Barry Humphries and those Australian ex-pats: a must read article IMHO

There’s a certain nastiness about a certain cadre of Australian expats. The big four are Germaine Greer, Barry Humphries, Clive James and Robert Hughes. They didn’t like the Australia of the fifties and early sixties, and a lot of them think we’re still the same. This was the generation that railed against a ‘cultural cringe’ as if it had been a permanent feature of the landscape. It was in many ways quite recent and that’s one of the things this article argues.

What causes the expatriate Australian artist to deny the cultural worth of his country of origin? Why does hatred predominate in the love/hate feelings for the land of birth, upbringing and early nurturing?

One possible explanation is that most of these creative people were products of culturally deprived families. In their view, all Australians are uncouth, nugatory and barbarian. Barry Humphries, Sidney Nolan, Peter Conrad, Germaine Greer and Clive James come into this category.

I’d rate the article a must read – though it begins rather lamely – and indeed I almost didnt read on as it seemed to have a peculiarly Melbourne chip on its shoulder. It is amongst other things, a musing on the so called ‘cultural cringe’, a hatchet job on Barry Humphries (or rather an attack on his having airbrushed Australian collaborators out of his version of the past) and a marvellous catelogue of the creative achievement of Melbourne in those supposedly lean years of the 1950s and 60s. It’s an interesting subject. Like AD Hope said, “from the desert prophets come”. (Then again, as they say in the restuarant trade “from the dessert, profits come”.)

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Vee
Vee
15 years ago

I must confess from that list I have no idea who Robert Hughes is.

Paul Watson
15 years ago

Nicholas,

Philip Jones’ article is a serendipitous complement to something I wrote in 2004, re the striking similarities between a bunyip character Barry Humphries played in 1959, and the character who would later be known as Dame Edna. http://paulwatson.blogspot.com/2004_09_12_paulwatson_archive.html#109522534329260596 The similarities matter because, as I suggested at the time, Humphries plainly did not have sole ownership of (or quite possibly even the major stake in) the 1959 character, as a matter of intellectual property.

Jones confirms that Humphries has since written Peter O’Shaughnessy (“soul mate, muse, financier and artistic collaborator”

trackback

[…] Inspired by some remarks by Nicholas Gruen at Troppo. […]

david tiley
15 years ago

That stuff about origination is odd. An actor finds a role, and reprises it from then on. Who owns the role? How much is the role simply a meme? Even if the actor does acknowledge the role, how long does the originator share in the revenue stream?

There’s many a script editor and/or director been left grumpy by the transfer of an idea into the creativity of someone who went on to get famous with it. Who first developed the Benny Hill persona? What happened at that moment when Chaplin went into the wardrobe room and someone handed him a bowler hat?

Keaton’s stone face was an artefact of his physical concentration. Who put the makeup on him to complete the mask?

Such is life.

david tiley
15 years ago

BTW Paul – I can’t find your article.

david tiley
15 years ago

And Vee, he was a barramundi fisherman who had a terrible car accident. Probably because he was on the wrong side of the road.

Ken Parish
Admin
15 years ago

A pissed, pompous barramundi fisherman at that. But not a bad art critic for all that. Could this be the shock of the so not new that no-one even knows who he is any more?

Gummo Trotsky
15 years ago

After reading that extract from Move Over Muthaf*kas, Dis Our ‘Hood Now in The Age, a couple of weeks ago, I reckon that Ryan Heath bloke is up there with the best of that generation of ex-pats.

Rafe Champion
15 years ago

This is a really fascinating topic and I would like to write a full essay to explore the various aspects of it. Someone (Searle?) wrote a fascinating book of Australian cultural history titled “From the Deserts, Prophets Come”. A consdered critique of some common ideas about the cultural cringe can be found on line here
http://www.the-rathouse.com/Revivalist_winter.html

James Farrell
James Farrell
15 years ago

Interesting about Barry Hughes. On the basis of his case I offer the following theory: Expatriates are in a tough position – we expect them to represent us, but they inevitably get out of touch and ther representations become embarrassing. Our ingratitude strikes them as unfair, so the representations become unflattering.

However, I’m not convinced that there’s a general phenomenon requiring an explanation.

Does Clive James really fit this mould? He strikes me as more in touch with the scene here than the others. I hadn’t noticed he had denigrated Australia particularly, but perhaps I haven’t been paying attention.

Robert Hughes’ six-part documentary wasn’t a vicious attack. There problem there was he was conspicuously out of touch. The whole thing was poorly conceived, though. It was directed at an American audience, and it made a certain amount of sense for the story to be told by an expatriate who understood that audience. But how many Americans want to sit through six hours of TV about Australia? Hence, the main audience in practice was Australian, and it’s no surprise we found the whole thing pretty banal. Still, on the whole it was affectionate, and the episode on multiculturalism was especially positive.

As for Greer, I think she’s just a very fractious person. She fights with and ends up disparaging just about everyone who crosses her path. So I wouldn’t worry that she was singling us out for special scorn.

Paul Watson
15 years ago

Oops,

Correct archival URL for my Edna’s origins post is:

http://paulwatson.blogspot.com/2004/09/how-dame-edna-got-her-mojo.html

Otherwise David, I’m disagree with you that Edna’s creator/co-creator – assuming that this was someone other than BH – should just shrug and move on. (Albeit they obviously have, since it all happened decades ago).

Directors left grumpy by script input not being properly credited? Doesn’t happen much in the modern world, AFAIK – but that’s coz (for various weid reasons) such a credit would entail a status drop for them (Note: more so in film/TV than in live theatre).

As for script editors not getting their due, I think that this is a tangent from the issue of intellectual property in Edna. If a script editor has truly ever created a figure as enduring as Edna, then boy, were they in the wrong job. By this I don’t (only) mean “stiff cheese”, but the converse – a script editor who is actually a comic genius would be unbearable to work alongside with as a everyday proposition.

The early BH must also have been hell to work with, which is all the more reason the historical record to be revised – he is and was a great actor and improviser, but as a writer he has deferred to the greater talents of others.

DualCitizen
DualCitizen
15 years ago

Having just read the article i can only comment that his caricatures of the Britons are as cliched, inaccurate and biased as anything Greer et al have ever produced about the Australians. His chippy, “let me get the insults in first” attitude represents the cultural cringe writ large. Ceramic art unheard of in Britain? Get away. Of course he has never heard of Wedgewood, which was producing avant-garde stuff years before the war. But then they are based outside London, where he probably never ventured. The only people who think London is the centre of England let alone Britain are the sad creatures that live there. Anti-semitism? Among the upper-classes perhaps, but the man in the British street has never suffered from this due to British protestantism, which had junked anti-semitism centuries ago. Anti-French? Guilty as charged yer ‘onner.

david tiley
15 years ago

Interesting, Paul. Directors are prone to try for script credits, actually, at the moment, partly out of egotism and also to score fees.

This is more about the spin-off of a character from a show, via the actor. That is a transfer which is not industrially defined enough, unlike the material which goes up the production funnel into an individual film.

I don’t like it either; the issue for me is the practical one of enforcement.

I meant the “such is life” line not to convey acceptance so much as irony – it was used by Furphy and Vonnegut both.

TimeCube Cubiez
15 years ago

Huh, who said Australians had become that much better? There is plenty of rubbish on Australian TV showing that the population are a bunch of numbskulls. There are rubbish publications such as the Herald Sun and mX. There is a shallow materialist culture. Teenagers in schools are largely drug-users, hateful elitists or mere bullies. They couldn’t even put together decent opening/closing ceremonies for the farce known as the Commonwealth Games.

It says something when the melways is the only defining feature of Melbourne. To hell with Australia, let’s all expatriate.

Salvador Niemeyer
Salvador Niemeyer
6 years ago

I’m never going to have kids, but the one thing I would teach them is to avoid parties like this like the plague. Gain a small group of trustworthy friends and ditch the mass, mob-like parties of “cool kids” – you don’t need a ton of friends and you don’t need anyone else’s approval.