Cultural Cringe

Australia is being made to rhyme with failure.

These words, written after the Second World War to describe our “cultural cringe”, are echoing through the arts community.

Once again, we are importing hosts for local TV shows.

I know there’s a skills shortage, but this is ridiculous.

It began with Irishman Brian McFadden and former Spice Girl Mel B on Channel 7’s X Factor.

Then Channel 9 hired L.A.-based Scot Darren McMullen to host The Voice, accompanied by UK star Seal and American pop/rock identity Joel Madden.

The final indignity came courtesy of Coles.

Forget about Magda Szubanski, Judith Lucy or our own Wendy Harmer.

Apparently Dawn French is the only comedienne clever enough to explain the new Flybuys program while dribbling over sexy chef Curtis Stone.

Spare me.

This is not an issue of xenophobia.

These people are not necessarily ‘bad’ because they were born overseas.

But neither are they necessarily ‘good’ – or better than anyone available locally.

Remember the Don Lane show? Bert Newton was the real talent. But he couldn’t be the real star.

After all, he was one of us. From the land downunder. Or the “arse end of the earth”, as Paul Keating put it.

In the early days, Australian actors had to bung on a British accent, soon supplanted by an American twang, before the ubiquitous international intonation.

Our ability with accents made our stars shine in Hollywood.

Nowadays, we lead the world in digital animation, with companies like Animal Logic turning a whimper into a roar.

But back home, we remain uncertain about our success.

Year after year, Channel 9 imports B-grade actors from the States to star at the premier event celebrating Australian television – the Logie Awards.

Without a hint of irony.

I remember chatting to the wry and witty Chris Noth from Sex & The City a couple of years ago.

“I have no idea why I’m here,” he confessed. “Don’t you have any TV stars in your country?”

Those ingrained feelings of inferiority, felt keenly by intellectuals in the 1940s and 50s, still haunt us.

At the time, social commentator A. A. Phillips wrote, “The public widely assumed that anything produced by local dramatists, actors, musicians, artists and writers was necessarily deficient when compared against the works of the British and European counterparts”.

The only way Australians could build themselves up was to move to the Old Country.

Clive James, Germaine Greer and Barry Humphries trod this well-worn path.

Yet even they have failed to boost our collective self-esteem.

Nothing we do is ever good enough.

Our population, isolation, and ideation condemn us to an inferiority complex.

Subsequently, we adopt the psyche of an abused child: always seeking approval but never receiving it.

Inevitably, the imports cop criticism.

But they respond by looking further down their noses at us.

Mel B says she doesn’t care about scathing reviews of her performance on Dancing with the Stars because she’s getting paid and has beautiful dresses to wear.

The Voice host Darren McMullen rolls his eyes at the common criticism, “I just can’t understand what he’s saying”.

Advertising executives question the use of British-born French to represent a company which once had the tagline, “Proudly Australian”.

But those behind the acronym ABA – Anyone But Aussie – would say my article proves their point.

A bigger star generates more publicity; controversy creates interest; people switch on to see what the fuss is all about.

But such strategies are short-term.

For every Mel B, there are hundreds of wanna-bes.

Australians prefer underdogs to overachievers.

Eventually, they’ll simply switch off.

In the days before television, back in 1894, Henry Lawson wrote of our Gestalt of psychological servitude, cultural anxiety and entrenched peer-cruelty.

It’s time we turned our cultural cringe into a celebration.