The Lucky Culture is an intellectual framework for those feeling bewildered and dislocated in the modern world, says the ABC’s Jonathan Green on the taxpayer-funded forum The Drum.
Green summarises The Lucky Culture…
‘The argument… is that this country is burdened by an ‘insider’ class of over-educated inner-urban progressives, people divorced from the mainstream interests and opinion of the country’s overwhelming majority: simple plain-thinking folk, who care not a jot for same-sex marriage, climate change or the internationally acknowledged right of the marginalised and oppressed to seek asylum and refuge.’
…and then portrays the insider class as saviours:
‘…the only sensible response is to be thankful… perhaps it is the duty of the intelligent, connected, politically engaged minority (elite if you like) to stick to their guns and provide some sort of point of difference in a culture that otherwise would be subsumed by commercially manipulated mass-taste at the expense of cultural adventurism, by xenophobic smugness in the face of a seething world rattling at our borders and by head in the sand over-consumption against the pressing challenge of a increasingly unstable and threatening nature.’
Green provides an honest critique of The Lucky Culture and displays admirable self-awareness. Green is prepared to own the idea the notion that the ABC should be a forum for cultural adventurism that he and his fellow sophisticates form “an intellectual and cultural elite”.
Unlike Tony Jones and others, Green has no problem identifying the bunyip alumni as an “intelligent, connected, politically engaged minority”. He is prepared to defend their role as a “vanguard” and “the hope of the side”.
Green’s argument, which he states with uncommon clarity, rests on two premises: first, the outsiders are “simple… country folk” suffering from an an “instinctive sense of bewildered dislocation”. Second, the progressives reform agenda – “same-sex marriage, climate change… the internationally acknowledged right of the marginalised and oppressed to seek asylum” – is unquestionably the right way forward for the country.
TLC deals with the first premise on pages 181 – 182. Demolishing the second premise, that the modern progressive agenda is the morally upright position, takes up much of the rest of the book.
Green takes the position of Allan Ashbolt (LC pp 202-204). Green is more polite about simple, country folk than Ashbolt was about the Australian Man of Today, a creature he characterised as “a sentient being, but hardly rational or purposeful”. Green sees a society in danger of being subsumed by commercially manipulated mass-taste. Ashbolt’s AMOT lived in a world that was mass-produced and mass-manipulated, outside his own control.
In Ashbolt’s view, there is no such thing as pure information:
‘The work of a journalist is not simply that of a kind of traffic policeman, watching over the flow of information from sources to the public and waving it on at arbitrary intervals.’
For Ashbolt, journalism was a branch of history:
‘…its task is to provide a running commentary on issues in the public arena, and to show, if possible, which way the historical wind is blowing.’
‘What seems to be emerging, for the first time on a worthwhile scale, is the realisation that , if journalists are to break free from a traditionally subordinate work situation, they must be prepared to give one another, on ethical issues, the sort of collective backing which they have occasionally applied in the sphere of wage awards.’
Ashbolt, I believe, would have welcomed the arrival of The Drum and the amendment of the ABC’s staff code that legitimised its extension into opinion journalism. I suggest he would have been frustrated by the poor quality of many of the arguments carried on The Drum, and bewildered with the New Left in general. Ashbolt belonged to a tradition that wanted to take over the factories, not one that wanted to close them down.
Ashbolt made a bold case for cultural activism at the ABC. He was intellectually rigorous, literate and honest. He was passionate about broadcasting standards and a mentor to many. The careless historical inaccuracies in the documentary Gough Whitlam: The Power and the Passion would have disappointed him. He would have been particularly aggrieved at the implication in part one that Whitlam was at the forefront of the moratorium movement; Asbolt was a committed member of the moratorium movement long before the Tet Offensive made it fashionable and marched alongside Jim Cairns before, during and after the 1966 election.
The Drum may be the forum he imagined, and he would not be troubled by the absence of traditional balance. In substance, however, it has strayed far from the professionalism he championed.
Green was kind enough to invite me onto his program on Radio National, Sunday Extra, last weekend on his Outsiders panel, with James Button and Richard Cooke (from around 1’40”). Among the arguments we considered was the privatisation of the ABC.
I rejected the idea (around the 1’50” mark). The ABC is an institution that should be funded, in part at least, by the taxpayer. We should not abolish the ABC, but we must insist on a better return on our investment in cultural capital.
[Ashbolt quotes appear in Ashbolt, Allan, An Australian Experience: Words from the Vietnam Years, Australasian Book Society, Sydney, 1974 p. 29 and pp. 133-135]