When a generation of activists, writers and artists rallies around slogans like "never trust anyone over 30" and "hope I die before I get old" a book like Mark Davis‘ gangland is almost inevitable. But Davis always knew that generationalism was a cheap shot — a way of grabbing attention while he tried to get a more interesting message across.
If you read the book carefully Davis explains what he’s really on about. He’s too old to be part of Generation X and most of his intellectual idols are too old to be boomers. His real complaint is that Australia’s cultural establishment hasn’t caught up with the kind of radical European thinking he learned to use as a student. In an interview with Geert Lovink of Telepolis he explained:
GL: In "Gangland" you question the whole idea of generationalism.
MD: Yes, the division of people into generations is a media product that gets us nowhere. It makes for good copy, but that’s about it, "wow, another article about baby-boomers and gen-x". For me the real interest is in examining, and putting together a popular history of intellectual traditions, especially recent traditions of high-culture elitism, white liberalism and colonialism as they have been practised by a very influential and well-connected post-1960s liberal elite. It is about counteracting the insidious aspects of these intellectual traditions – and working towards creating new traditions with new ideas.
Davis argued that the culture war was being used as cover for unpopular economic reforms. While they dismantled the institutions that once protected mainstream working families, the right launched into an attack on political correctness, multiculturalism and postmodernism. The "mainstream… were hurting because of globalisation, downsizing, de-industrialisation and so on," says Davis. But instead of opposing this new wave of economic liberalisation, the liberal left establishment had been coopted into joining the culture wars. In a recent piece for the Age he writes:
In Gangland I was quite hard on Australia’s liberal elites. I was dismayed that rather than foresee the coming of the new conservatism many had either sat on their hands or else had internalised many of its strategies and rhetoric. They, too, learnt to bash young feminists, spray "postmodernists" in the academy, get on board the backlash against popular culture and youth culture, and whine about so-called "political correctness", without really thinking through where the rhetoric was coming from or where it might lead.
As Davis saw it, the right had managed to achieve both its economic and cultural objectives. The working poor have joined women, migrants and Indigenous Australians on the margins of society. Australia’s intellectual and cultural elites have failed to live up to their own ideals and it’s time for them to move aside.
More recently, Davis has started talking about building alliances across generational lines. In the struggle against the new conservatism "it’s imperative to build links between groups that have common objectives, not least because one key aspect of that struggle is against the politics of divisiveness." The trouble is, Davis exploited the politics of divisiveness to gain the profile he now enjoys. And just as Richard Neville will always be a dope-smoking hippie put on trial for obscenity, Davis will always be the arch enemy of boomers — the guy who wrote that book which sits in a box in your garage underneath the rolled up Kurt Cobain posters.