“Ah, Venice. The crumbling palazzo, the green water hypnotically lapping the canals, alleyways leading off into darkness, pigeons warbling in the dead hours… Of course Surry Hills is just like Venice. Without the water. Or the palaces.” – the (Sydney) magazine – May 2010
If there was a Walkley Award for ‘Pretentiousness in Australian Journalism’, surely this spiel would win it hands down. Surry Hills like Venice? Without the water? Forgive my ignorance, but I thought it was the water that differentiated Venice from anywhere else in the world. And what would the Venetians think about their waterlogged, ancient city being compared to a latte-logged, 200 year-old suburb in Australia?
How pretentious can Sydney journalism possibly get? The above spiel is just a start. How about these: “Bathrooms are becoming the sexiest spaces in the house” or “Canberra has started to grow up. It’s starting to take on the Melbourne feel. It’s a bit underground, funky” or “I’d rather go to Maroubra… it’s a bit ghetto, a bit bohemian” or even “Why have a run-of-the-mill two wheeler when you can have a funky custom-made jobby” (What the hell is a jobby?)? Pearl’s personal favourite though has to be: “We are looking at a year in which Sydney is getting real… We’re looking to find people who are pushing things forward to give us the Sydney we want”.
Not a week goes by without Pearl’s sensibilities being assaulted by another piece of smug crap passing itself off as ‘journalism’. But journalism it is, albeit bearing the dubious name of ‘Lifestyle Journalism’ and directed at the high-flying, over-paid Gen Xs whose mundane lives have to be ‘marketed’ as unique and exciting in order to justify their existence and their absolute need for a Lexus 4WD and an annual skiing trip to Utah.
When one lives a conservative, affluent and risk-free lifestyle (the $2M mortgage is as daring as one gets), one constantly needs to be reassured via the media that they are ‘special’ and that their lifestyle is indeed valid. This is where Lifestyle Journalism plays its part, overtaking at times the serious hard news items. In Lifestyle Journalism nothing is ever normal, ordinary or real. Instead, it is uber, chic, trendy or cutting edge. It’s the $2000 light-weight bike purchase that is “part of streamlining one’s life” in a “Calvinistic way” (I’m wondering if the journalist is actually familiar with John Calvin’s creed? He’d be rolling in his grave.). It’s about “cheap being the new cool”, where “families are embracing life’s simpler pleasures” because we live in a world where too much is never enough, so Lifestyle Journalism will make it trendy to pretend that you have nothing. Let’s rename ‘economising’ as ‘sustainable living’ and make it an adventure; let’s play at it since we will never know what being poor really means.
Why does everything have to be guzzied up to make it palatable before we digest it? Can’t the upper middle class live with the truth that Surry Hills is not Venice? It’s not as if we are living through the Blitz and we need some escapism from real life. Our life is pretty damned good and that’s the problem. If we want to be cool and avante garde let us embrace art, science and politics instead of fashion, botox, real estate, celebrity chefs and trashy displays of wealth.
My 1980s bathroom may not cut the mustard where sexy is concerned but maybe I do have the “key elements in creating a vintage vibe”, although my “challenge” will be “in producing a cool-not-kitsch atmosphere”. Like old Pearl, “50s flair and 60s swing goes a long way”.