Australia vs. the Arts

I was browsing the Apple News app today when I came across this fantastic piece in The New York Times: ‘Is the Way Australia Funds the Arts a Recipe for Mediocrity?’.

Overall, the article explains how Australia lacks the funding and vision to encourage consumption of its own culture and artistic works. I couldn’t agree with this more and I’d love to go out on my own tangent here. (Make sure that you check out the full article though…)

Two major points stand out to me in the piece. The first is the matter of cultural cringe:

“Cultural cringe — in part, the tendency to overvalue the culture of Europe and North America and undervalue Australia’s own — lingers, many Australians in the arts argue. This, they say, plays into why the 28 majors, who mostly concentrate on traditional art forms and repertoire, are still so revered by those who manage government funding.

Professor Meyrick said that cultural cringe has lessened over the years, as Australia gained more confidence on the global stage. Yet this attitude is “still hard-wired into the administration of culture.”

I see evidence of this all the time. With friends and colleagues, discussions about television programmes and film always default to American productions. If mentioned shows are Australian, they’re almost always in the realm of reality TV. There is so much to be enjoyed on the government-funded free-to-air networks such as the ABC and SBS, with a multitude of home-grown drama, news, comedy and documentaries. Don’t even get me started on whether people go to theatres to see Australian plays. Such theatregoers do exist–I don’t wish to generalise–but it’s certainly not the norm.

Read on for the second point of note:

“Fundamental to the debate over funding is that Australia as a nation prioritizes sports over the arts. The last federal budget allocated nearly $75 million more to the Australian Sports Commission than to the Australia Council. According to a 2017 study by the broadband network N.B.N., Australians watch around 60 million hours of sports at home per week—about 2 and a half hours per person.

By contrast, some Australians regard the arts with suspicion, said Christopher Tooher, executive director of the annual Sydney Festival. Fifteen years ago, he said, the newly elected head of the government in the state of New South Wales felt the need to reassure the public that he was ‘a footy man’, referring to Australian Rules football, the national sport, ‘not an opera man’.”

The nation’s obsession with sport (particularly domestic sports such as rugby league, cricket and Australian rules football) is tiresome. Not only does it take too much time as a regular segment on daily news programmes, it swallows up other important spheres of daily life.

Perhaps my clearest memory of this fixation on sport is my time as a student in primary and high school assemblies. There were other extra-curricular activities for kids, such as debating, drama, photography, film cultural exchanges and vocational training, however, all assemblies contained at least 15 minutes of monotonous sport reports, as athletic school heroes were paraded in front of the bored school population. I never felt personally affected by this (other than lapsing in attention), but I am sure that others who were also not that athletic felt completley insufficient, as they were forced to watch the latest swimming champion was placed on a glorious pedestal.

Later, during my tertiary education (and even today), I frequently heard people say, “Oh, such-and-such is just doing an arts / creative arts degree because she/he didn’t know what else to do”. In general, the arts discipline and other creative fields are regarded as paths to zero employment. Areas such as sport, STEM and business are the ultimate symbols of success. The greatest leaps forward in society have in fact almost always come from the arts, whether from philosophers, sociologists, playwrights or musicians.

What’s particularly sad to me is that this attitude towards the arts has become so dismal, that it has even made it into an international American newspaper. I wish the Australian mainstream would turn its gaze to the wonderful pool of artistic talent in this country, spurring not only demand for Australian content but also increased funding.

The Conversation: ‘Apple acknowledges the iKid generation…’

Writers Michael Cowling and James Birt put together this great article on The Conversation, which is all about how Apple is tackling excessive use of its devices with the upcoming iOS 12 release later this year.

The authors discuss the powerful features that are coming in the form of ‘Do Not Disturb at Bedtime’, Screen Time app usage measurements and customisable notifications.

What stands out particularly to me, however, is this section:

And this week at WWDC, they [Apple] appeared to acknowledge some responsibility for creating balance in their lives… Parental controls can be activated through Family Sharing. They allow parents to put limits on their kids [sic] usage of individual apps, while allowing unlimited use of education apps.

Parental controls have existed in iOS for some time; it is great that Cowling and Birt are explaining the improvements that are being made in this space.

Parental Controls Icon
Parental Controls icon (Apple)

It is the idea of responsibility though that I find most interesting. Responsibility does fall on Apple to ensure healthy use of its devices, however, I believe that some parents just aren’t aware of these functions or even lack the interest in using them. More often than not, I visit restaurants where parents can be seen placating their children at the dinner table with iPads, iPhones and other competing devices.

For many, these devices have become digital babysitters. I applaud the (albeit late) effort to really enhance this functionality for families, but I believe that Apple should put even greater effort into promoting these tools, even if it takes incredibly annoying splash screens post-update or even TV and online advertisements.

Consumers (and particularly parents) are often the first to voice their annoyance with things like in-app purchases, games and children’s data privacy. Not all responsibility falls on tech companies; it is shared. I hope that adults themselves use these tools and make changes to their app usage behaviour, so that they can make better decisions and boundaries when it comes to their kids’ use of devices and apps.

iPay. iLearn.

Image: Amber Hunt, 2010

Today, information is king. We are now witnessing the boom of digital ‘cognitive capitalism’, where information and education are bought and sold with great ease. Cognitive capitalism, however, has existed for centuries within the institution of the university. Tertiary institutions have held at their “…centre the highly-credentialed content expert who generates individually-authored print documents fully protected by copyright” (Miller, 2009, p. 147). Copyrighted materials have been offered at a high price in the form of textbooks, and more recently, through online subscriptions to journal article databases that have been paid for before they even reach students. Miller (2009) describes the university as ‘frozen in time’, a prehistoric world almost completely separated from the effects of globalisation and democratising technology.

In the last 25 years, the ‘ivory tower’ of the university and associated publishers has worsened, as they have become high-technology, low-skilled industries driven by economic growth and Fordist expansion (Dyer-Witheford, 2005, p. 71).

Global publishers now potentially face a challenge with Apple’s entrance into the textbook market. Apple now sells interactive, multimedia textbooks (US$14.99 each) in its iTunes-based iBookstore, featuring powerful annotation tools. Apple also offers a new application called iBooks Author, which enables independent authors to create and sell content without the need for a publisher.

Whilst Apple’s new foray into textbook production and distribution does empower students and authors, it still exhibits cognitive capitalism. For example, iBooks textbooks may only be sold through the iBookstore, and are limited to the proprietary iBooks e-book format (Reid, 2012). Reid (2012) asserts that the technological industry is begging for standardisation.

Universities and publishers need to exit the ‘ivory tower’, and move beyond the archaic media and distribution channels of textbooks and journal article subscriptions. They must, however, exercise caution before adopting a potentially worse proprietary environment that controls students, scholars and authors alike.

References:
  • Dyer-Witheford, N., 2005, ‘Cognitive Capitalism and the Contested Campus’, Engineering Culture: On The Author as (Digital) Producer, New York: Autonomedia, pp. 71-93.
  • gearlive, 2012, Apple Introduces iBooks Textbooks, retrieved 01/04/2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6HeyTldraw.
  • Hunt, A., 2010, 3 Ways You Can Manage Your Debt – Quicken Loans Online, JPEG, retrieved 31/03/2012, http://www.quickenloans.com/blog/ways-manage-your-debt.
  • Miller, R., 2010, ‘The Coming Apocalypse’, Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, Vol. 10, No. 1, Duke University Press, pp. 143-151.
  • Reid, C., 2012, ‘iBooks 2: Reinventing Textbooks or Lulu on Steroids?’, Publishers Weekly, Vol. 259, Iss. 4, New York, p. 1.

This post was written originally as part of the undergraduate BCMS course at the University of Wollongong.