Ours, apparently, is a secular West. But, darn, if we don’t retain some awful Christian quirks. The nobler customs, such as loving one’s neighbour uncritically, disappeared along with the Tridentine Mass. But, more dreadful Christian traditions persist — even, and especially, among avowed atheists.

Penitence is so hot right now. Someone is always adopting a Jesus Christ pose. We can barely read a publication of the present where someone is not dying a little for our sins: She apologises on behalf of all white women; He apologises on behalf of all men. Here, a bloke writing at News Corp is personally sorry for the dispossession, theft and massacre white Australians enacted on Aboriginal peoples, but argues simultaneously for no address to this past. Feeling guilty is enough. Sorry seems to be the easiest word; say it like a prayer, then return to everyday, non-neighbour-loving behaviour.

All of which is to ask that you forgive me this Forgive Me Father — this public declaration of identity group guilt. I am very sorry for my people who are always saying sorry, Generation X.

On behalf of all those twits born between 1960 and 1980, I apologise. I apologise, and resolve to immediately cease my age group’s apologetic habits, in which I have participated, and about which I was not fully enlightened until I watched new ABC program Screen Time on the telly this past Tuesday night.

Watch this show to see the new midlife morality in action. Boomers, many of whom enjoyed an unusual time of great and shared prosperity, no longer dominate the telly with their view that things are just peachy. This view is now eclipsed with the Generation X idea that things really aren’t that great, but the way to make them great again is to have better things to watch.

This is the hallmark of my generation’s morality. We very ardently believe that if the culture is better, then the society will follow. The right-wing Gen X-er, such as Chris Kenny or Tim Wilson, believes this: freedom of speech is arguably “the most important human right”. The progressive believes it as well. It all starts with better speech and entertainment. In the beginning was the Word.

I did not turn on this program to abhor it. Honestly, I thought this thing, whose panel includes participants who are individually very decent thinkers, seemed like a decent idea. It is a review of all the stuff we can now see on screen, including streaming TV and YouTube, and promised to be a Margaret and David for the digital age. Well, it’s not. It’s more like the Praise the Lord ministry for midlife progressive atheists. Instead of reading scripture to redeem society and themselves, they read the Netflix catalogue.

The question addressed by panellists here is not so much “Is this movie good?”. It’s more “Is this movie good for society?”. Such questions — is this superhero franchise sexist? Does The Wire really address the root cause of racism? — are fine for a cinema studies tutorial, or a good brawl among friends who’ve been to a matinee at Hoyts. These questions are even OK, within reason, on an arts show produced by the ABC. I mean, yes, ask, as panellist Sami Shah did, does this movie pass the Bechdel Test. But, geez. There are ways to assess works on screen other than their instructive moral value.

We should also say that two or three panellists on Screen Time fall just below the Generation X age category. But the show itself seems, like a lot of stuff produced by the ABC, absolutely informed by the Gen X morality. We believe that better representation, whether it is the wide adoption of negation of “politically correct” language or Strong Women on TV, will lead to a better reality.

And so, it is no wonder that the panellists on Screen Time seem so serious about their subject matter. For them, the fact that a film like Moonlight, a story with an entirely black cast, can win an Oscar is a sign of progress. No matter that the last decade of reality in the US has been one of significant decreases to living standards for black US citizens. The representation is what matters.

This is how intellectually and politically unambitious my Western generation has become. We argue about representation — is it too politically correct, or not politically correct enough — and leave the matter of reality to itself. Our boldest aims are either to defend Milo Yiannopoulos’ “right” to speak, or to see more sassy ladies on TV.

See the effects of this very clearly on Screen Time. It’s a show that not only does damage to screen criticism — there’s just one critic panellist, Mark Fennell — but maintains the fiction that fiction is what matters most.

 

Peter Fray

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