Editorial: Upside Downunder - Publication: LA Weekly January 2010
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Another  typical corporate function on a rainy January afternoon in Los Angeles, the backdrop the comparatively minimalist Hollywood Renaissance hotel in West Hollywood –hardly  upscale corporate utopia, yet  these are hard times

Inside generic business types mingle.  A middle aged guy in  a grey business suit approaches  brandishing a business card  and unloading gratuitous introduction – yet with a decided twist, he opens his first sentence with the line “Gday,”  a redundant Australianism, often bandied about by tourism industry types tapping the reliable, though dated line  about  all things down under – an apparent  beer swilling utopia of unparalleled candor and opportunity 

 This isn’t any event its “Australia week,”  and in keeping with the occasion  this dude has  unleashed his Inner Australian. Despite being a private school educated chap  with a masters degree in Business he’s seemingly morphed into a Mick Dundee sound alike,  weaned on a diet of beer and raw meat. and hailing from some exotic wilderness  dense with  life threatening flora and fauna.

Im half expecting to bark “ Nahhh this is a knife… as he reaches into his suit pocket. Instead he reveals an impressive looking business card, Roman font, single spaced,  and it even has a gold embossed kangaroo and emu logo – eat your heart out Patrick Bateman.

 Nearby – outside what appears to be a sports demonstration is unfolding - a gaggle of twenty or so men are running around a damp field in what appears to be seventies styled short shorts and sleeveless  wife beater type shirts. They offer a demonstration of Australian rules football, “down under,” luminaries like Keith Urban, Julian Mcmahon (Nip Tuck) and Simon Baker (The Mentalist) join in the kickabout and generally feign interest.

Yes, you guessed it, the occasion is none other than Australia Week—  An annual event that sees various  LA based Australians  from the entertainment and business sphere converge to  celebrate themselves and promote  all things Australian. There’s  token celebrity appearances (New Zealand born Russel Crowe was honored last year and Hugh Jackman before that. There’s also lots of  freebie wine and cheese ( essentially the best part).

Poetically dubbed, “ G’Day USA: Australia Week,” the Australian consulate says the event is “an annual celebration of Australian capability in  the world's most prosperous economy.  In seven years it has successfully tapped into the depth of the Australia-United States relationship to change perceptions of Australia in America and to strengthen and deepen the bonds between the two countries.

 It adds, “The objective of Australia Week is to demonstrate Australia as an innovative, high growth, sophisticated economy, with leading edge research and technology in products, goods and services. The program highlights Australia’s economic credentials as a desirable place in which to do business and invest, source goods and services. --- more importantly The Australia Week promotion has resulted in excess of $22.5 million in trade and investment across sectors as diverse as art, food, wine, fashion, tourism and business services.”

Regardless of the apparent socio economic upside, Im at a loss as whether it is fuelling the regression rather than advancement of Australia’s cultural reputation.  Its harder to swallow than the vintage Penfolds  Cab im sipping – hypothetically I should be moved by this event,  tearing up as  I fondly  reflect on my homeland, recalling  some  distant memory of a home cooked meal from my adolescence, - though call me fickle – Im kinda insentient to the whole thing – repulsed,  confused, horrified.  The booming musical medley booming in the background isn’t helping either, namely  Men At Works Downunder , Jet’s My Girl and Inxs’ Devil Inside – oh  you like that one?.. sorry.

 Thrown by this mire of contradiction,  poor introspective me wandered  off to a corner, shunning the magnetic spectacle of Keith Urban and Nicole just a few feet away I pondered  whether I’ve become  sadly estranged from my  roots, hovering in some neutral purgatory.

Neither American or Australian but a mere shell of my former self, hopelessly bereft of identity and ideals? do I care, not really, Ive still got the accent, though that’s contentious too – it depends who you ask, while my brother in law thinks my accent is “Americanized,” a random 20something from Pasadena mistook me for British for the first three weeks of dating. Sustained by fantasies of morphing into Kate Moss and  dating  the Kooks lead singer, she was quite content until she found out Im Australian which tragically prompted my being  dumped – odd, a bit?

 Yes, accents are confusing things, though they imply  identity, something time endures, something that makes us distinct. Still, once  heavily tied to its colonial roots and all things Brit  the Australian accent is now in fear of being Americanized, with  Australian youth mimicking the accents  heard via mass media.

A recent story in Sydney’s revered Sydney Morning herald examined the issue of  Australia’s teenage girls now  adopting “Valley speak,” as part of their everyday linguistic intonation.

The story claimed, “Oh. My. God! Like, can you believe how many young Australian women talk as if they're Californian Valley Girls nowadays? It's as if they're a cross between Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, Serena and Blair on Gossip Girl and almost every female Bratz character.”

 The story then went on  to quote  a doctor of linguistics at Sydney's Macquarie University, Dr Felicity Cox about the phenomenon, who revealed,” accent is about identity, about group membership and how we want to express ourselves".Cox added, “Russell Crowe was born in New Zealand, but he speaks with an Australian accent because his identity is rooted here, it's how he wants to be known.”

 “It's also why everyone from Aussies living in London to teenage girls, news reporters and horse-racing callers adopt similar vocal styles: it's called "communicative accommodation" says Dr Cox and "you accommodate with people you want to identify with and be like".

All very nice, but this still fails to address this whole quandary of  cultural identity  and Australia week. Is it really an accurate representation of Australian culture,  heightening its global profile? or simply  gratuitous backslapping endorsing racial stereotypes?

Nicole Kidman, Olivia Newton John, Keith Urban, Russel Crowe, and that dude from “The Mentalist,” all  had major presence at “Gday Australia Week,” urging the question,  why rely on seasoned and decidedly commercial favorites to sell all things “downunder,” when a plethora of fledgling scriptwriters, musicians, fashion designers, architects, directors, novelists and beyond beg some form of nurturing in the US marketplace.

Keenly standing by for the “Aussie Family Barbeque and Cricket Match,” event, it seems perpetuating the stereotype is doing little to elevate the profile of Australia and its creative depth and potential, more adhering to a confirmed though draconian marketing archetype – maybe some “Aussie innovation,”  and old fashioned risk taking is in order  ? – ah well at least the cheese was free , CS


Written by Craig Stephens

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