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Discordant Notes

Journal of Australian Studies 88
Bart Ziino Who Owns Gallipoli? Australia's Gallipoli Anxieties 1915-2005, Sue Lovell, 'Dew to the Soul': One Australian Artist's Response to War, Peter Kirkpatrick Hunting the Wild Reciter: Elocution and the Art of Recitation, Felicity Plunkett 'You Make Me a Dot in the Nowhere': Textual Encounters in the Australian Immigration Story (the Fourth Chapter), Bridget Griffen-Foley From the Murrumbidgee to Mamma Lena: Foreign Language Broadcasting on Australian Commercial Radio, Part I, Emily Pollnitz ...
Wednesday, 16th April 2014
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Altitude BirdIssue 44
Features reviews by Kathleen Broderick, Linn Miller, Christine Choo, Bill Thorpe, David Ritter, Eve Vincent, Stephanie Bishop, Alison Miles, Richard Kay, Amanda Day, Bernard Whimpress, Mads Clausen, Marion May Campbell, Sylvia Alston, Catie Gilchrist, Eva Chapman, Lucy Dougan, Stephen Lawrence and Nathanael O'Reilly. Click here for more details.


Altitude

Altitude BirdPopular Music: Practices, Formations and Change - Australian Perspectives
The papers collected here in this special edition of Altitude offer a brief snapshot of popular music research broadly connected with Australia. The essays demonstrate the variety of theoretical and methodological approaches used by researchers in the fields of popular music studies and cultural studies to explore themes of popular music practice, formation and change in an Australian context. Click here for more details.



 
 
 
 

Affluenza: When too much is never enough

By Clive Hamilton And Richard Denniss, Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2005, 224 pages, paperback, $24.95. Reviewed by Dean Durber in the October 2005 issue.

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Undoubtedly, there is a growing desire among many in the community to consider and to discover alternative ways of living. I regularly hear people -- including myself -- express a wish to be able to live differently. In this sense, Affluenza is a timely addition to the debate. It is well placed within a culture that is boiling over with boredom of the excess. Perhaps this book will offer some people the changes they crave. Perhaps it will help lead to the creation of more fulfilling lives. Yet, there is something awkwardly utopian about the kind of world the authors of this book envision. Moreover, the changes they advocate are not always about what we might become in the future; rather, they are often about recreating an idealised past.

One thing that strikes me as disturbing about the authors' vision for change is their preference for the heteronormative family. Same-sex couples are mentioned only once; alternatives to the couple not at all. (One might add that this is also the white family; indigenous Australians too get only a fleeting mention.) In our houses of worryingly increasing excess, the authors blatantly insist that 'he' and 'she' are living in isolated spaces, devoid of contact, devoid of connection. Furthermore, parenthood is read as 'one of the most profoundly human experiences'. In the authors' unqualified assumption, it 'unlocks emotions that otherwise remain untapped'. (145) Here, not only are those who cannot or who choose not to become parents marginalised, but the naturalness of both parenthood and the feelings attached to it are reasserted as unquestionably more legitimate, if not more real, than the lives of the childless. One has to question what kinds of real alternative lives are on offer to us when this framework of he-she-child 'family' is seen to be in desperate trouble, in need of repair, and the answer to all our ills.

For those desirous of becoming parents, of becoming mommy-daddy types, the authors have an additional warning. They are harshly critical of those who consider the cost of having a child before becoming parents. They question the worth of those who think this way, suggesting that such people might not be suitable parents after all. (143) Such a judgement assumes a superior position that this book adopts throughout.

With the critique of an increasingly isolated society comes the claim that children too are less able to navigate the world; that children are lost. Without the proximity of parents, the authors claim that children have nobody to provide commentary on what they view. Here, the attack is clearly against the media. And while I do not believe the media should be seen as some god above suspicion and critique, the opposite argument that it is feeding children meaningless crap is also a bit tiresome and useless. The suggestion that children are influenced by the media and therefore need protection from it, pornographic media included, (151) is but a conservative reaction to the power of the media. Who is to say that parents can provide better education than the media? What makes parents so fundamentally 'good'? The suggestion that children are incapable of negotiating the world without the assistance of their parents denies the importance of non-parental influences in their lives. It also undermines the children's own social awareness.

There are certainly some powerful and compelling arguments in this book. The authors are adamant that the medical profession, and their pharmaceutical brothers in arms, are responsible for the creation in our minds of many illnesses that might be socially produced. Again, this is an argument that is increasingly becoming popular among those of us who are tired of popping pills at the slightest hint of an ailment. It is also fair to suggest, as the authors argue throughout the text, that we perhaps fear more than we have need to. Our concerns over recent rises in petrol prices, for example, are surely nothing in comparison to the rise in food costs in those countries where food and resources are scarce. But these few powerful ideas do not outweigh the underlying conservative radicalism that motivates this book.

I find my criticism of this book hard to deal with. I support the authors' desires to critique a system I too see as flawed and unfulfilling, or, in their words, 'selfish and superficial'. (180) I support their bid to suggest possible alternatives to help people find a way out of the mess we currently live in, and recognise that I am actively involved in what the authors label 'conscious consumption'. (186-90) However, I see that their utopian vision of the way life should be is equally ideological, equally discriminating in the kinds of lifestyles and peoples it makes happy. Many will be left outside of this new vision of the world. Not all will be happy within. To claim, as the authors and interviewees do, (172) that life in this alternative reality is filled with more choice and thereby more free, is to ignore the new discourses and the new influences surrounding those who move away from economics and excess.

Furthermore, I recognise that to assume some superior vision of the world that others are unable to see represents the old fashioned kind of academic research I struggle against. It is not our role as academics to tell the rest of society how wrong they are and how they right they could be. Unfortunately, this book, a fun read as it is, does just that.

Citation

  • Dean Durber. 'Review: Affluenza: When too much is never enough by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss' [online]. Network Review of Books (Perth, Australian Public Intellectual Network), October 2005. Availability: <please cite the web address here> ISSN 1833-0932. [accessed 16 April 2014].

Back Cover Blurb

  • The Western world is in the grip of a consumerism that is unique in human history. We overwork, we spend huge amounts on things we never use, then we chuck them out. The author of the bestselling Growth Fetish pries into our wardrobes, kitchens and backyards, and shows us what choice really means.

    Our houses are bigger than ever, but our families are smaller. Our kids go to the best schools we can afford, but we hardly see them. We've got more money to spend, yet we're further in debt than ever before. What is going on?

    The Western world is in the grip of a consumption binge that is unique in human history. We aspire to the lifestyles of the rich and famous at the cost of family, friends and personal fulfilment. Rates of stress, depression and obesity are up as we wrestle with the emptiness and endless disappointments of the consumer life.

    Affluenza pulls no punches, claiming our whole society is addicted to overconsumption. It tracks how much Australians overwork, the growing mountains of stuff we throw out, the drugs we take to 'self-medicate' and the real meaning of 'choice'. Fortunately there is a cure. More and more Australians are deciding to ignore the advertisers, reduce their consumer spending and recapture their time for the things that really matter.

Have You Also Read?

  • Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality

    imageBarbara Creed, Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2003, 216 Pages, Paperback, $35.00
    Reviewed by Dean Durber in the February 2004 issue.

    If there is any reality in reality TV, it is to be found in the way in which these staged representations of life continue to normalise sex and sexuality as innate to our beings. In these constructed worlds of the real, bodies are deployed as heterosexual and/or homosexual, and so reproduce the naturalised binary. In what Creed describes as a narcissistic form of scopophilia (38), where Big Brother offers us a public peep show at an idealised self, the sex, the sleaze, and the uncensored are scripted and edited in accordance with culturally established understandings of what it means to be sexual. While certainly there continue to be changes in our culture that are effected through and ... read more.
     



 
Network Review of Books

Allen and Unwin

  • Allen & Unwin commenced publishing in Australia in 1976 as part of the UK-based parent company of the same name. In 1990, following the purchase of the UK parent company by HarperCollins, Allen & Unwin's Australian directors effected a management buy-out and the company became fully independent, owning the Allen & Unwin imprint throughout the world. This year we will publish 220 titles, ranging from fiction and general non-fiction through an academic list specialising in the social sciences and health, to the Allen & Unwin children's list.

NRB October 2005

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