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Campbell Newman, subsidised arts and the popular vote

Posted in awards, news regurgitation, rare political comment, writing with tags , , , , , , on April 5, 2012 by jason nahrung

Sadly, today’s editorial in the Australian doesn’t surprise. Had it not been self-published, an editor would’ve have a field day cutting out the tired old tropes. The piece shows as little awareness of the reality of publishing in Australia, I can’t help but wonder if the editor was a board member of Borders.

Good on Campbell Newman for cancelling the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. They deserved it. How dare they short-list a bio from that terrorist David Hicks? What do they think this is: a democracy?

Scary stuff, literature, especially that high-falutin’ stuff that goes to pains to use big, fancy words and literary balderdash to criticise and question today’s society and the people who run it.

First ones against the wall, that lot.

‘If (Newman) restores the awards in future, as he has hinted, he would do well to ensure they reward the best-quality writing, including that which appeals to the broader public.’

What is clear from the editorial is that the editor has fallen for the PR from his own circulation department and believes that quantity is a measure of quality. He hasn’t eaten at McDonald’s lately, it appears. See, books aren’t one size fits all. It’s what makes them such an interesting product to try to market. There’s no accounting for taste. Clearly, the work of the Qld Premier’s Lit Awards hasn’t been to the editor’s taste, nor that of the LNP. Tough.

As Nick Earls said in his response to the axing:

While I’ve had little personal reason to love the Premier’s Literary Awards, I’ve been glad they’ve been there.

It might not be my cup of tea, either, but I don’t doubt for a second that it’s important. Just as important as the popular fiction that I write. Maybe even more important, at certain levels.

I wouldn’t mind if someone was throwing cash awards around for the stuff I write. Hey, here’s an idea. How about the Oz step up, take the editor’s philosophy and run with it. Out with the old men like Patrick White, a recent front-page feature of the Oz’s venerable lit pages, and in with the popular fiction. The crime, the romance, the YA. Dare I suggest, the horror? And before the movie gets made. That’d be a bonus.

‘Newer writers will also build loyal readerships, if they are good enough,’ the Oz says.

Define good enough. And then tell me how they build that readership. I would’ve thought the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards with sections for unpublished manuscript and unpublished Indigenous manuscript was a perfect avenue for that new writer to be noticed. It’s back to the table outside the local bookstore, huh?

Maybe the Oz can up the Vogel to remove the age restriction — after all, those young guns have got an entire lifetime ahead of them in which to make their career – if they’re ‘good’ enough. Maybe the Logies can add a book category and the Oz can print the ballot. Twilight for the win.

Here we sit in 2012 still arguing about what makes a great read, and how to recognise the practitioners who provide it. The bean counters still treat books like tins of pineapple and tell us homegrown or imported, it doesn’t matter.

The Oz is appalled at writers, and artists in general, sucking on the public tit. This ‘vocal minority’ should be standing on its own economic two feet.

That’s an interesting precedent to set, isn’t it? No seed funding for industry, is what it amounts to. No subsidy for innovative new tech. Government-funded apprenticeships? You want a library? Better start charging admission and rental fees. Reading’s a luxury, after all, not a right. You want an oval? Build it and maintain it yourself — stand on your own two feet. If you build it, they will come.

In a separate article in the same day’s Oz, the comment is made that Campbell isn’t planing to cut other government awards, not even for drama. I guess there’s something appealing about taking one’s lobbyists and business pals out to see a show, maybe do some deals in the intermission. No, he’s singled out the lit awards, and why?

Because he knows that the ‘vocal minority’ that is the country’s writers don’t have a lot of support in the wider community. Not even in newspaper offices where economic rationalism reigns, and the idea of a good read starts at the back of the paper, where ‘good’ is measured by dollar signs. Campbell’s looking for easy money to bolster a bottom line, hoping those pennies he loves so much will become pounds. What a bleak hole he’s digging for Queenslanders.

  • The Queensland Writers Centre has compiled a great list of responses to Campbell’s axing of the awards. The centre has taken a very reasonable, proactive approach to the debacle. You can plug into it here.

    And there’s this thoughtful piece from TLC Books about just what lit awards offer, and why they’re good things to have, both for the community and for writers.

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