JOHN TULLOH. Wow! The Americanization of Australia.

 

Growing up in Adelaide in the 50s, I recall a newcomer who was regarded almost as an alien. He was an American no less with, what’s more, a real American drawl. As far as I remember, he was a soldier from Kansas who’d met an Australian girl. He was treated as such an oddity that from time to time the local newspapers, much to his surprise, would ask him for his opinion on some momentous event back home across the Pacific. Goodness knows what he made of this or the quiet and prim life of suburban Adelaide compared with the razzle dazzle of the U.S. he had left behind. Today, however, he would feel right at home. The American penetration of Australian life has become unstoppable, especially in the cities. Once it was Mother England we looked to. Now our reassuring elder is the U.S. of A.

One of the many Australian sectors which has made sure of this is the media. The ABC is obsessed about the US presidential race which started in earnest 15 months ago when Hillary Clinton in particular and Donald Trump joined others in announcing their candidature. Since then, the ABC news machine has barely paused to draw breath on this story. In addition, there is a weekly on-line summary of what has been happening in case you missed it all and a tv program called Planet America. Even ABC NewsRadio prides itself as ‘Australia’s home’ of the presidential race. And we still have five weeks to go. Certainly it is a more interesting race this time with the duel narrowed to that between a demagogue and what could be America’s first female leader. But do we need a ball-by-ball account and relentless analyses when whoever wins is going to make little difference to Australian life? Such is our fetish with everything American or out of Washington that the ABC has probably given the presidential race more air time already than it did to our own federal election this year.

Studies have shown how so much international news coverage is due to the ripple effect of what is happening in the most powerful country of the world. So many US-based foreign reporters, especially inside the Washington beltway, are heavily influenced by what they read on the front page or on-line of the New York Times and the Washington Post and to some extent the US network evening newscasts. It is like an infection. It is even more severe now with the void of 24-hour news to fill. Helpfully for us, the Americans also speak English and hours of ‘live’ political events are freely available.

Commercial tv in Australia would collapse without US programming. That’s why you hear so many millenials who’ve grown up with this talking with a hint of an American drawl. Even the ABC’s most popular radio broadcaster, Ian ‘Australia All Over’ McNamara, who yearns for the old Australian days, punctures his presentation with ‘Wow!’ Most Spellchecks prefer the American style. Netflix has now muscled in on the Australian viewing market which can only mean more American films. Everything today is ‘any time soon’. Foxtel peddles CNN and the Fox News Channel as well as American football and baseball. It has been many years since our commercial tv channels had a US news bureau east of LA/Hollywood. Sydney University has a US Studies Centre (at least, not a Center). The New York Times and Washington Post are now available as easily on-line as local media. The Australian each day has one and sometimes two pages devoted to the Wall St Journal business coverage and other stories. As a result, the paper closed its Washington bureau. More flights than ever before link Australia, Disneyland and the rest of the US. The Dow Jones index guides our share traders. Our main social media outlets all have US origins. American marines based here are helping to defend us. Even the staid old Brooks Brothers clothing company which for decades has attired Wall St titans has opened stores in Australia. The American presence is endemic.

The fact is that our news, lives, lifestyle, fads, habits, speech and outlook are shaped by what American marketers deem best for Americans. Its own enormous domestic market gives it the capital to exploit smaller ones like Australia. Yet it is as if we ourselves cannot get enough of this cultural and commercial imperialism. It is overwhelming and invasive, slowly infecting our identity. As English is our common tongue, it is so much easier to fall into line with the American way of life. We have even picked up that hoary American platitude beloved by their politicians except it is now ‘the Australian dream’.

The fact is that we have become irretrievably aligned to and locked in with the US. Canberra will never change. Ministers are in thrall with Washington and, with China on the march, will continue to be. We should be forever grateful for what the U.S. did in WW2 to save Australia. Since then we have followed the Americans into battle everywhere. But should we still be so dutiful? Earlier this month Malcolm Turnbull visiting Washington announced Australia would take in 5000 Central American refugees from America’s own doorstep. Thank you, said a startled Washington giving us a tick of approval. (The fact that they almost certainly would be Roman Catholic rather than the unmentionable no doubt made the gesture easier).

Years ago, Australia placed a large order for F-35A jet fighters. Their development has encountered numerous delays, technical problems and cost overruns as well as serious questions whether they are the appropriate replacement for our existing fighters. Count us out, said an exasperated Canada. Yet somehow we don’t mind. We are like an obedient goldfish which has allowed a shark to become its best friend.

Our politicians have forgotten that it is long overdue for Australia to join Neighbourhood Watch and focus on Asia where our real future lies. But they continue to gaze in awe across the Pacific and cling to the ANZUS treaty as if an out of date insurance policy is still valid. The ABC is just as guilty.

  FOOTNOTE. The other morning, the ABC 7.45 radio news bulletin headlined the New Jersey train crash which killed one person. The second half of the same bulletin had a story of a mass murderer in China with 19 victims. It spoke volumes: we are still a nation of English-speaking white man’s dreamtime. 

Next year will see an election which in its own way will be just as important as the race for the White House. But news coverage in Australia will be minimal because all the participants speak German.

John Tulloh has spent many years observing Australia’s place in the world and covering international news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next year will see an election which in its own way will be just as important as the race for the White House. But news coverage in Australia will be minimal because all the participants speak German.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John Tulloh had a 40-year career in foreign news.

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