Workers Online
Workers Online
Workers Online
  Issue No 113 Official Organ of LaborNet 28 September 2001  




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3.3 Unleashing a Networked Culture

Politics does not occur in a vacuum - it's is as much a product of its culture as it is an influence on it. In the post-Industrial Age how will this relationship change?


E Change

Do we need an national identity? And if so what should it be? Who's voices should be heard? And what role should the State play? Peter Lewis and Michael Gadiel continue thier exploration of the Information Age.


The New Hierarchies

There's a lot of talk about the 'new media' and the 'internet revolution', but in a way these things are part of a longer wave of change. The telegraph, for example, is a technology that fundamentally reshaped politics, economics, and culture. Since the telegraph, information has moved about the place faster than people or things. That's made it possible to communicate and organise across very large spaces.

The telegraph was, if you like, a new kind of 'vector'. It was a new form of movement, the movement of information separated from the transport of things. The telephone, television, all the other technologies that come after it, right up to telecommunication and the internet, add new potential to the way things can be organised across space. The modern economy, as we know it, relies on the ability to communicate prices and orders across space. Modern politcs requires communication that can cement people together in the same horizon of time. Modern culture requires the ability of people to form their own networks. In short, modern and postmodern cultures are cultures of communication.

Every time there is a new communication technology, it becomes an object of both hope and fear within the culture. Some people think we'll all be ruined; others that it is our salvation. In practice, each new communication technology since the telegraph has had quite unintended and complex effects. This will doubtless prove true of the internet as well. It is supposed to be the means by which democracy and the competitive market flourish, handing power back to the people and to small, innovative businesses. At least, that's what the techno-boosters argue. But there are also subtle counter trends. The internet can be a tool for centralising command within business organisations. In short, technologies don't have essences. They don't determine exactly what will happen. Technologies unleash potentials, which can be developed in different ways depending on other factors, including economic, legal, political, strategic and cultural factors.

In the Australian context, one factor that clearly shapes the implementation of the pontential of new communication vectors is the power of out quasi-oligopoly media businesses to exert commercial, legal or political pressure toward their own ends. For example, the slow implementation of pay-TV in Australia clearly reflects powerful vested interests. The particularly strange digital television policy developed by the Coalition government appears driven by the needs of existing media players rather than being in the interests of developing the potential of the technology or enhancing the value of the new technology to consumers.

To some extent, the big media conglomerates have run scared of the new technologies, They have seen them as a threat. They have moved to create very large vertically integrated businesses. Basically, all of the media conglomerates have pursued the same strategy, of getting access to vectors, to content, and to maximising the revenue that can be extracted from owning both the vector and the flow of information along it.

It's not clear that this going to work. It assumes that the broadcast model of communication is a timeless one, a model in which consumers buy information that is already packaged as a commmody. Out in cyberspace, people are already doing their own interactive entertainment, communicating with each other, developing their own 'content'. One of the things the new vectors makes possible is that it can free people from dependence on broadcasting. The big media players have had to move fast to rope off potential losses of revenue by finding ways to extract rents out of these new kinds of autonomous media culture.

The most significant deal recent times was the America Online -Time Warner merger; what amounted to a stock swap between a little dog and pony show and an enormous lumbering multi media conglomerate. You see the people who are used to the broadcast/mass media model look at this and say : hmm, there's an opportunity here, but we have to turn it into mass media, it's all we understand. But the other thing to consider about the AOL model is that it's successfully turned itself into cheap, mass, popular business that understands something about the internet - they're the ones who are selling the internet to mums and dads, filing off some of its rough edges; but leaving some of them in so you can create your own chatroom, your own content and so on. You can't underestimate the capacity of large organisations, no matter how much they may fail to turn the distributive media into broadcast, to be also looking around, finding what's working and buying it. That's what's happened in the past few years - the big firms bought anything that looked like working; now they're paying the price.

Creativity and Control

The challenge for the Industrial Age corporations is not to try and control it in the same way that they have traditionally controlled their assets. They must find personalities who can manage these businesses without stifling their potential. That's the challenge for the broader cultural industry as well: moving away from a control model.

The state funded culture 'industries' are still operating with out of date industrial models. The broadcast era was very much about hierarchies within hierarchies - it was contest about who's voice would be heard amongst all the possible voices that could be broadcast. The point was, only one voice could be broacast at the one time. There would be elite and popular broadcasting, there would be broadsheets and tabloids, and so on. It was just assumed that one was better than the other. A cultural divide was institutionalised that was inherently anti-democratic, but it was also the enemy of real excellence. 'Quality' became just a matter of class prejudice, rather than something that had to be tested.

Whenever you get a new media you get a new criteria for what's good and what's not. There's a panic about quality. This is happening with the itnernet just as it happened with previous vectors along which cultural content could be communicated. What you saw with television was the attempt to restrict the 'quality' end of it to the standards of a print-literate middle class. You get the BBC model which tries to retard the development of a new aesthetic, new cultural forms. Ironically, the development of the internet is now often retarded by the attempt to restrict it to models derived from television.

We're only starting to get used to thinking about the possibilities for television at the moment when television as a broadcast medium is effectively over. In the US it's been over for years; in Australia we're grappling with fact that it's gone. There's only one broadcaster left and that's Channel Nine; everything else is narrow casting. Channel 10, for example, has very effectively adapted to a niche role. The growth of pay-TV will only accelerate this trend toward the breakup of the broadcast model, with its rudimentary cultural distinction between 'high' and 'low' -- ABC versus the commericals.

The ABC has been the Mosman and Toorak Broadcasting Corporation for a while now. It has sacrificed even the pretence at real quality to being a class based broadcaster. It is the broadcaster of respectable junk, aimed at a middle class that only feels comfortable watching soap operas if its disguised as costume drama and given the alibi of a 'classic' novel. But this is not really a very sophisticated way to think about what 'quality' might be in broadcasting. It really is time to look at the ABC charter and think about what new roles a national broadcaster might adopt, in a world where BBC soap operas can just as easily be delivered by pay-Tv. Why should a national broadcaster just subsidise the tastes of people who can well afford to pay for those tastes?

The TV broadcast model's going or gone. This makes you think that you not only need to think differently about the culture, but that the culture is already thinking differently about itself. That mass model ('high' versus 'low') is already starting to split up - what you now get is a few key emblems or icons that people can play with or interpret in different ways. What works is not the one thing that means the same thing to the majority, it's the one thing that can be read completely differently by completely different audiences. Broadcast culture is good at enforcing the tastes of majorities, not good at opening space for minorities. In the postbroadcast world, the coerced majorities of broadcasting break up and fragment.

This has consequences for politics. The genius of broadcast culture was Bob Hawke, who was able to present himself as an image to majorities, as what those majorities wanted. But not everybody saw the same thing when they looked at Hawke. People saw what they wanted to see, and he was able to make people feel like they belonged, but belonged to something not held together by much besides an image.

We don't have a lot of examples of the post broadcast politican yet. Unfortunately, one aspect of Hansonism was how well it flourished in a post broadcast world. One Nation were very effective users of the internet, alternative publishing, mailing lists. The Greens also are quite advanced at this post broadcast approach. There's an element of this also in the Country Labor strategy.

What's interesting is the possibility of combining mass circulation images with the small scale, post-broadcast world of micro-communication. You see this all the time in popular culture, but not yet in Labor politics. Mainstream political culture tends to be pretty slow moving, so if you're looking for strategies and tools, you have to look to culture.

Take a perfectly banal TV show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the X Files. These have amazingly active fan followings on the internet, where people are using the broadcast image as just a jumping off point, a shared image which can then be scrutinised and deconstructed and reconstructed. Rather than just one shallow image meaning different things to different people, the differences come out, get discussed, thrashed out.

ABC Online has headed in this direction a bit, using the internet as a supplement to broadcasting, but its possible to go further. The X Files was a lot mroe interactive. Ideas for the shows could even be suggested by the fans. Rather than use the internet just to extend the hierarchical model of broadcasting, its possible to turn it on its head, and have the discussion drive the broadcasting. There's always limits on what can be said in broadcast culture. It has to be something suitable for a wide range of subcultures. But what happens in the postbroadcast world is a much wilder development of the potential of cultural material. For example, the sexual subtext of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is far more pronounced in its online version.

There can be a good synergy between these two kinds of media, broadcast and postbroadcast. The development of the latter opens new possibilities for getting out from under the hierarchical and massified cultural structure. But it raises issues to do with intellectual property and the information commons. People talk amongst themselves on the internet, but often do so via images and stories from mainstream broadcast media. But who owns these images and stories? The media corporations basically want to extract a rent from any use of media, from use of the vector or the content. But clearly there's an issue of creating a new kind of information commons.

We still have a popular culture, but we have a lot more than we can shape through that broadcast medium. Instead of there being symbols that are simply broadcast, they become domains which we can enter and play around in as we like. The days are gone where people would have the bust of Jack Lang on the mantlepiece and they'd be reading his newspaper and living in his world and being able to shut out everything else. There's this soup of information that people are trying to make sense of and make choices within. One is always exposed to more information than one wants - which is becoming a real hotbed issue in the suburbs, where many people would rather not be exposed to a whole lot of information and would rather it all kind of went away. It's all out there - whether you like it or not. The issue is more: how can people (a) make something for themselves vocationally, career and job-wise, but also socially and culturally out of the information available; and (b) are they free to do so or is it owned by somebody else. Since you can only have a media culture, the possibility of a self-organising popular culture where people have both access and some right to use the material available - and of course some skill with which to do so.

Towards a Net Culture

The death of the broadcast culture is only something to mourn if you have a comfortable part at the centre of it. You meet a lot more Lebanese kids on the Internet than you'll ever seen on television - and their feeling of empowerment in Australia has been enhanced by being allowed as a group to participate in a narrow cast culture. Which is more than they've ever got out of the mainstream institutions. You can see the Internet as the fulfilling the same do-it-yourself ethos as working on your hotrod car and so on. It's not the same as exhibiting in a gallery, but it's of the time and it's what we'll remember in the future, rather than the gallery. These are times in which the centres of creativity in the culture have shifted.

Which doesn't mean its nirvana. There are different problems. The problem used to be that you had this very authoritarian broadcast model culture and you had to appease a majority through that and suppress minorities. That was the model of Australian culture from the 1930s through to the 90s. Now all this is starting to desegregate and people are finding material to construct little sub-cultural worlds. So rather than appeasement and repression - the issue is more one of negotiation. How will you get all these people to be comfortable with the fact that they're always going to be being exposed to things they don't like? And you have some reciprocal responsibility to understand that when you are talking in a public context, about what things you put where.

And people who are organising around particular sub-cultures on the Net have to grapple with how to negotiate a category that spans enough subcultures, so that you can actually become part of some kind of public domain or space. That's where the negotiation and cleverness comes in: you have to do things like getting onto a site that will bring yourself up in a directory or a search engine. It's still about finding a place within the broader cultural conversation. It's not just a question of getting on the Net, it's being savvy enough to actually understand the kind of distribution of those corporate vectors on the Net and how to feed in and negotiate a span of categories.

Vale: The National Culture?

The national culture, to the extent that it was an artefact created by broadcasting, was always was fragmented and it was only held together by coercion. What the emergence of a post broadcast culture is showing is all the differences that were always there but where repressed. Its not the full story about the 50s to say it was a more cohesive time -- it was just a time when differences were suppressed more.

What's new is that it is out in the open increasingly. There's so much hysteria about revisionist history because what so-called 'black armband historians' do is expose the myth that there was this unified time and place where everyone lived happily together in a community. The consensus myths imposed by the broadcast era are breaking down, although sometimes new ones bubble up and take their place. An interesting example is the way Gallipoli has emerged as a stopover on the backpacker trail. But young people are creating new senses of the meaning of that experience, quite different from the RSL, although almost as reverent, but also different to the baby boomer Vietnam generation's denigration of that past.

With that example in mind, one can say that the passing of coercive national culture, and its central myth of the past, is not the end of the world. Culture is a hardy thing, but it has to reinvent itself of its own accord. And it really always does so from the bottom up. In the 19th Centruy The Bulletin magazine contributed to a national culture by inviting contributions from the readers; that was a strength of the paper for many years. It was like a steam-era internet.

The problem with the Bulletin today is that you have the same six or seven people have their say every week. One challenge in nurturing cultural expression is to find new forms of doing what the Bulletin used to do, which is to create public forums, rather than simply provide a platform for a few 'experts'. But what form will this public space take in an era where national borders are porous to global cultures? In the Whitlam era you had the dream of a national cinema that would be a place to "tell our own stories". But that stumbled under the weight of the expense of funding this rather aristrocratic medium, a medium of a few god-directors. It can't compete with Hollywood, and subsidised film ends up being a training ground for Hollywood. So a national cinema is not the whole answer.

Americans - well Hollywood which sucks in the talents of the world - seem to be better than us at finding products that all Australians like. Not many Australian films seems to strike a chord with enough people to capture our imaginations, span the subcultures of taste and make money. The Wog Boy seems to have touched the right nerve, and that's quite telling because it's a tale of difference within the national culture. The Wog Boy had everything going for it. It is an old narrative of the Aussie battler making good, the Dundee and Barry McKensie stories updated to contemporary Australia.

More importantly the film comes from an entertainment genre and not the art paradigm that dominates Australian film and the Canne obsessed funding bodies. It set out to be funny and entertain and it does. The Wog Boy taps into what is now a widespread feeling of being an Australian but being outside the Anglo mainstream that has a stranglehold on Australian public culture that would be unacceptable in the US or UK. Most significantly the 'Wog' product incubated for a decade or more in live theatre and TV and created a large and loyal grass roots following who claimed ownership of the character and story. The Wog Boy taps into working class Australian youth culture in a way that try-hard middle class left-liberal polemics cannot. In that sense The Wog Boy is a very democratic Australian film, rather than the vision of some privilged genius re-inventing the autuer wheel after leaving film school. Oh, and it has a good script.

Running the Culture

There's a constipated sense about the public space in Australia at present. Rather than the top down approach of reforming it - that you hear so much about and obsesses people in the ABC and the ALP - perhaps its a question of starting again. Go back to the grass roots development of the public space. It's a radical solution - but perhaps its worth considering: Let's admit that the ABC in this point in its history is substantially failing to fulfill its charter. Let's go around the public institutions and ask whether we can free up that money to start again, building new kinds of institution, possibly a new medium - which is what we are seeing with ABC Online, which on three dollars and a Cabcharge vouchure has really created a new space.

Perhaps the logic of starting SBS as an alternative national broadcaster is only just becoming apparent -- what if SBS were to develop as the primary, rather than the supplementary public broadcasting service? Grow SBS and wind back the ABC. So much thinking about public broadcasting is defensive -- and perhaps that's inevitable in periods of conservative rule. But the defense of the status quo is not muchy of a policy.

The fear is that the ALP back in government is just going to throw the doors open to the same old elites or a new version of the elites and not learn the lesson that they can't bring out the grand plan to make something happen. They have to read the lesson coming from Hanson-ism, that the public - including a substantial number of the ALP's traditional supporters are browned off by that journo culture, that left-wing hegemony within the media which sees the same voices, and they have to look at a proper democratisation of the media. How one administrates within government is a challenge for the ALP's cultural policy - and Keating did leave a bad taste in people's mouths.

The worst part of the Keating legacy was the top down, elite view of cultural change. But the best part was the experimentation with new kinds of cultural institution. What we saw in the Keating Years a few very little experiments creating new kinds of cultural organisations; but there's no will at all, on either side politics, to do anything about the lumbering unreformed and unreformable giants of public institutions.

Not all of the experiments in new institutions worked. Some were just minature versions of the old cultural bureaucracies. But some of the Creative Nation money found its way into new forms of public culture -- not to mention providing seeding funds for what became the internet economy boom. The contribution of public funding to that is widely under estimated.

Creative Destruction

The private sector is where so much of the action has happened because of what Schumpeter called 'creative destruction' - the market just runs through organisations, it's the slash and burn approach. If something isn't working, new stuff will knock it over, some of that will fail, what works will rise out of it and there's a very simple measure of whether it does: and that is whether it pays its own way.

We haven't got an equivalent way of approaching public sector institutions in terms of the ability not just to do the new things, but to get rid of some of the old things. Consequently, what you get is a politics of endlessly defending and propping up the old public institutions. As if by public insitution one always meant only the existing ones, not the possibiliity of new ones.

Australia has a problem with it's history. It hasn't been around as a white settlement for very long. We don't have a tradition of something being destroyed and being replaced. People on the Left tend to be conservative about the ABC, when the revolution was always about actually destroying things and starting again. Cultural institutions whither - and sometimes they need a final boot. A group of people set up ABC-TV. It reached its high watermark in the seventies and maybe the eighties and it's in decline now and a new institution will form elsewhere. Institutions like the Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC are becoming old age homes for a particular cultural group. Maybe they'll just scale down and new things are going to grow elsewhere. But those people will keep thinking that they're the mainstream.

And it's more problematic in publicly owned cultural institutions than in the private sector because of their government funding and the understanding that institutions like the ABC or the NSW Art Gallery must reflect the entire culture and provide a service to all sections of society, not just a single interest group. In practice the ABC charter and those of many other public cultural bodies is usually ignored for a sectoral appeal to the Anglo-Celtic upper middle class. The problem occurs when terms like 'public interest' or 'quality' or 'non-commercial' are masks for personal taste or class prejudices or outmoded aesthetics. Tax payers and consumers have a right to a say in how their cultural dollars are spent. Currently these institutions are run as if they are the property of the cultural elites who are meant to be our servants. It is a far cry from the sort of cultural democracy a Labor Government should be promoting.

The Cultural Commissars

And private institutions like Fairfax and News Ltd and PBL are no better when it comes to bureaucrats and commissars imposing on their media a unitary and dated idea of where Australian public culture and interests are. Like their qango colleagues they hide pretty middle brow personal taste and prejudices behind the badge of professional standards or instincts. The problem for both sectors is a corporate structure that gives great power to executives producers, editors and senior journalists to control content, and a corporate vision from the twentieth century that sees readership or audiences in terms of a mass market , when actually the public is plural and incredibly diverse. Pay TV recognises this , as does the internet, some radio, zines.

The command Pyramid style control culture is at least as significant a factor in the blanding out of Australian cultural product, acting as a barrier to different class and ethnic voices. The ABC spends a lot of money making its TV boring, chopping, changing, recutting, rejecting. Sadly the 'Nyet' editorial culture means that the flag ship 'quality' media are unable to reflect the reality of Australian culture.

Either the large private and public cultural institutions adapt or they will whither, to be replaced by the new media where the different audiences will be. This means implementing internal reform that cedes power to individual program makers or writers in and outside the corporation. The key is encouraging real porosity with the growing n community outside its walls and outside its class culture. Raymond Williams in the 60s criticised the Left for uncritically picking up the notion of 'mass' media in the then fashionable ideas of cultural hegemony. This was a very condescending way of seeing people, who are in fact all individuals with unique tastes and who, for the most part, don't take TV or the papers at all seriously -unlike intellectuals who take texts of all sorts very seriously.

The problem for us is that Australian cultural gatekeepers take media too seriously, stifling it with over-management, when in fact it's only TV or words. Give a free rein, allow people to fuck up, make a mess, and speak to audiences with their own voices. Of course the broadsheet editors will tell you that;s all very well, but they have to give the public what it wants. Only the public increasingly doesn't want that model of media. The circulation equals success arguement falls down when you look at the long term decline in circulation of the old broadsheet style media.

With the ABC its a slightly different problem. It gets the ratings, but only by piling up very narrow segments of the population. As a national broadcaster, surely its remit is to offer a little something for everyone. Rather than use ratings as absolute numbers as a benchmark for the ABC, it would be far better to use the spread of demographics as a measure its success or failure. Something for the old, something for women, something for the country, something for Perth, and so on.

Working Class Culture

The key challenge for the Labor party is to generate cultural production among young people and to tap into the diverse cultural energies and visions and languages of the working class youth - these days that culture is ethnically diverse, a patch work of lifestyle subcultures and global in outlook. The real cultural potential lies here - a group that has never been asked top step onto centre stage, but a group that Is far more representative of mainstream Australia than the latest intake of NIDA students.

The ALP has not had a big interest in elevating working class youth culture to the centre of public culture in the same way that Blair, and previous Labour governments have done in the UK. Labor has rested on an idealised notion of working class popular culture created in the 1890s along with the party's birth, and has not really thought about the new class and ethnic-pop cultures that define life for many citizens. Beazley should watch 'Head On' and read 'Loaded' by Christos Tsiolkas if he is serious about a knowledge nation. He and his front bench need this knowledge.

Labor should also look at William Morris' ideas that the aim of socialism was to encourage a creative community where all had equal access to artistic expression - creative expression is what makes us human and binds us to each other socially. I was not surprised to hear Blair's culture supremo David Puttman refer to the centrality of Morris vision in Blair's Cool Brittania.

It will not be easy to enfranchise the working class due to years of neglect of the public education system, which has left many, many working class kids without the cultural keys and tools to gain entry to the public culture. Schools and TAFEs are the greatest cultural institution this country has, yet state and Federal labor governments have allowed them to run down and dumb down, downgrading knowledge and cultural literacy in favour of a mad dash to put a computer and a self esteem course in every class room.

While kids from blue collar families struggle to get enough marks for uni entrance and fail to get the presentation skills to score a job at DJs, private school children in better off suburbs continue to dominate the cultural industries and grant allocations. For all the talk about Access and equity programs and disadvantage funding from Labor in the 80s and 90s the upper middle class flavour of Australian arts became more entrenched, especially in the so-called avant garde and performing arts , but equally in film and TV.

Labor's worthy disadvantaged funding schemes in the 80s and 90 s for NESBs, women, aborigines failed to ever embrace working class people. There was no box to tick if you came from a state school. Labor could never grasp that it is the culture of ordinary people that can revive Australian public culture, rather than culture that must save 'disadvantaged' people. Embracing the polyglot, youthful working class culture of 21st century Australia does mean a serious rethink and reform of our educational institutions and curricula. But it also means changing how we think of art and public culture.

The British Art School Model

In English working class art has had a far more sympathetic run where the art school structure created an outlet for generation of troubled, working class youth. John Lennon, Pete Townsend, any English rock band you could name since the 50s had at least one member who spent at least one day in art school. The whole apparatus has never existed here, but look what it's produced there!

Victorian aesthetic champion John Ruskin started it because he saw that England lacked an edge when compared with France in the 19th century. It was taken up by Labour and turned into a Social Democratic alternative to the Oxford education. You'd go to art school and it wasn't about reading and writing, so it was about those valued middle class skills of literacy. As it turned out in the 60s and again in the 80s and 90s, it was about media skills, which in a lot of ways are a hell of a lot more valuable. It gave you, not just your John Lennons but your Allan Parkers, a whole range of really significant cultural figures, from working class backgrounds who went to institutions that dealt with the fact that were often a bit unhappy and developed skills which didn't necessarily fit with the middle class aspirations.

They learnt pop culture literacy, translated it into skills and made the connections to intervene in their culture. Whether it was in the Face magazine or on the BBC in the Young Ones or on album cover art. Australia tends to have more of an Eistedford mind-set. Look at our punk heroes. Too many of them were GPS kids. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just that their parents taught them the piano and they plugged into London. They plugged into the working class energies of London. The Go-Betweens rather than a bunch of Cockney layabouts. Australia is a very class ridden society culturally because this continues. Neither Whitlam nor Keating were equipped to deal with this because; in Whitlams' case came from the other side, while Keating wanted to be with the other side.

The whole clever country, smart education rhetoric that surfaced first with Hawke and now Kim Beazley plays in a really ambivalent way. It's telling a lot of people that you can't live the life that you've lead, you've got to become someone else, you've got to become middle class to get on - and by the way, you're going to have to pay for it as well. I don't know how that plays with the electorate. What you should be saying to people is: "your culture as it stands is already a great resource; what we need to do is stick your kids through the training to figure out how to use it". At the same time we figure out the public culture infrastructure that can make best use of that. England is a reasonably good model; it's not just being socially useful in looking at working class creativity as something that has a social role in allowing people to express themselves and add value to the community. It's also worth a shit load of money through cultural industry exports - which we've only just been able to get on the agenda in Australia.

We make more money flogging music to the world than we make flogging sugar. Now you can bet your bottom dollar there's someone in a government department whose whole portfolio is sugar, but its taken years to get anyone whose portfolio is music. We don't think the whole thing through - the whole thing about parallel importing was it was the same old free trade/protectionism argument. They didn't argue about anything else like: how do you have a music industry that has a cultural and economic function together. It was just about protection.

The Bull by the Horns

The first challenge is to look at what were traditionally separate portfolios as related. That means putting culture, art and education more than notionally together. They're in two departments now, where they used to spread across four, so that's a step; but I don't think it's yet to be approached as an integrated sector that, on one the hand has economic and employment value; but on the other hand is a series of institutions that make Australia governable. It is worth sounding a little bit alarmist about that without that space functioning, the governability of the national space is weakened. Labor needs to embrace the realisation that in the information age culture is the key wealth generator. The cultural portfolio must be an economic portfolio. The days of steel are over, the days of mining are over, you must think of your cultural portfolio as your key economic portfolio. It should be merged or articulated with Communications as the key wealth-generating centre of the economy.

And it aint just the pipes, it's the content. We must look at our education system, look at the curricula, see how they compare to France or Britain; look at primary school; I suspect that we will find that they've been emptied of knowledge and the way that skills are being gauged is a bureaucratic ticking exercise. Schools must be overhauled for the information age. In terms of culture and the arts, you need to look at the training institutions we discussed earlier; look at the British art school model, as a way of easing the pressure on the academic curriculum of senior high school. An art school that is not a tech school. Techs were great 19th century institutions, Australian ran them throughout the 20th century. Howard loves his apprenticeships. But it's over.

The other thing is to seriously examine the ABC. We love the ABC, much as the Right may have loved the Queen, but it's time to look at what it needs to be this century. Cultural rejuvination of public media requires extreme measures ...We have to look past its current stakeholders who are all wonderful people, who done a very good job but - Australia has to start thinking long-term. We've never don't it really. And culture is where it's starting to come home to roost. For the ABC, it will probably take a Labor Government to reform it; it can't be done by the Right. The Liberals describe the ABC as 'our enemies talking to our friends' - which is a complete waste of time. Why broadcast to Mosman, over and over again the seventies' desiderata? Sell it off and use the money to build SBS into new public broadcaster, where the bureaucratic overhead hasn't consumer the organisation. Let's start again there and build an institution for the times.

On the one hand.radical surgery may still be able to secure relavance for a public broad and narrow caster in the deacdes to come.The Fabian Socialist reformers Sydney and Beatrice Web helped invent public commisisons and corporations at the end of the last century to deliver certain public goods - like health or local garbage collection. The BBC and ABC followed on their model of a senior civil service structure reporting to a Commission of politically appointed representatives. But now we have to talk about public broadcasting as a new matrix of creative networks stretching deep into the freelance community and operating to a public charter and certain benchmarks, but freed from top heavy bureaucratic control and conservative commissioning criteria. This has tended to happen more in ABC radio which is difficult to control and spontaneous, and a multi channel environment will help to achieve this in television. But the incubator role of the ABC as trainer and (potential) risk taker and innovator must be maintained - Australian capitalist cannot be relied on to invest in creativity. Cut off the king's head at the ABC and a replace what is still a factory system with this kind of matrix production model. Accept that one can have a diversity of culture and stop over-controlling it.

This chapter is based on conversation Involving academic and columist McKenzie Wark, academic Anna Munster and publisher Tony Moore


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 113 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: The Custodian
Labor's arts spokesman Bob McMullan on the role government can play in nurturing national culture.
*  Media: Chucking a Wobbly
Veronica Apap meets Dan Buhagiar, the programmer of Labor Council's new online initiative, Wobbly Radio.
*  E-Change: 3.3 Unleashing a Networked Culture
Politics does not occur in a vacuum - it's is as much a product of its culture as it is an influence on it. In the post-Industrial Age how will this relationship change?
*  Unions: Are You a Terrorist?
Away from the talkback noise, Mark Hearn reports on how a Sydney workforce is taking up the cause of racial understanding and tolerance.
*  Organising: STAA Performers
Film industry workers are acting collectively to ensure they don't become Mexicans with Mobiles.
*  Workplace: Making Art Work
The Workers Cultural Action Committee is a community cultural development provider. What is this? And what does it mean for the union movement?
*  History: Creative Alliances
Neale Towart wanders through the archives to look at how unions' have worked with artists to promote progressive casuses.
*  Performance: Tales from the Shop Floor
Peter Murphy profiles Sydney's New Theatre and the role it has played in fostering working culture.
*  Review: Homegroan
In an extract from her new book, The Money Shot, Jane Mills argues that the local film industry needs more than patriotism to get bums on seats.
*  Satire: PM Pleads To Nauru: Take Our Aborigines Too
In the wake of Nauruís acceptance of the Tampa refugees, Australian Prime Minister John Howard has struck a new deal with the small island nation to take our Aborigines as well.

»  Abbott Stacks Commission on Election Eve
»  Trades Hall to Be Fit for the Arts
»  Olympic Builders Honoured in Oil
»  Terror Shockwaves Hit Security Workers
»  The Ansett Phoenix Rises
»  'The General' Makes Ansett Stand
»  One Dollar Workforce Highlights Workcover Concerns
»  Email Workers Saved
»  Union Power Gets Tilers Paid In Full
»  NSW Nurses (Pro)Claim Their Worth
»  AOL Sheds Non-Union Staff
»  Building Inquiry Faces First Test of Integrity
»  Telstra Guilty Over Union Discrimination
»  Paint Workers Finish the Job
»  New Project Agreement A Template
»  The Workers United, Need a New Slogan!
»  Activists Notebook

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»  The Locker Room
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  Hamberger on Stellar
»  CHOGM Agenda
»  Ian West on Trades Hall

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