TV & Radio

Nov 2, 2017

Razer: the ABC is bloated with intellectually unambitious, moralising Gen X-ers

The ABC's new TV review show, Screen Time is, like a lot of stuff produced by the ABC, absolutely informed by the Gen X morality.

Helen Razer — Writer and broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and broadcaster

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.

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69 thoughts on “Razer: the ABC is bloated with intellectually unambitious, moralising Gen X-ers

  1. Roger Clifton

    The media can do little more than reflect the cultural trends of their audience. That’s us, so it is we who are so lacking. Perhaps the emergence of real threats to our means of production will see the emergence of moral spine and intellectual vigour.

    1. AR

      Dodger – you need to up your dosage. As for moral spine and intellectual vigour that sounds like Spengler – powered by nukes, presumably.

  2. Venise Alstergren

    Golly, I don’t even know if I have seen this program. If I have it must be boring beyond belief.

    1. michael r james

      It’s not that bad. And as a boomer it is kind of fascinating observing a bunch of genXers bloviating about film and tv. Sami Shah ticks so many cliche boxes it ain’t funny, and least funny of all is his professed po-mo but not ironic superfandom of SuperHero movies (an OTT enthusiasm that no doubt will be replaced in ten years or ten minutes by some other transient bit of consumerist fluff). Regular panellists include former Crikey Ed, Sophie Black and in Marc Fennell they have someone at least with some track record in film criticism. If pushed I would rather hear his opinion than Margaret’s, notwithstanding the entertainment factor of Margaret with David (and his obvious attempts to stop an eye-roll during her emotional spiel.)
      But I never thought of this show as any kind of replacement for Margaret & David. The odd thing in Australia is that we seemed to have jumped (in one bound) about 40+ years from early-boomer (David might even be pre-boomer?) to this lot (most of them are barely 30 which makes them Millenials not genX …genX actually seem to be MIA).

  3. Charlie Chaplin

    Gawd, Helen. I haven’t watched it. I hadn’t even heard of it. Now I’ll have to watch it, at least once. I apologise in advance.

  4. kaye jones

    David and Margaret were extraordinary and I was an avid fan. Nevertheless Screen time is a different style but I enjoy the show although one participant can be very irritating. They are vibrant and clearly enjoy each other’s comments. I am a much older viewer but find their humour fun.

  5. kaye jones

    David and Margaret were extraordinary and I was an avid fan. Nevertheless Screen time is a different style but I enjoy the show although one participant can be very irritating. They are vibrant and clearly enjoy each other’s comments. I am a much older viewer but find their humour fun.

  6. Ruv Draba

    While I enjoyed this critique of another show I don’t watch, I’m unclear on whether the ‘Gen-X’ morality is so named because Gen-X promotes it, or because Gen-X produced it.

    If Gen-X promotes it, is there other moral thought Gen-X also promotes, and if so, what?

    And is it promoted because Gen-X believes it, or because they believe the audience does? You used the analogy of Christian dogma, yet a lot of self-identified Christians don’t really believe to their own dogma to the point of systematically sacrificing for benefits it promises — they simply believe it’s good to say you believe, and offer tokens. Is the kind of PC maundering you described more of the same?

    Or if Gen-X produced it, when and how? I don’t remember getting an invitation to that discussion, and I’d argue that the political correctness that produced various modern linguistic cringes predated Gen-X’s adulthood substantially.

    My own relationship with my society’s spectrum of morality may be a bit like yours, Helen: I participate in the discussions, yet never feel part of the framework in which they take place. So there may be a generational morality, but I’m wondering whether it’s produced by the Gen-X cohort, or they are simply among the consumers and repeaters of it.

    1. Helen Razer

      Ruv. You don’t see these qualities as particular to our generation?
      I’m not really the only person who has observed that the children of neoliberalism (we grew as that system did) have a particular viewpoint in the West.
      The so-called cultural turn, where the matter of the material and the economy became subordinate in popular thinking to the culture, happened when we were tots. By the 1990s, those of us who attended university were being explicitly taught that it was “all about the culture”. Remember culture studies? Even if we did not go to uni, the Third Way was at full steam. Neoliberal (market-friendly) economics with liberal sentiment. Blair and Clinton and Keating who looked progressive, and were in a cultural sense, but deregulated markets to the point that wealth went up.
      SO, yes. We were formed in that era. We are very different from our parents who were born into a Keynesian time. And the Millennials will be different again, coming to adulthood in the post-crash period.
      We are now at an age where we dominate cultural products, economics, politics etc. We have these “post-modern” ideas. Every age produces its own ideas, especially if it is one of accelerated economic change, as ours was. Have you really never thought about this before?

      1. Ruv Draba

        Helen offered:
        > We are now at an age where we dominate cultural products, economics, politics etc.

        Helen, I thought key to the original ‘Gen-X’ definition was the conjecture that we *wouldn’t* dominate the sociopolitical discourse, ever: for demographic and economic reasons, the Boomers would dominate it before us, and the Millennials (who didn’t then have that name) would dominate it thereafter. At the time the notion of ‘Gen-X’ was coined, the cynicism, apathy and what was then called ‘slackness’ ascribed to the then generation of twentysomethings we were, was ascribed to emerging awareness of our lifelong irrelevance. And the kinds of cultural expression we most celebrated in our youthful exuberance (Grunge and New Wave comedy, for example) seemed to uphold that.

        I’m not sure I ever fully accepted the premise, but if that’s the definition of the generation, it doesn’t reconcile well with the claim that our generation now dominates the moral conversation — either the original definition isn’t right, or the conclusion isn’t. When Old Media platforms are still dominated by hoary Baby Boomers, and Social Media is the Millennial’s natural environment, what do you view as the quintessential X platform? I don’t believe it’s books, radio or newspaper… and I’m not persuaded it’s TV (except to the extent that we might take some credit for decent TV scriptwriting.)

        Yet if we still believe the original definition, then notionally, we’d still be parroting ideas created by others.

        So, are we?

        > The so-called cultural turn, where the matter of the material and the economy became subordinate in popular thinking to the culture, happened when we were tots.

        I’d agree with that and extend it: like you I’m at the north end of the Gen-X’s, and inherited the last lived experience of received authoritarian morality, watching it melt under the hedonistic onslaught of ‘Me Generation’ aunts and uncles. But doesn’t that make us more complicit in the hollow euphemisms of PC morality than owning them? (That’s how I experience it with my cohort anyway… they’re only ever PC in polite company, when not to be PC might be cause of censure. The rest of the time they say what they think, knowing that their compassion is bound — as everyone’s is — in the ignorance of a single life, and seeing that as forgivable if you’re honest about it.)

        > Every age produces its own ideas, especially if it is one of accelerated economic change, as ours was. Have you really never thought about this before?

        More that I’ve been thinking about it on and off for thirtysumpin years, but still haven’t formed a conviction (which I suppose is a very Gen-X thing to say.)

        The bit I feel most personally responsible for is multiculturalism — not the PC version, but the informal egalitarian version. The idea that you don’t have to normalise your lived experience against mine for it to be worth talking about and listening to. The laws that enabled it were Boomer laws, but the culture that first broadly embraced it was our generation’s culture. I won’t claim that we mastered it, but it was our generation who first knocked elbows with first generation Vietnamese citizens, and second gen Italians, Greeks, Hungarians and so on… our friends who died in droves in the AIDS epidemic.

        I think the morality one best owns isn’t the one you pay lip-service to, but the one you sacrifice for.

        You’ve had some serious struggle to do what you do. What do you feel you’ve sacrificed for, Helen? (That’s more a rhetorical provocation, because I think you already know.)

        1. Helen Razer

          You’re thinking about the group called Generation X in the terms of the films or books it made in the late ’80s-’90s. I am talking about the age group.
          Different times produce different people with particular ideas. The so-called “postmodern” age made culture and circumstances that are typified in a program like Screen Time.
          What you mean by struggle and sacrifice, I am not quite sure.

          1. Ruv Draba

            Like most STEM-trained Gen X-ers, Helen, I’ve rejected the postmodern age as vacuous for the last 20+ years. The intellectual paucity of postmodernism was highlighted for we STEM-types with the Alan Sokal Affair (1996), which to folk like me showed that empiricism beats cultural relativism everywhere it matters. I might not be representative, but moral relativism had no stock with me then, nor has since: morality might be emergent, but you can’t un-learn that you’re hurting, harming or destroying someone, so you can get kinder and more respectful over time.

            Various commentators from what publishers now call the New Atheist movement (more a book category than any new philosophy) have since taken that idea and run with it, often reinvigorating an old Enlightenment notion (which also happens to be Marxism-compatible): that morality (however it’s defined), must be at the very least, accountable to and measurable by empirical consequence.

            > I am talking about the age group.

            Okay, but there’s what sociologists call an age vs cohort distinction here. As an age group, our generation might now suffer prostate hyperplasty and perimenopause, but that has no bearing on Political Correctness. 🙂 I think you were right earlier to say it’s a product of era socioeconomics (and hence a cohort effect) — but I still wonder if we were more the recipients of it than its originators. In particular, I think the communications sector may be responsible for conflating the social benefits of pluralism with some oxymoronic position of ‘absolute relativism’ — the product of 60s and 70s sociological thought that became popular in media a decade later (and which some sociologists now regret.)

            But that’s not a Gen-X thing. It was created by academics of a previous generation, and every subsequent generation that has embraced identify politics now seems to have fallen into the hole. When you see sixtysomething Christian fundamentalists arguing the right to their own World View, you can truly see how far the cancer has spread.

          2. Helen Razer

            Ruv. You misunderstand me. I am beginning to think purposely!
            You asked me how I could possibly attribute this sensibility to a particular Western generation. I said that all generations have their character, particularly in times of observable economic change. The X-ers were born at the birth of neoliberalism. Boomers were born at the beginning of Keynesianism. Millennials were born as neoliberalism began to fail.
            Now. You can keep saying “But I saw the post-modern hoax play out and I work in STEM” all you want. You are assuming that we are all rational actors completely aware of the circumstances that form us.
            My assumption is (and I am always clear about this) is: different times produce different sensibilities. I am not talking about Clever Ruv and his wide-reading and hyper-awareness of contemporary philosophy. I am talking about the rest of us schlubs. You may march to the beat of scientific calm. The rest of us? We tend to get caught up in history.
            It may not be your view that human sensibility and consciousness is formed by the era. It is mine, however, and it is not an unpopular view.
            (And, actually, if you are an idealist who believes that human ideas take precedence over everything and come first, before history, then you are actually more post-modern than you think.)
            For now the third time: this is ideology, this thing I am talking about. Gen X-ers are very Third Way. And, yes, they did not write the philosophy, but a few of them read the philosophy, which did not become popular in anglophone nations until the ’80s and ’90s. But it is not about philosophy, anyhow. Philosophers describe their times. And if you look at a post-modern thinker like Baudrillard, for example, he is very clearly describing what is going on, not prescribing it. He says that the real is being lost. He is right.
            Philosophers tend to describe that which is already happening. They don’t make it happen. And you can go on and on about how you’re not like the rest, and I am sure that this is true. But if you want to make the case that the Generation x view is not largely about awareness raising, compassion, speech and other forms of representation, I think you will find a thousand examples to prove you wrong.
            Yes. Again. You’re not like that. Most people are. Jeez.

          3. Helen Razer

            By no means are those empty, dull New Atheists compatible with Marxism, incidentally.

          4. Ruv Draba

            Helen, thank you for kindly taking time to reply. I realise that when you’re paid for your writing, writing has a different value to when you’re not, and appreciate you engaging the discussion without getting a cent to do so.

            I’m not deliberately trying to misunderstand you. I enjoyed what you wrote, even if I have qualms with it. I generally enjoy the way you tear apart social conventions, even if I don’t always share your methods or ontology — by which I mean your sense of what exists and how it connects.

            With our exchange limited by Crikey’s limited indenting (and perhaps also your patience), here’s a summary of where I’m at:

            1. Yes, the show is fatuous (Mrs D watched it last night), and if that were the best movie critique our generation can serve up on public TV, then I share your embarrassment.

            2. But it’s actually not the best movie critique our generation can serve up. Take a look at the critiques of ‘Movie Bob’ Chipman, for example — a geek film critic happy to play with the meta-reflections of pomo thinking without signing up to the chatty, vacuous relativism. He’s not David Stratton, but no idiot either.

            3. Our generation is certainly informed by postmodernism, but didn’t create it, doesn’t always embrace it, and in parts has been highly critical of it. Your headline singled Gen X out, but the moral vacuity of postmodernism predates us and is both embraced and challenged by older and younger advocates across the political spectrum. I don’t think it’s fair social or generational commentary to attach it to us. It’s part of our environment, not our identity (whatever our identity might be.)

            4. We agree that pomo thinking is a problem, but may differ on root cause, and solution too. While I understand that pomo benefits corporatism (actually institutionalism in general), I see the first and best line of defense as better STEM-training and critical thinking in our communications sector, and through that sector, our citizens. STEM education has done a better job of challenging and debunking pomo than anything else I’ve seen.

            5. One of the strongest among New Atheist authors, Christopher Hitchens began life as a Marxist, and still held strong Marxist sympathies to the end of his life. Not all his later thought was Marxist-compatible, but I believe there’s more overlap between empirical humanism and dialectic materialism than may be first apparent. 😀

            6. You asked what I perceived your struggle and sacrifice to be. At the very least, you have paid financially and socially to explore what you wish to explore, write what you wish to write, and engage random pseudonymous punters in sometimes-disagreeable conversations. That’s a product of our generation too, and I think, a very laudable one.

            Please keep dong what you’re doing. Even were it wrong, it’s still better than blindly swallowing pap. 😀

            Best, Ruv.

          5. Ruv Draba

            (Sorry, I should have also said: I enjoyed your linking Keynsianism to Boomers, the rise of neoliberalism to Xers, and its fall [if that’s what’s occurring] to millennials. It’s not natural for me to construe that correlation as direct causation. I’m more likely to conceive multiple macroeconomic, microeconomic, technological, geopolitical and intergenerational forces to shape a generation’s culture, and then ask how much each does. But it’s worth the chat for that suggestion alone, and I’ll probably be chewing it for a while. :D)

        2. [email protected]

          Gen-X’s quintessential medium is cable TV. If Gen-Y is Daily Life, Gen-X was Beavis and Butthead. The latter was more elevated.

          1. Ruv Draba

            Sunup wrote:
            > Gen-X’s quintessential medium is cable TV

            It’s an interesting thought, and perhaps in the US and Canada that’s true. It’s certainly meets reasonable criteria there, in that it was relatively new yet most of the generation had it; it was dominated by conversations between that generation and itself; explored subjects previous generations hadn’t much touchedt; and found new modes of expression (MTV, for example.)

            If we accept that as the medium to best test Helen’s thesis though, has it really been dominated by postmodern superficiality? Helen’s statement of the zeitgeist was one of Slacktivism: “things really aren’t that great, but the way to make them great again is to have better things to watch.” Yet that’s not the way I think of /Sex and the City/, say. /Deadwood/, /Curb your Enthusiasm/,/ Game of Thrones/, /Enlightened/, /Six Feet Under/, /The Sopranos/ or /The Wire/. They’re designed as compelling viewing, but there’s no sense in which they’re offering ‘Just watch this and all will be well.’ Rather than presenting glib but consoling platitudes, they provoke and disturb. There’s a real conversation going on — arguably some of the best had in the history of TV fiction.

            And outside the US and Canada, does cable constitute the medium for English-speaking British, Australian, New Zealander X-ers to talk to themselves? It doesn’t seem to meet the criteria: like film being at times dominated by Hollywood, cable seems a medium we can listen to, yet not talk on.

            And it seems to me that none of that explains the pap on the ABC which Helen rightly criticised. Sure, there are lots of Gen Xers on the show, but is that causation or only correlation? The chats they have aren’t the chats I have with my peers, or chats I’ve seen among Gen Xers anywhere else. The people they seem aren’t the Gen Xers I know. The way they pitch seems to me broader dumber, and designed to appeal to a certain ethos rather than a certain generation.

            It might just be simpler then, and more credible, to sheet a handful of folk in ABC’s production for getting it wrong, than appeal to unexamined stereotypes and blame a whole generation for only having these conversations, when Gen X is demonstrably capable of much more.

  7. kyle Hargraves

    Once again : one of the better articles published by Crikey but there are some edges that warrant sand paper nonetheless.

    “The nobler customs, such as loving oner’s neighbour uncritically, disappeared along with the Tridentine Mass.”

    The Tridentine Mass did exist for some number of centuries whereas “loving one’s neighbour” has never been practiced in any human society (except in a select fringe); tolerating one’s neighbour : yes; but loving?

    “She apologises on behalf of all white women; He apologises on behalf of all men.”

    The major point is (and hence the “victim mentality” that it is rather condescending to have or permit anyone to “apoligise” or atone for the acts or the “sins” of another. Perhaps if a trace of a course in philosophy was taught at Yr10-11 (as it is in France and surrounds) the resulting adults would not be so philosophically gullible.

    > Watch this show to see the new midlife morality in action.

    Or given the revenues to the ABC the government could subsidise Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic and we could dispense with the television and read Ayer instead.

    “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.

    No; in point of fact : manifestly no. The foregoing paragraph amounts to quite a misrepresentation although I’m sure that the effect was unintended; detail is lost, invariably, by over-generalising.

    Some on the alt-Right to have a point. Two hundred odd years ago freedom of speech was important. Now, because “everyone” is so easily offended freedom of speech is no longer a right. To clam that verifiable events in history did not exist is a crime in many western countries while being a flat-earther is not a crime – yet there is no (philosophical) distinction between the two positions. Similarly it would be rather difficult to have a Eugenics Club registered as an incorporated society nowadays.

    It is accepted or, more accurately, it was accepted that freedom of speech was accompanied by what used to be known as responsibility (before the word was re-badged as accountability and then discarded altogether).

    “There are ways to assess works on screen other than their instructive moral value.”

    From the late 1980s to the late 90s the first world was told, by any number of media editors that “the West had won (against communism)” Yet, the very tyrannies that existed under so-called socialism are now, one could say, everyday realities in the west. Critical evaluation disappeared from high schools (and one could add Departments of English at universities) some decades ago. Now, with absolutely no index for comparison, those with a flamboyance for displaying their ignorance are only too happy to “apprise” works of art in the widest sense of the word “art”.

    “The representation is what matters.”

    The manufactured illusion is the point of the matter; not the representation because there is in fact, given the example, no representation (of the sub class – or, for that matter, nowadays : the middle class).

    “Our boldest aims are either to defend Milo Yiannopoulos’ right to speak, or to see more sassy ladies on TV.”

    I am, I think, as a Chrissie present to Crikey, going to sponsor an in-house training course on the use of the comma and of punctuation in general for the staff but that aspiration aside it occurs to me that Ms Razer might intend “AND to see more”; in other words : wishing the matter “both ways” – and hence the ultimate paradox.

    “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.”

    .. aaa..rrr yeah. Virginia Wolf wrote a good deal about and of literary criticism as indeed did Somerset Maugham. Perhaps the would-be stipulators of civic virtue might begin with Wolf or Maugham. As to how it came to be I have no idea but there is a view that “everyone’s ‘take’ is equally valid”. A moments reflection renders the maxim to the domain of absurdity but the resilience of the dictum is astonishing.

    I ought to declare that I did not watch the show; indeed I have never owned a television but I have purchased them for other people. As to the show’s apparent replacement, anything that dismissed “Margaret and David” I would have anticipated as an improvement; I am unable to recall one lucid observation of either person regarding a film review; the obvious : yes – but an original observation : no. The (radio) reviews of John Hinde were of a fair standard except of his incessant appeal to existentialism and his not having a clue as to what the word meant.

    1. meischke matt

      Tl;dr: pseudotory rant with attempted Fisking.
      Thank you Helen for your wonderful ideas.

    2. Helen Razer

      Two hundred odd years ago, most people were illiterate.
      To undo your classical liberalism would take far too long.
      If you pay me fifty cents a word, I will send you an email.

      1. Desmond Graham

        Helen – they may have been illiterate but boy did they have commonsense.
        these days of literacy people fill in forms etc. – if they are incorrect, subsequent thought decisions etc are on hold.
        looks like literacy has brought general ignorance of a different kind –
        plus ca change, plus c’est meme chose

  8. Andrew

    The phenomenon of “infotainment” appears to take over the ABC – likely in a chase for the rating. Political discussions such as on “The Insiders” and “The Drum” are mostly relegated to middle-of-the-road journalists engaged with conventional chit-chat concerned with political power games, instead of the realities of the outside world. Lacking are perspectives such as those reported, for example, by John Pilfer. The intellectual caliber is mediocre at best. Data is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom.

    1. Andrew

      please read “Pilger” not “Pilfer”

  9. Andrew

    In ABC reports of the tragic consequences of extreme weather events around the world, including hurricanes and wild fires, it is impossible not to notice the common absence of the term “climate change”. As if it has not been established by climate science that the rise in global and regional temperatures is the factor causing an increase in intensity and frequency of these events. . Nor (as far as I am aware) has the ABC reported the open letter to the PM by 200 scientists regarding the growing climate and nuclear threats. Is the ABC looking over its shoulder in fear of budget cuts?

  10. Jude

    Yes. My reaction was please bring back Margaret and David. I miss the rigour with which they discussed films as entertainment.

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