Christos Tsiolkas takes his #LeftTurn

Today the book I co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, Left Turn, is officially released. Buy one, buy ten, tell your friends!

An extract of the chapter by famous writer Christos Tsiolkas appears in the Adelaide Review this month:

One of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences I’ve had in my life came watching an episode of… John Safran vs God… where the comedian organised for a group of Aborigines to knock on the door of a house, the front of which displayed a plaque reading, ”˜We are proud to acknowledge the Wurundjeri People as the traditional owners of this land’. Two young Whitefella women opened their front door to be met with a group of Blackfellas asking politely if they could move in. When one of the astonished women asked what made them think they could demand that, the Blackfellas pointed to the sign.

It was a brilliant skewering of the Left, a devastating reveal of the limitations of symbol. Watching the sketch was mortifying because I recognised myself in the young women’s embarrassed and confused reactions. I, too, have been in houses displaying such upfront identification with Aboriginal solidarity and land rights.

Safran’s talent is for provocative comedy that is both intellectually cogent and ideologically dangerous; it is teasing and confronting and explores the deeply contradictory social meaning we attach to race and religion. Like Lenny Bruce, Safran can make us laugh at the pomposity of our bourgeois pieties and then have the chuckle get caught in our throat when he reveals to us our own perversities, and how deep the rich veins of racism, bigotry and hatred run. This is exactly what happened when I first watched the Safran sketch: I laughed, and then I thought about the two white women’s embarrassment. My laughter ceased. That could be me, I thought, and I couldn’t contain the resentment spilling through me. I positively hated that Indigenous mob milling around the front door of that inner-city terrace, detested them for mocking and shaming those two young women. I had to bite back on a word. The sketch made me acknowledge how deep inside me the phrase ”˜black bastards’ has found a home. That recognition sickens me. But it also convinces me that the work of resisting racism is an ongoing and continuous process.

John Safran vs God… was first aired in 2004 but I was reminded of it recently while spending a few hours mindlessly scouring through the infinite wasteland called YouTube. Early Roxy Music led me to T-Rex led me to Italian prog-rock led me to Italian vintage porn which led me to experimental short films from the early 1970s which led me to Lenny Bruce which led me to John Safran. Six degrees of separation. I was able to see more clearly how the comedian’s target was a certain smugness in the bourgeois Left. It seems to me that this smugness, along with righteousness and hypocrisy – I believe these three qualities are interrelated – remains a problem for the contemporary post communist Left.

Of course, smugness and righteousness do not only belong to the Left and progressive liberalism. A perusal of key rightwing blogs will reveal plenty of fixed assumptions; a plethora of moral indignation disguised as political opinion. It is possible to argue that the Left, too, needs to adopt aspects of this indignation and righteousness as a form of counterattack. But though I can see the attraction of such battle metaphors, I am sceptical about how useful they really are in galvanising support, for winning hearts and minds.

Read the whole thing. It’s a cracker.