Creative Classy my —!

Anyone working even remotely near the cultural policy world, will be familiar with Richard Florida’s contribution to the creative cities debate. In a nutshell it goes like this…ship in the hipsters, the geeks, and the gays, then add water, stir, wait for a wee while and your city will be basking in economic growth!

OK, so that may be a simplistic reading but nonetheless it’s been refreshing to be finally having a very public debate about Florida’s ideas – ideas that many policy wonks have adopted wholeheartedly and often without any robust analysis of their own. For an alternative view of Florida’s world, take a look at this article by Frank Bures titled The Fall of the Creative Class. While it does have a ring of ‘sour grapes’ about it at times, its publication at the very least signals that its time for some decent debate of Florida’s theories.

You can also view Florida’s response to the article here. And if you’re still not tuckered out from all that reading, here’s Bures’ response to Florida’s response. Not sure if Florida has responded to Bures’ response to his response yet…

Darwin’s Rhea

The story goes that Charles Darwin heard about a type of rhea (a flightless bird similar to an ostrich) that was smaller and rarer than the ones he’d previously come across in his Patagonian travails. After a time searching for the rare bird, he gave up until he found himself eating one over dinner.

Shocked, surprised and delighted, he collected the remnants of the bird and sent them back home to Cambridge for analysis.

What gets me about this story is the synchronicity of the event and its catalytic role in helping Darwin to build an evidence base for his theory on patterns of replacement, central to the development of On the Origin of Species and later, The Descent of Man.

Call it luck, divine provenance, universal confluence…whatever it is, I’m sending big-ups to this sacrificial bird. It’s barbecued bones helped Darwin send shock waves through the establishment and remove any doubt about the extent of our human connectivity and our intractable bond to the natural environment that gives us life.

Big-ups rhea…for helping us take our heads out of the sand.

p.s. extraordinary drawing of rhea done by yours truly.

Anatomy of Judgement

You have to hand it to Jane Elliot, that lady has some chutzpah. In her famous ‘brown eye, blue eye’ experiments, she turns the tables on the dominant white man’s view of the world by showing favour to the ethno-diverse brown-eyed participants while unkindly hammering the blue-eyed ‘whities’. Her techniques may be unorthodox but they lay bare the unpalatable existence of racial discrimination that dominates our world view.

After watching the documentary Anatomy of Prejudice it was hard not to feel a little sorry for her unsuspecting, often hapless, blue-eyed English participants.  It was fascinating to watch their brains implode as they grappled to acknowledge intractably embedded racial story-lines. This was a startling insight into our cultural unconscious at work. That deep-seated conditioning that helps shape the way we operate in world and how we respond to the other, the not me, that we encounter in our daily lives.

At times, it appeared as if the documentary became very dark theatre. You can see why her approach has been highly criticised. It’s like watching a car crash – riveting for all the wrong reasons. As an observer, it sometimes descended into what felt like pure spectacle, a cruel joke that was appealing to the voyeur in us all.

The viewer is given time to reflect on how repellent they find some the participant’s views. At the same time, they can comfort themselves from their armchairs that (as educated people) they know better. While the participants struggle with their own fears of the racial other, the viewer is being confronted by their own judgement of the ignorant other.

It’s the unrelenting and repetitious cycle of judgement that is ultimately the most frightening.

Faith anyone?

Using the word ‘faith’ in conversation can be a bit of a social faux pas when you’re living in a predominantly secular country like Australia. It’s safe enough to utter if you’re travelling among new age journeymen or if you’re a religious devotee of the church/synagogue/mosque/temple-going kind (or stadium-going if you’re a more modern Pentecostal type). But to not belong to any of these groups and still bandy the word about can catalyse a raised eyebrow or a slow backing out of the room from friends and colleagues. If you’re feeling mischievous, drop the word into your next boardroom meeting then sit back and wait for the clamour to erupt.

I was recently at a funeral presided over by that most irreverent of reverends, Father Bob. By the time the service ended I was gob-smacked that the guy was still standing and that the Catholic church hadn’t hired an Opus Dei styled hit-man to silence him. At the beginning of the service he acknowledged the ‘toxic’ impact of the Catholic church on so many lives and offered an unreserved apology for it. After the eulogies had been read he commented that it was these eulogies that represented the ‘real religion’ that we had come to hear, not the liturgy or other ‘religious stuff’. He made no bones about he shortcomings of Catholicism and often differentiated between between church and God, with the former coming off second best.

Now this is a man of the cloth after my own heart. No doubt he’s walking a precarious line in the eyes of many, but to my mind he embodies the struggle of people who are searching for a more meaningful connection to their daily lives without necessarily wanting to sign up to the austerity and conformity often demanded by organised religion. If Father Bob had been the priest at my local St Mary’s of the Angels when I was growing up, I reckon I would have been chomping that the bit to get to church. It might have spared my father the need to deliver a tirade of insults about my recalcitrant ways and prophesize about my surefire descent into hell.

While I don’t plan to rush back into the warm bosom of the Catholic church anytime soon, Father Bob did remind me that it is OK to express a faith that exists in-between. His faith seemed to me to be one that resided in the space in-between the humanitarian values of Catholicism and social justice. My faith, I think, lies somewhere in that sticky relational space between the Self and the Other.