâ€?, that De Gaulle spoke of, could not survive that – precisely because the melting pot does not allow other strands to survive without compromise on certain points.”

    I agree. That’s why I believe the US and France have absoltultely nothing in common, other than the US has, of course, many influences from France.

    “I’m not arguing whether that is good or bad, merely pointing out that the melting pot only allows certain things through unchanged in critical respects”

    Not sure I agree with you here. Are you talking about the US?

    “Australia as frontierâ€? is mere projection, trying to make sense of a current situation by matching it to the nearest equivalents in past experience.”

    I would have guessed that it was obvious that I was talking about the current situation.

  22. avaroo
    January 6th, 2006 at 05:23 | #22

    “Cuba certainly has a high literacy rate and it also has a free health system.”

    Do you think doctor’s should work for nothing everywhere or just Cuba?

    “President Castro understands correctly that human rights first begin in the school house or the hospital.”

    Actually, human rights begin with the right to move about freely, which Castro does not allow his people. Unless he’s recently changed that to allow them to freely leave Cuba.

    “He doesn’t require periodical elections like the so-called democracies to prove that Cubans are any less free than Amercans or Swedes.”

    We don’t find a lot of Swedes swimming to other countries to escape Sweden.

    “The standard of living in Cuba cannot be mearsured in the tradtional sense simply because it is a post-industrial society which has moved away from rampant consumerism.”

    Where’s there’s little to consume, there’s ALWAYS little consumerism.

    “Cuba can meet Kyoto today if it had to by the widest of margins.”

    If you have zero industry, how hard is it meet Kyoto?

  23. Will De Vere
    January 6th, 2006 at 09:33 | #23

    Yes to all that, avaroo: for years now I’ve wondered why thousands of people have drowned or risked death on the high seas in order to get away from such a wonderful health system and high rate of literacy.

    Castro reminds me of a deranged opera singer who demands a captive audience of a few million people.

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