The tittering classes

Introducing 'These United States' โ€” a Melbourne Writers' Festival panel discussion with Dennis Altman, Don Watson and Philip Gourevitch last Friday night โ€” Peter Clarke noted with a glint in his eye that Hurricane Gustav is scheduled to crash into New Orleans around the time President Bush will give his speech at the Republican Convention. The audience chortled merrily.

It's important to get this right. You can say that the United States exercises undue influence over Australia's actions on the world stage. You can say that Australian culture is unreasonably dominated by tablets handed down from that foreign mount. I think it's vital that you say these things, that they're not said enough.

They weren't said much on Friday night. When a man like Philip Gourevitch (with whose oeuvre I'm only vaguely familiar) is launching repeatedly into an impassioned defence of his nation's role in the world, against a string of barbs and unironic comparisons with China โ€” you have to realise that your taunts have become extreme, if not idiotic. Absolutely, wish for freedom from our cultural and political fawning. But don't relish schadenfreude.

Joseph | 31 Aug 2008

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