In his review of My life as a fake, Blake Morrison makes the following observation:
“Carey is fascinated by what the hoax says about Australian culture – both its “terror of being out of date” and its suspicion of European-style bullshit […].” Do you agree with Morrison's point about the tension in Australian culture between, on the one hand, anxiety in the face of European cultural achievement and, on the other hand, suspicion of its elitist pretensions ? Drawing on what we have discussed this semester on the wider issue of “Australian identity”, do you think Australian culture is particularly vulnerable to the impact of Ern Malley-style hoaxes? The Ern Malley affair, in the 1940s, made Australia the laughing stock of the UK and the US. It confirmed the image of Australia as a second-rate culture, both for the outside world and for Australians themselves, who felt ashamed of their own cultural cringe and their lack of national identity and culture. More than sixty years later, can this tendency still be observed in Australia? Is it true, as Blake Morrison wrote, that Australian culture is characterised by a “terror of being out of date” and a suspicion of “European-style bullshit”? Is this tension linked to the difficulty of building an Australian nation and identity? This essay will examine those issues by analyzing to what extent Australia is a fragile culture (I), and by deducting the two consequences of this lack of self-worth: the development of an inferiority complex towards England (II), and the attempts to create a specific Australian identity in order to combat this feeling of inferiority (III).
[...] As Tony Stephens underlines, there is a clear difference between myth and reality. If one looks at statistics, the stereotypes about Australians being hard drinkers and anti-elitist appear unfounded. Furthermore, as Hughes writes, Australians' passion about sports is paradoxical, as sports are deeply based on meritocracy and performance. In conclusion, it is true that Australians are anxious about their culture, and suffer from a kind of inferiority complex, especially towards Great Britain. However, in constructing a national identity, based on myths and specific traits, they have shown they were able to have a culture [...]
[...] Great Britain has had a very strong influence on Australian culture, and, although progressively diminishing, this influence is still very present today. I found out in my research that Australian citizenship was only granted in 1949, that the national anthem was God Save the Queen until 1984, and that ministers still swear allegiance to the queen. The British crown is also represented on the Australian dollar and through the Union jack on the Australian flag. Unlike what happened in the United States, Australia gained its independence peacefully: there was no confrontation with the UK. [...]
[...] Australian ‘born / In a half savage country, out of date ; / Bent resolutely on wringing lilies from the acorn.' A very serious provincial academic poet, committed to a life of envy and disappointment.” Sarah is also struck by the Slater's rudeness towards Chubb: could have never imagined Slater talking like this to a British poet, but Chubb did not seem in the least disconcerted”. The role of the cultural intelligentsia in increasing this anxiety has to be underlined, too. [...]
[...] The fragility of Australian culture explains the persistence of an inferiority complex towards British culture. First, Great Britain being the “mother country”, it has always been an object of admiration for Australians, who have often been strongly attracted to everything British. This is clearly referred to in My life as a fake: “Actually, I said, my mother was Australian Yes, we have a terror of being out of date Mother did not like to talk about Australia. She had rather a set against it. [...]
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