Monday, January 19, 2009

A truth universally acknowledged

There was a time when people spoke in complete sentences, a time when conversation was an art. Now, even when attempting to reproduce the style of the lost art of conversation, even the best script writers have problems.

Watch this scene from Lost in Austen , a back-to-the-past-in-the-future parody of "Pride and Prejudice". Close, but not close enough.

Is it a fascination with the lost art that leads many of us to become hooked on Jane Austen's novels? And what has happened to the art of conversation to make talking in complete, let alone complex sentences such a chore?

I have a theory. In the nineteenth century the leisured classes had little to do other than perfect their skills in such areas as conversing, embrodery and music (women), and hunting (men). People didn't have to learn new words almost daily.

See full image HERE
Take "twitter" for example. Pre March 2006 the word meant. And now? "Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users' updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length." (Wikipedia. Blog, blogger, internet, ram, memory stick, not to mention those archaic bits and bytes.

And of course it isn't just in the world of information technology that new words and terms are introduced daily. What about in music (track, album, rap, rif, reggae, rock, R&B ...) and the visual arts (WYSIWYG, video, tivo, tape, CD, Ipod ...) and literature (blog, word processor, Kindle, Word, ghostwriter). The environment (green, carbon footprint, cradle to cradle

And as well as learning new words and concepts, people nowadays need to learn new skills in an ever-changing technological environment. Surely the human mind can only absorb and retain so much.

We don't "converse" and more. We "social network". We show our interest in someone by sending them (if we are a FaceBook users) a digital hatching egg or a growing flower which is really just a sequence of zeros and ones.

Imagine a FaceBook Pride and Prejudice. Someone has!
Charles Bingley is renting a house in Hertfordshire!
Mrs. Bennet became a fan of Charles Bingley.
Kitty Bennet can't stop coughing!!!
Charles Bingley is now friends with Mr. Bennet and Sir William Lucas.
11 of your friends are attending Assembly at Meryton.
From AustenBook


Write a FaceBook script of Darcy's first proposal to Elizabeth.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Remembering Barry

Back in the olden days when Woody Allen was funny and Michael Leunig was whimsical rather than twee, I used to read a suburban newspaper called "The Melbourne Times". Of course that was when I lived in Australia, but for a while there when I used to go home regularly, I'd flick through my once-local rag.

Ad from the "Melbourne Times"
circa 1995
Here's something I tore out of it on one such visit. So Australian. Would an American bar encourage men to patronise it by giving free drinks to their buddies?

One of my favourite Melbourne Times' columnists was Barry Dickens, a working class lad, or so he seemed to fancy himself, though he was no lad, even back then. His columns would ramble on. What were they about? I cannot remember. Seinfeld pre-Seinfeld was our Barry; writing about nothing.

He was invariably accused by mainstream critics of spouting verbal diarrhea, but his writings, for me at least turned out to be an acquired taste that once aquired was addictive. I do remember one of his articles, about his failure to get a government grant for his writings. And I recall that Barry's "mates" featured frequently in his stories. Or should I say, his "yarns", as Barry had, has, the the gift of the gab - that Australian bush talent for telling a good story, or yarn.

Barry was born in the working class suburb of Reservoir; he could even pronounce it correctly. Real Reservoirians say "Reserve-were" with the final syllable rhyming with "her". I suspect that Real Reservoirians don't eat quiche either.

In the 1980s, Barry used to hang out on Friday nights at Stewart's Hotel, Carlton - a place which once aspired to be the Melbourne equivalent of Sydney's Royal George of twenty years before, but which has long since changed into an Irish pub with an interior that looks like it was commissioned by the Grollo Brothers. No longer do the likes of Jack Hibberd drink there and Carlton identities such as Dinny O'Hearn have long since departed.

I'd forgotten all about Barry, until I read a review of his in the Melbourne Age yesterday. Great moments in shock therapy (January 3, 2009) is a review of Baz Luhrmann's latest film, "Australia".
"Though all criticisms of this movie have been acidic, I have never laughed so much in all my life. As soon as it came on I was in hysterics. It was more preposterous than death. Cheaper than life and funny into the bargain. I punched the armrest at one stage with gratitude when Gulpilil came into it."
And I think that Barry was indeed shocked. Shocked into uncharacteristic succinctness.
"Australia is our stupidity made vaudeville and our history slapstick."
I'm reminded of the Marx Brothers, "Duck Soup", or rather, the scene in Woody Allen's "Hannah and her Sisters" where feeling depressed about the meaning of death, Woody goes into a cinema and is revived by the madcap Marx Brothers on celluloid, playing the "Duck Soup" orchestra scene.

Yes humour can restore our very soul at the times when it most needs restoring. " We need to laugh a lot these days just to handle the grief of living", writes Barry.

Let us hope that this New Year, 2009, ends in a more optimistically than it has started. And that the spirit of Grouch, Harpo and Chico, live on.