(The Australian Boadcasting Corporation asked me to submit an opinion piece on contemporary Australian media - here is what I said)
Media is that through which we communicate with each other.
The idea of a national media is always a vexed question in any genuinely multicultural society, such as Australia claims to be.
The questions of who is allowed to speak, and who is silenced, what topics are discussed, the points of view that are permitted or censored, the usual and typical representations and misrepresentations; all of these forces coalesce into a form of repetition and predictability that passes itself off as the apparently lively discourses of national media.
However, we all know that something is terribly wrong with our media. From the corruption of corporate media, to the paucity of quality investigative journalism, to the hollowing out of public broadcasting, and the morbid state of the Australian film industry, we suspect that traditional media have become untrustworthy devices of vested interests monopolising our short available attention spans.
Media is no longer communication, but rather brain-sculpting; it acts as behavior modification in the service of those who possess its powers, taking the place of any genuine education and information provision.
Take Baz Luhrmann’s film entitled ‘Australia’, probably the world’s most expensive example yet of what is called “branded advertising”. To monopolise the word ‘Australia’, as if it were now a trademark belonging to his production company, is bad enough. But this representation of Australia has nothing to do with any Australia I know.
It looks like an English story made for an American audience, and which just happens to be set somewhere in Terra Nullius. And as a national narrative, most of actual Australia remain mere spectators of a story which doesn’t involve or include them. We just buy the DVD.
These kinds of stories get made because of the power structures and financial flows of the Western film industry. However, the time of these imperial narratives is now finished. The financial clout needed has flown to new geographic centres.
The capital to make such cultural documents is now readily available in the arc from the Middle East to India to China.
In my opinion, the consequences of the financial crisis will result in a permanent change of the structures of power and wealth. In this shift from West to East, we are witnessing what has been called “the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world”, and that was before the financial crisis began.
This is actually good news for Australia, if not for ‘Australia’. I suggest that this presents an opportunity to revitalise and re-enrich many parts of the Australian content creation industries. It means we can now turn our attention to new kinds of history and contemporary life. Stories that de-centre the imperial narratives and instead make use of our genuine multi-cultural experiences, and make new kinds of stories and films that are co-produced and intended for audiences in these new geographies, as well as internationally.
We have rich histories with these geographies, and everyday experiences of meaningful engagement, both of which provide materials to develop new stories and new kinds of stories. And it encourages us to turn our attention towards new articulations of understandings and the development of shared meanings: to create and inhabit new worlds.
We should be pitching our ideas and our skills to Abu Dhabi, Mumbai, and Shanghai; and we should be making stories that involve and interest them as well as ourselves, and which therefore also better reflects the real Australia and the histories of all its people.
This is the next phase of our national development: a new media Australia, and a new Australian media.