Cultural cheerleading (as distinct from cultural preservation) has always been somewhat embarrassing. Indeed, it is the mark of insecurity and provinciality. The condemnatory challenge not to pander to other cultures was, like most things Australian, based on the tribalisms of sport. You had to support the home team. The contradiction was that while philistinism produced natural loyalties and deep roots, the antinomian nature of art severed them.
The phrase ‘cultural cringe’ turned on a number of different psychological axes: the desire to find oneself wanting in equal proportion to finding oneself; an arrested adolescence obsessed with measurement (though now Australians are less certain about what they are measuring up against): the need to seek approval through isolationist agendas and self-wrought beleaguerment. This boisterous insecurity represented both a national pride and a national psychosis.
Currently it manifests itself as a blind-spot: the denial of cultural differences inside the nation by means of an assumed, homogenised reaction to the outside-Australia against the world. Ironically, these unspoken differences are working to transform ‘Australian’ culture from something narrowly geographic into more dynamic mutations hypercomplex responses to globalisation rather than old cultural and racial ones. There is good reason though for blind reaction: it allows national naivety to be exploited so that corporate Australianism can be exported. The old war cry is still trying to crank up that fuzzy feeling … at the expense of art.
Brian Castro is an Australian novelist and essayist.