Saturday, August 4, 2012

Swan, Springsteen and Oz.

I was going to finish today my series on the "job snob"/"technological change" myth, when acting PM and Treasurer Wayne Swan (Labor), by coming out of the closet as a devout Bruce Springsteen fan, forced me to change plans.

Now, as excuses go, that's a really crappy one, readers might say.

Perhaps; but, believe it or not, this was one of the big topics in Australia this week, as this Google Trends screen capture (taken Sunday, August 5, at 07:08 am EST) shows, comparing with the industrial relations legislation recently reviewed:

Screen capture from Google Trends. Right-click for a larger image in a separate tab.

As I see it, whether one believes him or not, Swan is claiming to share working class feelings and fears.

He is also reiterating a point he's made before: Australian plutocrats are becoming a danger to democracy (see here and here).

That Phillip Coorey (Fairfax Media) seems to share my views gives me some confidence my reading isn't entirely off the mark (see here).

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But if that was pretty clear to some, it wasn't so clear to most.

For one, it wasn't clear to Australia's Very Serious People. For them, to invoke a singer and songwriter for his emotional appeal to working class people is nothing short of ridiculous. VSP leave emotions to lower classes, as we know; they are rational intellectuals, well above such things, in the best randian/misesian tradition.

For shadow treasurer Joe Hockey (see here), for instance, inspiration comes from much higher sources, as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill or their Australian "equivalent" Robert Menzies!

Which goes to show that Hockey's interests have changed fast, over a few years:


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It seems a considerable segment of our middle class (or petit bourgeoisie, as Marx used to call them) can't really wrap their minds around the idea that Springsteen may have something to say to Australians, mainly poor Australians.

Take for instance Fairfax Media's columnist Paul Daley, an apparently progressive or at least centrist bloke. For Daley, the problem with Swan's musical choices is a generational one: Generation X would be more partial to Aussie bands like The Triffids, the Go Betweens, Midnight Oil, or singer/songwriter Paul Kelly.

Don't get me wrong: they are terrific bands. Paul Kelly clearly appeals to working class audiences (I'm a fan, to be honest). I have no problem with the idea that they appeal to Daley and many others like him, either.

The point Daley misses is that, with Midnight Oil's exception, these bands and singers don't deal with political issues, as Springsteen often does; they deal with personal issues. And Swan's central message, sincerely felt or not, is about politics.

The Triffids' "Wide Open Roads", which Daley nominated "as Australia's brooding anthemic equivalent for my generation", for example, is about a large, depopulated country and its vast landscape; about loneliness and isolation on the road. Or, at least, that's my reading.

I'm speculating here, but Daley's inability to see this difference could be explained because for him (and he claims his generation) political issues are irrelevant or at least secondary, perhaps due to his presumably mid/upper middle class circumstances afford him that.

The video below, where Springsteen, his band and Tom Morello perform "The Ghost of Tom Joad" (inspired by the character from John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath"), should speak to a modern working class Australian audience, even if it doesn't speak to Very Serious People or middle class Australians.

Above all, it should speak, and loudly, to would-be migrants:


Prospective migrants should place themselves in the shoes of the Joad family: Australia could be their very own new California. Read the book, it's a terrific reading. Enjoy the music.

Thanks Boss, Tom and all.

Update:
05-08-2012. I've just read Springsteen's brilliant biographical/musical profile, by David Remnick, from The New Yorker (July 30, 2012):

We Are Alive - Bruce Springsteen at sixty-two.

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