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Mark Davis’ Gangland: cultural elites and the new generationalism came out in 1997, the year I turned seventeen and finished high school. John Howard had been Prime Minister for one year (item: Howard has been in Government since before I was eligible to vote), s11 hadn’t happened in Melbourne and S11 hadn’t happened in New York. Davis’ demonstration of how any innovation in culture (led by youth or otherwise) was being suppressed by that of the baby boomers (helped along by burgeoning corporatism) had quite the impact on me when I read it in 1999, which was also the year I started working as a research officer in a non-government youth affairs organization. The year before, 1998, the Government had de-funded the national non-government youth affairs organization, the Australian Youth Policy and Action Coalition; one of a slew of peak bodies which have been removed from the Australian democratic landscape by the Government over their ten years in power (for more on this, see Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison’s recent book, Silencing Dissent).

In retrospect, I think that what I was observing in '98 and '99 was part of a sustained challenge to the idea of Australia as predicated on privileges attached to (white) race, (middle) class, (middle) age, (male) gender and (hetero) sexuality; an idea which, as Davis pointed out in '97, was starting to get some traction in public debate for a brief moment in the early 80's. At any rate, the cultural agendas foreshadowed in Gangland leads a zine writing friend of mine (also aged seventeen in 1997) to refer to our peer group as the ‘Post-Gangland Generation’.

In this period some enormously significant decisions have been made by the Australian Government with majority backing by Australian electors (all of course influenced by the sense of accelerated global instability). The excisions from the national migration zone, the drowning of passengers aboard the SIEV-X, the continuing invasion and war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, the triumph of Howard’s ‘white blindfold’ view of history, the 'Children Overboard' affair, the expansion of immigration detention ‘facilities’, David Hicks’ incarceration without trial in Guantánamo Bay, the increasing punitiveness and decreasing size of the welfare state and the attacks on ‘sedition’ are all situated among the (radical) political moves that have been made by the (conservative) Government.

Davis himself recently looked back over the ten years since Gangland was published, citing a ‘new conservatism’ in Australian cultural production over this period. ‘The old gang’ of boomer-commentators is ‘still in town’ and setting the cultural agenda (item: this last weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald had a spread on ’40 Years since Sargeant Peppers’), but it must now contend with the innovations in public debate occurring via internet based organizations like GetUp, Vibewire, and Online Opinion; as well as books by younger writers such as Adult Themes, and Please Just F**k Off It’s Our Turn Now.

Importantly, much of the debate about cultural production continues to be, as Davis puts it in 2007, “the stuff of an in-house conversation among whites” (the ol' Invisible Knapsack). I think this assertion in itself is a reference to the kinds of ideas that Davis was talking about in 1997; ideas that he wanted to see aired more fully in Australian 'public debate' and that get shut down by hegemonic generationalism and conservatism. To suggest that Australian public culture amounts to this "in-house conversation"; a statement made by many other writers and thinkers in various ways over the past thirty years in Australia, in itself re-makes the idea of ‘Australia’ in a way that is rarely uttered publicly under the Howard regime. This is an idea of Australia as a nation founded on the continuing dispossession and genocide of Indigenous peoples and the subsequent maintenance of a national politic organised around the white Anglo-Saxon heterosexual gentleman. This Australia, and the questions it raises, will continue to haunt public conversations like those marked by Davis; sometimes beginning them, sometimes shutting them down, often unspoken, but always present.*

*Until such time, perhaps, as former Federal Member of Parliament Pauline Hanson realises her nightmare of "Australia in 2050, where the capital is called Vuo Wah and the country is presided over by a lesbian president named Poona Li Hung" (Gangland, p. 107).

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This is the blog for thinking and talking about culture, Cultural Studies and cultural analysis at the University of Sydney.
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