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Dear Editors

What does the astounding success of “reality show” Big Brother say about us? There’s a bunch of “ordinary people” pretending not to be self-conscious in a comfy fish bowl. Zero production values. Negligible editing. Give them silly things to do. No real challenges except throw everyone else out and tell the camera some lame reason why they nominated whoever, other than the truth that they want the $250,000 prize or short of that, to survive for sufficient TV coverage to ensure some subsequent product endorsement, magazine pin ups and advertising revenue. We’ll soon see Sara-Marie endorsing PJs, chocolate and lingerie.

What’s the motive? Evict people we don’t get along with? Who wins (apart from Channel 10)? Ben, the shy boy in the footy jumper, who didn’t bother anyone. Could he be the Australian taciturn archetype? Why doesn’t Channel 10 just plug us into the TV surveillance of our so-called refugee camps and interview deportees about how they feel about it?

I remember a cartoon about a hangman who comes to town and just starts lynching people. Nobody puts up any resistance because he executes them in the order of the least popular/most different (minorities, blacks, Jews) until finally there’s no one left but the hangman.

The Big Brother host, Gretel, was looking more like Morticia. How many times do you hear “There’s only one winner” in spectator sport? Pat Rafter’s defeat is the first time I can remember Australia give “the loser” a break.

Big Brother is the prototype of a commercially successful new Australian program—eviction by personality, living vicariously, illusory Truman Shows and the triumph of nothingness.

Miranda Devine (Sydney Morning Herald, July 19) gives an interesting international context. 27 countries have aired versions of Big Brother. According to the article, “In the end, the Australian public redeemed Big Brother. What had obviously been intended by its producers to be a smutty, slutty, trash-fest of reality TV was redesigned by the 3 million viewers who phoned the eviction line each week into a sweetly innocuous show about platonic love and friendship.” In contrast the overseas variants, which were rocked by protest, sex and controversy. What does that say? We’re a nation of unsophisticated bores.

Miranda says we selected the good guy Ben who epitomises Aussies as uniquely “sport-loving, hugging, blokes.” She glosses over the significance of the process, EVICTION—we evicted “the cads, the interlopers, the crass, vulgar, sleaze, smug, banal, pushy, bratty, drunk, loud-mouthed, leering.” Who are these people? Oh no…That can’t be right…what’s the story…it’s you and it’s me! Andy, the discipline mistress, boasted she was “gonna shag at least 5 people” before she left the house. I wish she had.

As Blair remarked: “My bestest experience was walking out last night!”

Hal Judge, Canberra

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Dear Editors

I represent a group called ‘divergence’, which seeks to encourage werdwurk (electronic writing) in Australia.

In a recent conversation with an arts administrator attached to one of Australia’s major festivals, it was suggested to me that a number of other groups are ‘doing the same thing’ as we are trying to do. Further research revealed that these groups are for young adults or adolescents.

I am wondering whether there is a common perception in Australia that werdwurk is not a properly adult artform. This perception tars both sides of the age divide with the same insult, that is, that it’s not serious or worthy. This is not the perception of the genre overseas.

I suspect that if such a perception exists in Australia it is because the criteria used to ‘judge’ it are derived from analysis of traditional forms of literature.

In another context I was talking to Anna Hedigan, who edits the online journal Overland Express. Anna says she can’t get enough contributions. I think the reason why is that Australians werdwurkers are so accustomed to looking for support/opportunities overseas that they don’t even bother looking in Australia.

From the OzCo’s Literature Fund, it would appear that there is little comprehension of werdwurk. An indication of this is the requirements for examples of applicants’ relevant previous work. There needs to be an understanding that werdwurk is a different genre.

Relevant statements about werdwurk may include: it gets ‘published’ differently; it gets ‘distributed’ differently; therefore capitalism doesn’t work for it; it is engaged with constantly changing technology, which means there are some different concerns/ways we spend our time; it ultimately resides within a coded environment; it has a different ‘metaphysic’; the people doing it have some sort of relationship with the network; either the network is actually essential in their work, or they at least base communication with their peers on it; it often fuses a variety of traditionally distinct artforms; it can engage the user in a variety of potentially quite different ways; it encourages a collaborative approach, if only because the variety of skills necessary can be so daunting; it can include the user within an ongoing collaboration; that is, it can be performative.

All these things add up to a fundamental challenge of the concept of the author/writer/artist. Indeed, the distinction between these concepts is fading partly as a result of electronic wurk. However it would appear that Australian arts administrators sometimes rely on popular definitions, and this means they don’t actually engage with what’s really going on.

As a result, I do wonder how to create a recognized space for this artform in Australia.

At the recent Electronic Literature Organisation Awards in New York, one third of the finalists were Australian. Australians were easily the second most represented nation among the entrants (after Americans). Australian werdwurkers have won various international awards and their wurk is recognized throughout the world as best practice. It is regularly featured in international exhibitions and on international websites. Some of the writers/artists concerned are Komninos, Mez, Linda Carroli, Teri Hoskin and Adrian Miles.

In a small way, the writers and journal editors themselves are trying to address this marginalisation. If you want to learn more about divergence, email me.

geniwate, Adelaide

(original version posted on the fibreculture mailing list )

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Dear Editors

The Australia Council for the Arts has recently announced funding of $200,000 for a community outreach program to accompany a regional tour of Grease—the Mega Musical. The reaction from artists and organisations all over the country has been shock and disbelief. Shock that such a decision could emerge from the “Promoting the Value of the Arts Campaign” and the Saatchi & Saatchi survey. Disbelief that a good Australian work could not have been found. La Boite Theatre’s latest venture into the bush—the tent show Way Out West–is surely a good example of a such a work.

To suggest that the Grease “community outreach” is innovative disregards the fact that there are Australian artists and communities—Circus Oz, Flying Fruit Flies, Chunky Move, Bangarra Dance Theatre, to name a few—already working all across the country who are very good at it. Many of them do it for much less than $200k, sometimes they do it for free.

The Australia Council in one of the country’s most vital and vibrant public institutions. The policies and decisions of the Australia Council have historically grown from consultation with artists and communities and are always hotly debated and contested. Within the ongoing clients of the Australia Council lie some of the most creative, innovative and strategic thinkers and makers in the world.

Throughout the Major Organisations and amongst the triennial, ongoing and project-based clients of the Theatre, Dance, Music, Community Cultural Development, Visual Arts, New Media, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders Arts Funds and Boards, to individual artists, youth arts projects, regional arts organisations and community art groups there is a commitment to creative partnerships with industry, community ownership and empowerment, new technologies and new audiences.

Most of all there is commitment to the development of a vibrant and exciting contemporary Australian culture that speaks about and shapes “how we live today.” For this vast and constantly struggling national resource to be effective and to realise the monumental potential that it holds, strategic initiatives of the Australia Council should, as much as possible I believe, enhance, develop, push and build on the strengths and successes of 20 odd years worth of public investment.

But very often these days, new initiatives (and their new money) are tied to a particular twist of a particular Federal Government wanting to see particular things “delivered.” This scenario is dangerous and inhibits the arm’s-length independence of the Australia Council Boards, who are in the main peer artists, involved directly in cultural industry development.

So, over time, a policy vacuum appears between Australian contemporary arts practice as it actually is, and the sometimes twisted assumptions of men in grey suits waving the results of a “focus group” survey like Chamberlain returning from Nazi Germany.

So in the same month that we are sending some of our best contemporary companies to New York for the Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival Down Under, we are also funding “community outreach” for American popular culture—Grease, produced by one of the largest (multi-national) entertainment companies in the world, Really Useful, with the show’s copyright owned by the richest man in Great Britain, Sir Paul McCartney.

I simply can’t believe that between ‘em they couldn’t pay for it themselves. Or with a product so well known as Grease, find a corporate or philanthropic sponsor for the entire outreach project.

These things just do not compute. Australia Council, we love you. Please consider.

Zane Trow, Brisbane

* * *

Dear Editors

I am concerned at the emotive misinterpretation in various articles of recent changes to ABC Classic FM scheduling, and your editorial of June/July is one such. It would be good to examine who set you up for it actually.

It is true to say that Soundstage is no longer heard on ABC Classic FM, but it is not true to conclude that drama production at the ABC is suffering as a result. It continues and can be heard on Radio National. I have never had any influence over the Soundstage budget, and I should add that I wonder what you mean by a “homebody” audience? Are ABC Classic FM listeners not homebodies? However, a fair question to ask is why I removed it from ABC Classic FM. The answer is that our listeners have sought better definition for what ABC Classic FM stands for. If it is a music network, then why is ninety minutes a week of drama on it, and they’ve asked the same question of why the Margaret Throsby repeat is there as well. This explains the change.

You then allude to The Listening Room, implying that “workshopping” it is to use a euphemism for axing it. That will not happen. But answer me this: how many creative artists in Australia are doing work that is suitable for the Acoustic Art brief for TLR, but not being heard? I’m interested to put that question? How many people listen to TLR, and could there be more? Are there fields of acoustic art that do not have their roots in musique concrete and the extended forms of poetry found in the last century? Do we ever hear music, say Mozart or Cipriano de Rore, in the way it is intended? Could we assert a different way of hearing by virtue of context, or contrast, or can we change things by examining the cultural moulding of our ears, actually create a different context? If you don’t know, then take my assurance that I am interested in putting the question. And through The Listening Room. I think you have misinterpreted my intentions completely and I would have been happy to answer your points if you had asked.

There is one more thing you might find hard to understand, and I include this passionate statement because a letter from Timothy Daly published by you in the same issue refers to “fine music boffins.” Sorry mate, it’s our turf. Our listeners like music. They’ll fight to the death for it, because it matters to them. It is a field people who do not love music cannot comprehend. It is about understanding the movement of sound, the organisation of sound. It is a language of its own. That applies no less to Mozart or Josquin than to Robert Iolini. But music is not words, it is not visual, it is not associative (mostly), and is not always psychological narrative (in this it is a far more radical and successful art form than writing). It is about sound. The organisation of abstracted sound for its own sake. Soundstage could only rarely be about sound, and TLR is nearly always about sound. That’s why it will stay on ABC Classic FM and why I want to ask what it could be that is not being at present.

Yours sincerely,

John Crawford, Program Manager , ABC Classic FM

RealTime issue #44 Aug-Sept 2001 pg. 15

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