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Ramon Glazov on fearmongering in literature

Ramon Glazov is a Perth-based writer and journalist, who has written for the Drum, Overland, Arena and the eXiled. His interests lie in literature, politics and culture. Overland‘s David Brun chats to him regarding his latest piece ‘The Innocence of Aussies’, which appears in the latest issue of Overland.

What inspired you to write this article?

I was inspired to write it long before the Boston Bombings or the Snowden/PRISM leak. Basically, I’ve always been fascinated by the reactionary-xenophobic Tory aesthetic, which has had a huge influence on genre art (both the cloak-and-dagger spy thriller kind and its big-explosions action movie cousin). When I read about the Australia’s Security Nightmares competition – which offered a prize for submitting a terrorist scenario as short fiction – I was prompted to do a little survey of how the modern state of the genre in Australia compared to its Edwardian ancestors, with a broader glance at xenophobia itself and the wider Right.

You mention that ‘[t]he “innocent” xenophobe’s biggest shield is eternal curiosity – the power to pretend, in the middle of fear-mongering, that they still haven’t made their mind up about anybody’. Can you elaborate on this?

Well, we can start with Marsden’s Tomorrow series. It gets compared – on a pretty regular basis – to John Milius’ Red Dawn, but I think there’s a crucial difference. Milius himself was directly influenced by Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece, The Battle of Algiers. So, he gave us two viewpoints: the Soviet invaders and the American insurgents. Milius is a conservative Republican, of course, but he was game enough to take certain risks with his invasion fantasy. You don’t find that in Marsden. His characters have this weird solipsism; they wonder who they’re fighting, though only in a dreamy, philosophical way. Knowing who the enemy is – you’d imagine – would be bloody damned important in a war, but it doesn’t happen here. That kind of ‘innocent’ eternal curiosity is something we see quite often: you could argue Australia’s ‘stop the boats’ rhetoric has a form of it in place. And even during the Cold War, one of the big differences between British and US national security thrillers is the British – who’d become a secondary power – tended to avoid picking fights with the USSR in their action films. It wasn’t that Britain was happy to recede in international politics; the Bond films took a lot of their power from the consolatory fantasy of British national prestige they produced – but strangely that was Britain’s prestige against America, not against the Soviet Union. Whenever Bond fought Russians, they were nearly always ‘renegade’ Russians, and the films made it clear the event wouldn’t have any impact on the broader Cold War, even if the Earth came close to annihilation. The Roger Moore films even had a character actor – Walter Gotell – who played the ‘good’ Soviet general who turned up, really, just to announce the bad guys weren’t endorsed by the USSR. Compare that to American movies where the baddies were definitely Soviet, or – in Thomas Harris’ Black Sunday – definitely Palestinian, with no boilerplate to distance the film’s events from real-life politics. Australia’s a bit more like Britain – it’s another island nation, another secondary power. So you can see how carefully the Security Nightmares competition pretends to avoid international politics, with the exception of one story where China launches a ‘soft invasion’ against us.

What are you working on now with your writing?

That, as always, is a closely guarded secret.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

David Brun is a Melbourne writer, editor and Overland intern.

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