Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Essay - chick flick books, social change and the desire to escape

Helen's 21st last night, and then I watched South Africa thrash Australia in the Rugby. The first was great, the second depressing. It was like watching a steam-roller in action!

So this morning I am a little fagged out, unable to really concentrate.

I have always found popular fiction an interesting reflection of social trends. I say this because I have been on a bit of a reading binge, reading what I suppose we could describe as the book equivalent of chick flicks. Judi Hendrick's Bread Alone is a US example of the genre.

Back in the fifties and sixties, science fiction was very popular, especially among men. This reflected the then intense fascination with space. Sword and sorcery was a small-sub genre within this.

Science fiction then declined as the interest in space declined, while sword and sorcery morphed into fantasy and became the dominant and far more popular mode. This was paralleled by a growing interest in the broader community in magic, the occult and then new age mysticism.

Today the chick flick books are all about escape, new lives in new places. The fascination with relationships continues, but the really popular sellers carry the new life theme. Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) is a classic film example, based on Frances Mayes's 1996 memoir.

The Australian writer and social commentator Hugh Mackay coined the phrase the dreamy period to describe what he saw as the inward looking, domestic focus of Australia from the second half of the nineties. He also suggests that we are now coming out of this period, taking a more active interest in the broader world, including politics.

I am not sure that I see this, the current interest in Barack Obama not withstanding.

Talking to my daughters' friends or reading Facebook I do find an interest in causes, but very little interest in politics as such or, for that matter, broader world developments. What I do see is a continuing interest in relationships, in the maintenance of the tribe (the young are remarkably tribal) and in social activities.

This is the stay-at-home generation, not just in terms of the family nest but also locality. Talking last night to one of Clare's friends who is doing HSC this year, she said that she was deciding against going to the University of New England, something that she had really wanted to do. When I asked why, it is after all my old university, she said she wanted to stay near home and friends.

This is also the busy generation. Busy socially, busy balancing work and study. Constantly in motion, always connected, this generation has little time for reflection or for quiet spaces.

The interest in chick flick books of the type I am talking about lies, I think, further up the age chain, in the busy generations' parents and their friends. This is sea change, tree change, downsizing country. The young may lose themselves in fantasy, their parents' generations dream of escape.


Driving home today (1 September) I listened to a radio interview with Hugh Mackay continuing his argument for the existence of the dreamy generation. I still have problems with this.

Hugh has more evidence than I do because of , among other things, his access to focus group results. But both of us are biased by our own perspectives, while I struggle with the fact that his conclusions do not seem to fit with the evidence as I see it.

I will have to think about this and come back with a later response.

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