Saturday, December 29, 2007

Australia's Culture Wars - uniquely Australian?

Every so often something happens that forces a change in views. In this case, the trigger was comment by Lexcen on my post on deconstructing the culture wars. The outcome is a feeling that I need to put a line through a fair bit of the post.

I will explain why in a moment, but first a question. Does anyone know when the terms "culture wars" or "culture war" were first used in Australia, by whom and in what context?

I wrote my post on the culture wars to try to disentangle some of the threads as I saw them. In doing so, I suppose I took for granted that there was some logical connection between the US and Australian debates in this area. Here part of my aim was to draw out some of the broader issues.

In his comment, Lexcen pointed to the Wikipedia article on the culture wars. When I looked at this, I noticed that it referred to just two countries, the US and Australia. This led me to a more extensive web search. I would summarise the results as follows:

  1. While the term culture wars is used in several ways, the term "culture wars" in the way I was describing it appears to exist in only Australia and the US.
  2. Measured by frequency of usage, the great bulk of references to "culture wars" are Australian. Fourteen in the first few Google pages as compared to just 4 from US sources.
  3. There appears to be very little similarity between the "culture wars" in the two countries. As an example, the religious element that appears so important in the US is largely missing in Australia.
  4. I am forced to the conclusion that the Australian "culture wars" are just that, Australian "culture wars". I also begin to suspect that the term was first introduced into and popularised in Australia as a handy pejorative device by one side of the debate.

I stand to be corrected, but these are not insignificant conclusions, for they totally change the framework of discussion.

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