I’m a book snob. Sadly it’s true. I steer past whole sections of the book-shop, online or bricks and mortar because of it. I don’t read certain authors because they’re too prolific. I figure if someone can pump out a book in less than a year, it’s probably not a great book. (Yes, I know, Shakespeare, blah blah.) I avoid books with a very cursive script on the cover. Don’t even talk to me about “chick lit”. I think of myself as being “well-read”, as in “I read some of the right books and a lot of obscure ones and sometimes a bestseller just see what the fuss is about”. I have nothing but scorn for Dan Brown’s collected works.
But I really don’t want to be this guy. This Christopher Bantick, a teacher at an Anglican boys school, longs for the good old days of elitism in the arts. He pines with every fibre of his being for the days when youngsters went to the theatre and when people would “concentrate, really concentrate, on Mahler” instead of listening to Leonard Cohen. He probably owns many leather bound books. He wants people to read the right books, rather than just any old person reading whatever they damn well feel like. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s something about a collective cultural dumbing down represented by the selfies and introspection of Kids Today.
As relieved I am that someone has finally condescended to think of the children, I’m not sure Bantick’s the man for the job. His opening par reads thusly:
In this age of selfies and X-Factors, spare a thought for the insidious damage being done to Australian serious culture. Given that Pink Floyd may have sung, ”Teacher, leave them kids alone”, should we be bothered? Yes, very bothered indeed.
“Australian serious culture”? What does it even mean? What culture is flippant? The delivery of a piece of prose of theatre may be whimsical, sure, but has an artist ever sat down to half arse their work just for the hell of it? Bantick has a bunch of quotes from artists who seek their own meaning in their work and cites them as evidence of the downfall of Kids Today – Ang Lee and Josh Pyke are both accused of being the physical embodiments of a selfie. I’m not sure why, to be honest.
Yes, schools need to give kids some exposure to the classics. Yes, kids need to be shown how to navigate literature and theatre – to make art accessible and to give them an enduring passion for it. But they also need to become literate, to develop numeracy and a basic understanding of science, the world around them, the tools they’ll need to use through their whole lives and the society they’re about to enter as adults. Schools have a varied and important list of responsibilities and always face a balancing act of priorities. Classrooms are too full and good teachers too few. The most elitist aspect of Bantick’s comments is that all of those things aren’t very real and demanding challenges for schools all around the country. How exactly will low literacy expand theatre audiences? How will knowing who Christopher Marlowe was help improve education outcomes in remote communities? And exactly why is taking a photograph of oneself held up as the antithesis of rational thought?
I’ve given too much time to this guy’s linkbait already. But more generally what culture needs isn’t seriousness and exclusivity. It’s a dash of wide-eyed wonder. A yearning for knowledge and expression and understanding. Most artistic expression is hugely individual and the final product reaches out to others on an individual level. What we’re doing here, and by building art galleries and attending the theatre, is finding a community in which to share that individual experience. We come together to celebrate it. If we want future generations to join us how about we just invite them? Telling them they’re doing it wrong isn’t a great start.