Australian politics, society & culture

November 2012 in brief

In this Issue: 

THE NATION REVIEWED

On this occasion, the broadsheets came too late because Gillard’s speech had already been received with massive approval by those using social media. Suddenly the disconnect between the pundits and their supposed audience was glaring.

In the Monthly comment, ‘A Matter of Context’, Amanda Lohrey damns the mainstream media for its misreading of Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech, and the defensive posturing that followed.

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Plus, in ‘They Had It Coming’, Judith Brett rebukes those who would cast Gillard as Lady Macbeth; in ‘The Kings and I’, Don Watson considers whether racing is a mug’s game; in ‘Singo & Gina’, Malcolm Knox traces the adman and the iron lady’s friendship back to a doomed foray into politics; in ‘Round and Round the Garden’, Jo Lennan traverses the wilds of Sydney with the WWF chief; in ‘Oh When the Saint’, Michael Lucy views Francis Xavier’s hand on its Australian tour; and, in ‘Last Hope in Hell’, Michaela McGuire gets the lowdown on bushfire bunkers.

 

THE MONTHLY ESSAYS

The thinking behind the Family Responsibilities Commission was to help bring those people willing to confront what was going wrong in their towns back from the brink, and thus provide their children with some semblance of normality. Says David Glasgow with considerable understatement, “This kind of change is hard work.”

In ‘Great Expectations’, Catherine Ford travels to Cape York to see Noel Pearson’s social experiment in practice. The welfare reform trial now in its fifth year has had a number of successes, such as improved school attendance rates, but there is still a long way to go.

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More than one startled reviewer has commented on Wolf’s blithe assumption that her prescriptions for a happy vagina are based not on highly culturally specific preferences – “perhaps shaped by romance novels and Laura Ashley bedroom sets”, as one Feministe blogger tartly suggested – but in our evolutionary past. 

In ‘The Vagina Dialogues’, Cordelia Fine redresses the notion that women’s ‘sexual passivity’ is a fact of biology. Instead, Fine uncovers a long history of sexual stereotyping that has seen women have as much sex as society will allow, and wanting more.

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While Mahler’s symphonies digressed and expanded in an effort to encompass the whole world, Sibelius’ symphonies, which he described as “confessions of faith”, were compressed to the point of ultimate silence. “Never write an unnecessary note,” he proclaimed. “Every note must live.”

In ‘Who Stopped the Music?’, Mark McKenna journeys to Finland to discover how one of last century’s most important composers came to be mired in a state of creative cataplexy that lasted 30 years.

 

VOX

The rooftop bar was buzzing, late on a warm Friday afternoon. My friend and I found a spot under an umbrella and ordered up. Each of us was secretly longing to talk about the fact that the cops had charged a man with the rape and murder of Jill Meagher.

Helen Garner captures the mood of a city following the death of one of its own.

 

ARTS & LETTERS

A new form of storytelling has emerged, made for weekly slots on telly, but best consumed in large batches. In this medium there is time for characters to unfold, to be as complex and contradictory as they are in good novels. And there is time for us to identify with them, to see the world through their eyes as well as our own.

In ‘Meth and Madness’, Robyn Davidson develops a Breaking Bad habit, succumbing to the lure of a narrative landscape of moral quagmires, empathic dilemmas and breathtaking cliffhangers. Midnight chat sessions and encounters with the unlikely shades of Dickens and Dostoevsky ensue.

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Bacon’s achievement was to make of English desperation a universal phenomenon. This was no mean feat, since there is so much about English desperation that is specifically English: the fading wallpaper, the claustrophobic cosiness, the used teabags waiting to be used again.

In ‘A Room with No View’, Sebastian Smee takes stock of the life and work of the painter Francis Bacon. Bacon’s emphasis on sensation and his skilful skewering of utopian modernist dreams, Smee argues, made him one of the 20th century’s most exciting and influential artists.

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Plus, in ‘Wild Pilgrim’, Barry Hill meets poet Ko Un in Seoul; in ‘After the Game’, Amanda Lohrey delivers some colour commentary on the political memoirs of Maxine McKew and James Button; in ‘Down from the Hills’, Richard Guilliatt catches Matt Walker while he can; and in ‘Volatile Spirits’, Luke Davies abandons himself to the magnetism of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.

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Cover: November 2012
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<p>Cover: November 2012</p>