The past few months have been interesting here on the Overland blog. We’ve seen a few flare ups. One of the largest was over the nostalgic racism of the black-face disgrace on Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday. And now we have a controversy regarding misogyny in music. I always find it surprising when we hear so many of the responding voices asking for moderation and counselling for acceptance. Overland is known as the most radical of the literary mags and the banner proclaims a dedication to progressive culture. Apparently many feel that should include tolerance of racial ridicule and disregard for women or their concerns.
Mainstream media is filled with these porous moral codes. There’s any number of magazines, newspapers and blogging forums where all forms of racism and misogyny are not only accepted, but surreptitiously encouraged. The Australian posted a piece regarding a suspected terrorist a few weeks ago, and there were over a hundred blog comments, suggesting everything from the deportation of entire families and communities to death sentences en masse. As repugnant as these forums are, or destructive this kind of hatemongering journalism, we need that kind of freedom of expression for a healthy culture. A counterbalance to these kinds of extremes is rarely found. Overland being tugged back to the centre does not serve mainstream media any better, nor does it benefit the breadth or health of Australian culture.
When I read Crawford’s article I enjoyed the bravery of the piece. Taking on Nick Cave isn’t easily done, especially now as he towers up into an international icon and national treasure to Australia. It’s to be expected that there would be many who’d object, and take Crawford to task for exposing some of the darker aspects of this particular national jewel. What’s astounding is the virulence of the attack on Crawford’s right to question Cave at all, in any forum, and even in this one, a self-declared space for Progressive culture.
We can determine what we mean when we declare ourselves radical in our politics or progressive in our thoughts. The opportunity arises many times a week for most of us. Conformity is the name of the game and not many are going risk jobs or status fighting for unpopular causes like whether a racial joke at work was a little off-colour or whether some of Nick Cave’s songs occasionally sicken us with the repetitious stabbing, raping and psychopathic prancing. We determine what those principles mean to us when a woman tells us that she has experienced forms of assault and degradation in this music. We define those principles in how we choose to respond to another woman telling us of the pain of racial ridicule.
So perhaps we need to ask ourselves what we think it means to look for radical ways of thinking and pushing our culture forwards. The conservative will look for comfort in the past, when racial mockery wasn’t a concern and we could comfortably mock people we worked with for their religion, ethnicity, or whatever other cultural differentiation we found annoying or laughable. When men could easily remark on the features of a woman’s desirability or talk of rape as though it was never more than a fiction or lyrical trope. Because this felt free and enjoyable, especially to men and the racial majority. But to push for a progressive culture means to open up these age old modes of behaviour and ask ourselves if we’re capable of something better.