Tarago Diaries #43 – A Thousand Days

Mark writes on outrage, art and media.

Author:  Mark Seymour.

Date: 10 December 2020.

Original URL: https://www.facebook.com/MarkSeymourOfficial


Article Text

So yes, I waded into the Martin Bryant stoush. Silly me.

And now I’ve just read a comparison between our so called ‘discomfort’ over a film about him,

And our national silence over the treatment of indigenous people.

(Gary Linnell. The New Daily.)

Wasn’t expecting this particular twist. Shifting the boundaries of an argument around artistic worth by appealing to a higher virtue.

In this case, ‘The Soul of the Nation’.

Something along the lines of ‘Port Arthur is us,’ you say?

questions of collective guilt..

That’s pretty lofty. And who’s going to argue without looking like a..

Ahh I get it. If you’re uncomfortable about ‘Nitram’ then you may well be ‘uncomfortable’ about stories of racist Australia.. so what does that say about YOU?

And your discomfort?

But see, ‘discomfort’ is a pretty random thing. And very immediate. Some feel it more acutely than others. But you know what? Sometimes it just gets down to your proximity to REAL STUFF.

Sure we all get manipulated and lied to. Our ‘discomfort’ can be misguided. But then again, sometimes our ‘discomfort’ is actually.. well.. right.

And dare I say, there are likely to be many Australians, indigenous most likely, who would find the comparison
between the horrendous act of a nutcase killer and the last two hundred and forty odd years of systemic dispossession, disease and murder of an entire race.. as if these two phenomena had similar cultural ‘worth’..

It’s just a bit …well, …offensive.

Bear with me here. My point wasn’t that the film shouldn’t be made.

But at the same time, you can’t isolate the social dividend in creative work without addressing the question of immediate ethical choice.

O.D.A. Offence does matter. You have to weigh it up.

Don’t worry. I’ve given this some thought.

I’m an artist. If something draws my attention it’s because I’ve reacted to it. Of course, I could stay reactive.. and simply wallow in my own feelings. But I also judge the worth of the work on the basis of what value it might have to other people.

So, the ‘why’ quickly follows. And the more I investigate, the richer my own work hopefully becomes. Embrace the complexity. And then decide.

On that basis I freely admit, when I consider the work of others, I consider what their judgement might be. Art is not born in vacuum. Everybody’s in it mate.

But ‘Reaction’ of any kind, including ‘discomfort’ is highly conditional and can’t simply be dismissed because it doesn’t fit into some overarching template of cultural worthiness.

Otherwise it’s just argumentative. We’re indulging in ‘culture war’, and there’s a lot of that around these days. Most of it is really trite. And personally, I don’t think the Port Arthur Massacre should ever be in that place.

Always remember. Like it or not, ‘bums on seats’ matters. It’s when you pretend they don’t, or exclude them from your so called ‘cultural analysis’.. then my bullshit radar starts pinging again..

And believe me, I’ve been in the creative game for long enough to know.

There’s that saying: ‘You can’t polish a turd’. Well, I’d qualify it by adding ‘forever.’ Because actually you can for a bit. Long enough to at least make your money back. And a bit more if the platform’s big enough. And in this case.. it’s BIG.

But seriously though.

If we’re going to try and evaluate the worthiness of a film about Martin Bryant by drifting side ways into some lofty analysis of the nation’s soul, there are plenty of issues going down right now you could knock up a production budget over..

Here’s one:

How about a film about the Biloela Family who are about to spend their third christmas in detention on ‘Christmas’ Island

And call it:

‘A Thousand Days.’

Don’t hold your breath though.