Those who have an interest in the cultural survival of the West may note with increasing trepidation that the very things that have traditionally characterized it are being cannibalized alive. Australia is no exception to this general trend.
The thought occurred to me recently while visiting the more bohemian sections of Sydney’s Newtown district. Sitting opposite in a local café was a girl who would doubtless consider herself culturally “alternative.” Everything about her appearance and demeanor indicated a lifestyle predicated on the transgression of norms associated with the hated pre-60’s ancien régime. But she was different, too; what struck me was that her fashion was entirely composed of period pieces from the world of film noir (though intentionally mismatched), the very era frequently derided or ridiculed by advocates of the political left.
I have met these types before at university: Their perennial battles against convention have turned them into the most conformist lot. Among the female of the species, there is nothing that induces consternation or repellent shock more than the archetype of a traditional wife. The term itself has acquired a pejorative character among the campus bien-pensants, yet here was a girl dressed to look almost the caricature of a housewife. The tattoos, piercings, and lack of grace were all that exposed her as an apostle of radical feminism’s latest wave.
The trend this girl represented could be summarized thus: The allure of a style is appropriated, but its underlying culture is almost wholly repudiated. The social trends that found expression through this girl’s careful attention to her public appearance were the outward manifestation of an attitude that has come to dominate popular culture. That attitude is one by which an individual feeds off the cultural dividend of a traditional society without contributing to its life, or actively seeking its dissolution. I will risk presuming that she would happily claim the cultural benefits offered women before the sexual revolution (such as male deference to female need) but would wince at the suggestion that these are contingent on certain duties she would be expected to discharge either to society or her husband (such as that quaint and now thoroughly outdated idea of respect to male authority). In other words: expectation without reciprocation.
It is not unreasonable to presume that an individual would have a vested interest in the survival of society. However, our bohemian subject served as an obvious example of a “culture” incapable of creating anything of its own, but exploiting a past and undermining the very things that have facilitated the prosperity we all enjoy today but most of us take for granted. It is clear that this is not a sustainable model to follow for people with a genuine social consciousness or concerns about the future of their community. A healthy society is one in which its art, architecture, literature, and, yes, its fashion celebrate the civilization that gave it birth. Instead, what we are witnessing today is a society that has lost faith in its future by rejecting the substance of its past.
Readers may think that this is extrapolating too much from the attire of a local leftist, but these are not the observations of an intentionally ungenerous mind. Newtown, once a poverty-stricken slum area of the city, has in recent years undergone a steady process of gentrification, but its close proximity to Sydney University has also ensured that the social milieu marked by a strong current of political radicalism has largely been preserved. Judging from the samizdat posters that have become a permanent feature on the walls and telegraph poles of the major streets and throughways, the university is perhaps one of the few remaining fora where communism is still taken seriously by a substantial segment of the student and faculty body, and where the destructive impetus of the “perpetual revolution” has become institutionalized as the student dissenters of decades past have become the present academic elites.
Today, these provide the bulk of the street and café culture. Whether they are posers merely mimicking the trendy leftism of last century’s radicals, or die-hard followers of some local leftist sect, they all telegraph their dissent in some outward manner—fashion being the most obvious. Some will carry the visage of their cult leader of choice emblazoned on a shirt or badge; others will prefer to demonstrate their discontent by intentional acts of self-vandalism. In all, the girl in the café was probably not the most egregious example of this cultural revolt against culture, but the message remains essentially the same. It is a capitulation to a mass movement of carelessness and ambivalence toward the permanent things. It is a movement where the pretense of individualism and rejection of normalcy is merely a cover for a mindless hostility to tradition. It is, in all, the message of self-hate.