I was going to write an article about the cuts to arts funding, how the arts holds a mirror to a society and without it we become blind to what we’re capable of; our truth, out horror, our brilliance, and our oddities. It was going to be scathing fun; however, I was recently side-lined by something my mother said as she gave money to a homeless man, “We need to fix our own backyard first.” The unintended racism isn’t what struck me, but the way that, to her, this was an obvious truth. It also made me think of Noam Chomsky’s words about the West, “You don’t see who’s killing you.”
For a people whose history has been overwhelmingly defined by Colonisation, Westerners are largely ignorant of it, both the role it played and the role it continues to play in shaping us. In the book On Western Terrorism, investigative journalist Andre Vltchek says how, “after living on all the continents of the world, I actually believe that “Westerners” are the most indoctrinated, the least informed and critical group of people anywhere on earth, of course with some exceptions, like Saudi Arabia. But they believe the opposite: that they are the best informed, and the “freest” people.” I’m inclined to agree with Vltchek; in the West we barely question or engage critically with any of the information fed to us, especially if that information is supporting our own biases, which I might add is often a choreographed response directed by deliberate political obfuscation. After-all, demagoguery, an appeal to our prejudices, is a well used political tactic.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way, we can retake our own minds, direct our own responses about what happens within Australia. We can even fix our own backyard if we so desire. The catch being that to clean up we need to read up. Specifically on 200 years of Australian colonial history, 100 years of immigration policy, 100 years of American corporate and advertising influence, to at least have a general understanding of the current state of our cultural heritage, and completely immerse ourselves in the colonial and political relationship with Indigenous Australia. However, in the interest of transparency, even with all this knowledge tucked away in our brain-pockets, the clean-up might still prove to be an exercise in futility. Unfortunately no matter how tidy your backyard, when the cities are polluted with copper and blood it’s only a matter of time before it seeps back in under your fence. Global systematic deficiencies are not effectively healed by placing a gauze-strip over a bullet-hole, particularly a bullet-hole shot into the world by Western Colonisation. What we can do to start dressing that wound is to stop ourselves being so easily led and to start thinking about where we source our national news.
A cursory look at the main Australian publications, chiefly during the election period, should tell you that Western journalism is about propaganda and provocation, not information. Or as Paul Barry implied recently on Media Watch, it’s about arrogance over ethics. Duncan Storrer could offer testimony to that, for his life was used by the media as the rope in a game of tug-a-war between the ever mythologised political divide. I say ‘mythologised’ because all Storrer did was ask a question that the politically directed media blew into a savage hyperbolic narrative of left vs. right. While Storrer’s treatment is woefully unethical, it’s telling that media outlets reacted in surprise at being told so. Really what greater indication do you need that Australian news outlets have become propaganda machines then when they are surprised by the reminder that journalistic ethics was once a code they lived by?
The age of journalism for the people is over; the time of journalistic ethics has been replaced by a prioritising of the privileged point of view. A hierarchy of owner, editor, advertisers, and political contributors, public interest being their rock bottom priority. Worryingly, we seem to intuit this and yet the media continues to direct the flood of our social and cultural conversations, continues to occupy a prominent place within our social landscape, and continues to exert overwhelming influence over our political and economic decisions. We need to discontinue our reliance on them, direct our own learning and awareness because that is the only way to uncouple ourselves from the hollow representation of Australia that the media has foisted upon us. Really, rather than attempting to dress the bullet-hole, today’s Western media would hand you a blindfold and say proudly, “There, I fixed it.”
Finally, this leads me back to the arts. Maybe this is why arts funding is more important than it has ever been, as a society we need to care more for knowledge, culture, and creativity because those things have always allied themselves with the public interest. Honestly, that’s why politicians have had such an uneasy history with the arts; it’s an unfettered public voice. With the media having become another in a vast array of forces trying to obfuscate and downright stymie nuanced conversation about how we can clear the debris leftover from Western Colonialism we can’t afford to lose our only other mirror to society; the arts.
Monique Suna is a Canberra based writer currently undertaking Honours in creative writing at ANU. She’s particularly interested in satire, modern politics, human rights, and the realms of the speculative and fantastical. She lives outside the box, but often wonders why the box exists. Monique can be found on twitter under @sunafiction.