A couple of weeks back, the government’s much maligned metadata retention laws came into force, allowing authorities to lawfully retain information regarding citizens’ internet and telephone activities. We’ve been told specifics such as search histories will not be retained, but the legislation does gesture towards a rise in governmental monitoring and interference in a realm that has hitherto shirked regulation. Incidentally, on the same day as the legislation went into effect, the Australian band The Drones released their new single, ‘Taman Shud’, and an abrasive, darkly comic video to accompany it. Even Andrew Bolt took notice, stating dramatically that The Drones were ‘stamping on the ashes of the West’s musical traditions’.
The song’s title is taken from a bit of paper sewn into the pocket of trousers worn by an unidentified man found dead on the beach at Somerton Park in Adelaide in 1948. The phrase loosely translates to ‘finished’ in Persian, and was torn from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, a collection of twelfth-century poems. On Triple J’s Music News, The Drones are quoted as saying:
The strange and baffling circumstances of his death have become one of the world’s greatest unsolved crime mysteries and have fascinated crime historians everywhere except Australia ever since. 67 years later Right wingers rule the world uncontested because Left wingers earlier outlawed everybody’s right to call out people being assholes on the grounds that assholes also have the right to believe in the possibility of a Leftist Utopia in which nothing straight forward can ever be said. ‘Taman Shud’ is the result of that delusion and proof to the contrary.
The notion that Australians are not fascinated by this mystery is incorrect – a quick Google search produces a multitude of links to articles about the case from Australian news outlets – but let’s permit the band some poetic license. The Somerton Man and the contents of his trouser pockets are mere openings to much bigger questions: no-one will let on what happened then, back in Somerton Park in 1948 – and will anyone let us know what’s happening now? Has the right/left binary left us with distinct teams, but no means to win the battle, let alone figure out the fight? Are we living in Slavoj Žižek’s ‘end times’? Are we really ‘finished’, as the title suggests?
Or perhaps the band is suggesting that governmental and corporate opacity combined with populist apathy is sending us nowhere, fast.
In the video, ‘lad mag’ images of a scantily clad Nikki Webster are juxtaposed by the now defunct Zoo Weekly’s ‘For the boys: Anzac Day Special’ (yes, it happened). Lead singer Gareth Liddiard dons army dress and barks, ‘I don’t give a fuck about no Anzacery’. The clip then flashes images of Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott’s faces photoshopped over bikini girls. A bloke in a singlet and a Southern Cross baseball cap swigs happily from a stubby as Liddiard waxes apathetical about the carbon tax. Two Ned Kellys embrace one another. The scene explodes and cuts to Ricky Muir, Australia’s most high-vis high-vis wearer, buzzing about like a blowfly, eyed off by a cane toad Gina Rinehart, resplendent in pearls, sitting on lumps of coal, while a wind farm can be seen in the distance.
The video goes on as such: images of suburbia, bland brick veneer display homes, stereotypical ‘bogans’ dancing in stereo, interspersed with the band playing in a dim, smoky, red-lit room. A cop gives a man with an ‘Aussie Pride’ flag a beer, as they stand in front of a map of Australia emblazoned with the slogan, ‘I must learn to like myself’.
Indeed, it is hard to feel any national warm and fuzzies as embarrassingly ubiquitous slices of dark nationalism such as ‘fuck off we’re full’ bumper stickers and racist ‘patriot’ rallies cram the screen. In the most searing, direct line in the video, Liddiard points at the camera with both hands and spits, ‘you came here on a boat you fucking cunt’, highlighting the hypocrisy of white nationalist groups and the continued request that migrants assimilate and embrace those ever-elusive ‘Australian values’.
Some of the content in The Drones’ clip is fairly reminiscent of Australian YouTube channel Friendlyjordies, the alter ego of Sydney comedian Jordan Shanks, whose satirical and often viral video commentaries on Australian cultural phenomena are simultaneously hilarious and depressing. Shanks makes deliberately rudimentary but incisive pieces on a broad range of topics, from Australian twenty-firsts and Bali holidays to the crowds at electronic music festivals and the safety of the Great Barrier Reef, to the plight of refugees.
The aforementioned images of Australian surburbia also feature heavily in singer Courtney Barnett’s recent video, ‘Depreston’. Less vitriolic and more melancholy than ‘Taman Shud’, ‘Depreston’ reflects the struggle of young Australians to follow in their baby-boomer parents’ footsteps and buy a home, amidst much more hostile financial climes. The title is a riff on the Melbourne suburb Preston, a destination for many young inner-North residents when looking to purchase affordable real estate. Barnett sings, ‘you say we should look out further, I guess it wouldn’t hurt us. We don’t have to be around all these coffee shops’, as the camera drives through quiet, dull streets, a stark contrast from the cosmopolitan, bustling inner city. Suburban Australia’s amorous feelings towards home ownership continue with fervour despite most young Australians being well and truly priced out of the market.
Necessary dialogue about contemporary Australia is being facilitated online, particularly by the young and disgruntled. Video clips such as those released by The Drones and Barnett, or satire such as Friendlyjordies, reflect the ever-changing, unsettled (and sometimes unsettling) national character in a manner neglected by traditional media outlets. Could these clips be Wake In Fright for a new generation? An abridged The Lucky Country? They upset Andrew Bolt, so surely they’re worth the precious metadata.