15 December 1997

Flavour of the month: Drugs

There has been considerable debate about whether or not drugs should be legalised. Lets just look at the facts for a moment.

1. Drugs kill thousands of people each year;

2. Millions of dollars is spent on drug-law enforcement and in trying to control the drug trade;

3. Organised crime makes more from the drug trade than from all other activities;

4. Drug addiction is said to cause most burglaries as well as other unprovoked crime; and

5. Money flowing out of the country to pay for drugs actually has a material impact on the balance of payments.

Amongst other things.

The way I see it, the drug problem is more than just another case of mutant capitalism gone rampant. It is a terrifying voyage into the unknown, and people who get killed along the way are just gonna be replaced as long as people can beg, borrow or steal a ticket aboard.

But I have the solution - legalise all drugs.

"What's that," you say, "surely this is more than just a tad controversial?"

That's right. Legalise them all. This would alleviate all of the problems above.


1. A legalised, yet highly regulated drug market would result in less deaths as people would only consume the drugs that they require for a buzz, consuming product free from impurities that often are the cause of many fatalities. Education would need to be provided, and this would be provided at schools and this would be provided at next-to-no additional cost to the taxpayer as most of the information that is already taught in schools could be readily expanded upon. Packaging could include health warnings - "Speed kills", "E-ing is a health hazard" and "Heroin may cause cardiac arrest". It would be priceless - anyone who got past all that is basically too stupid to live, anyway.

2. Readily available drugs would put the drug barons out of business, at least in this country, freeing up police resources for more abhorrent crime, like murder and rape. Customs officers can get back to less frivolous activities, like stopping arms, disease and exotic botanical diseases coming into the country.

3. Groups like the Mafia, the Triads, the 5Ts and the Yakuza would be forced into more legitimate activities as a result of their high priced drugs of questionable quality not finding buyers. Consequently;

4. Crime would reduce. This would also be as a result of less home invasions and burglaries, hold-ups, muggings and other anti-social activity caused by illicit drug activity.

5. No longer would we have billions of Australian dollars flowing out of the country. This can only help our financial situation as Australian money goes back into Australian grown drugs, which would employ a multitude of people and put some acceleration into the economy. The Australian government could own all the factors of production themselves, giving them direct control of something which, lets face it, they have absolutely no control over at the moment. There would be no need to tax this industry as the profits would be going into financing the next budget deficit that the government claims is a surplus because of the inclusion of extraordinary items like the selling off of public utilities to foreign investors. But I digress.

The most opposition to this plan wouldn't come from the Australian voter, surprisingly, but the likes of the Americans and other countries with strong anti-drug stances.

This is ironic, because the current wave of the world's drug trade is said to have got its kick off from the American government selling drugs illegally in the fifties in a bid to reduce the wealth of black neighbourhoods. Photos of places like Harlem, the Bronx, and South Central Los Angeles from the thirties and forties show relatively wealthy suburbs of major US cities. It has been revealed that drugs were sold by the CIA in these neighbourhoods for two reasons - the first one racially inspired, and the second financially inspired. The CIA used the money generated by their foray into peddling to fund a lot of their activities.

The implications of drug legalisation are so strongly in favour of legalisation, considering that most costs to society would be actually reduced if drugs were legalised. Considering alcohol and tobacco's costs to society relative to their benefits, I can see that the only people who would have a right to feel strongly against drug legalisation would be the big multinational pharmaceutical companies.

30 November 1997

Art. The ultimate sellout?

You've probably no doubt heard about the Andres Serrano exhibition that was supposed to be being shown at the National Gallery of Victoria. It got canned due to a bunch of neanderthals masquerading as offended religious types doing far more offensive things than the photo that they were protesting against. Things like bludgeoning the photo in question. Damaging another photo as a diversion so that someone else could have a go at the piece entitled Piss Christ.

Religion is stupid. Religion has caused more wars than anything else, or anyone. The Iran-Iraq war that was effectively a stalemate for around ten years while soldiers got themselves killed, was a jihad between rival Shiite and Sunnite Muslims. Beirut is effectively a continuing battle between Jews, Christians and Muslims. Any of the wars between India and Pakistan. The crusades. Need I say more?

However, art is just as ridiculous. Piss Christ was a very neutral piece of work, compared to some of the atrocities perpetrated in the name of art. Piss Christ was golden-brown in colour, which basically sucks anyway, so the reason that the media concentrated their efforts on that particular piece of work is a mystery. But this doesn't explain the following:

  • Apparently, in London, there was an exhibition containing as a centrepiece, a fully plumbed toilet;
  • Some guy in New York gives himself paint enemas so that he can spray it out his butt on to a canvas;
  • And there is a bloke in Melbourne who wires his body up to a synth so that he can make music from his heart rate.

It seems that in order to create art, you have to come up with the silliest concept in order for people to say things like, "It's the hidden surrealism of the underlying metaphor for human existence from a post-modern viewpoint that underlines the complicated simplicity of this work," and, "de rigueur."

This is crap.

What happened to entertainment?

Ultimately, the perceived aim of the 'artist' seems to be to come up with something that sells. Piss Christ basically was a vehicle for Serrano to boost his media profile and come up with a work that will make him a very rich person. Piss Christ was valued at $US20,000 before its first exhibition. After the NGV imbroglio, this has jumped 2000% to $US400,000. It would seem that Serrano's ultimate aim would be to keep showing the work at exhibitions around the world and bask in the notoriety that Piss Christ will bring him until that point where it's value peaks and he can fleece some wealthy investor of his bucks.

It's not right, is it? Some would say it's a con and they would be correct. Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles is owned by the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. It's probably worth about $A40 million. Just quietly, I've seen this, and it's big. That's about all that I can say. For heaven's sake, it's just a piece of canvas with some paint on it. Not particularly memorable, and with a considerable amount of Australian taxpayers money spent on it.

The art community is always first to criticise when an artist is seen to have sold out, a move that is remarkably hypocritical considering that it can be seen that an artist's ultimate aim is to sell out to the highest bidder.

But I have the solution. Ban the term 'art'. Call painters 'painters', sculptors 'sculptors', photographers 'photographers' and performance artists 'wankers'. Ban all media coverage of these events. The kerfuffle surrounding the Serrano exhibition would not exist, and semi-talented wannabes would not be getting rich out of their ability to exploit gallery benefactors, the media and, of course, you, the paying punters.

31 October 1997

The Electronica Debate

Fans of the musical genre "techno" were in uproar when heroes like the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers finally started to sell in the USA. Quotes like, "They had to make their music digestible for the US market," abounded.

This makes me sick. People like this are in certain need of a good dose of reality. Allow me to illustrate as I pull these dills apart.

Techno fans were astounded that music fans in the US were picking up on stuff that they'd all been listening to for years. Or had they?

The average impression that the techno buff had of the US music fan was that they'd progressed from grunge to a music form that was not all that far removed, namely 'alternative' rock, deadly serious, a sort of rough pop that had more to do with bands of the eighties like REM rather than your grunge behemoths.

So when US music mags started talking about this new thing called 'electronica', techno buffs were apoplectic with fury.

They dissed all US music fans as 'bandwagon jumpers' and told them all to get stuffed. After all, where were these 'electronica' fans when the techno aficionados were getting E'd off their heads and raving all night? Where were they when all the failed raves were staged in the States by enthusistic Brits and Europeans wanting to school the Americans in their chosen field?

The truth is that the genre christened electronica by the US music press bears very little resemblance to that genre formally known as techno.

In these days when more and more music fans are questioning whether they were conned or not during the whole techno phenomenon, it is interesting to note that more of the 'old-school' (now there is an overused phrase) techno musicians are turning to the new electronic sound in order to update their sound. Or to save their careers, depending on how cynically you look at this.

One notorious example is CJ Bolland. After peddling what can only be described as techno for the greatest part of this decade, he burst out of the woodwork with 'Sugar is Sweeter', a ripoff of The Prodigy's 'Poison' if ever there was one. But he's not the only one. As I type this, more and more are switching camps ever so subtly.

US music fans, it seems, unbeknownst to those whose vocabulary consisted of one word, "Wicked!" were also getting into hip-hop. Want proof? How about the Beastie Boys and Beck? How about the Bloodhound Gang and Soul Coughing? Not black, I admit, but then, who's noticing? Not me, although, I could've mentioned that Ice-T has done more to bridge the gap between guitar-based music and funky beats than a myriad of techno pretenders.

Electronica seems to have, in it's most obvious characteristic, dispensed with repetitive, four-on-the-floor, boom-chi-boom-chi rhythms in favour of the diversity of hip-hop flavoured beats. Maybe after the last speed and E cocktail, techno heads can't tell the difference. Mind you, maybe they're just upset that their favourite genre has exploded into three separate pieces - electronica, trip-hop and drum 'n bass, which don't resemble techno that much at all.

Electronica also seems to have embraced instruments that techno found too repelling, such as voice and guitar, making it have more in common with industrial than techno. Where were these techno aficionados when industrial had it's heyday?

Is techno dead, then, the question would have to be?

If it is, then long live electronica.

30 September 1997

High Art vs Popular Culture

I was having this conversation with this guy about a month ago when he mentioned that he was upset at the fact that the Federal Government was cutting it's arts funding.

What followed was a heated discussion, or rather, a near fist-fight.

Friends, arts funding should be cut all round. Abolish the Arts Council, the Australia Council and let the Sydney and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras fight it out in the pubs like most other bands do around the country. Let the art galleries fight for the punters' dollar the way that various comic emporiums and cartoon art galleries around the world do.

There is no possible argument why any of these anachronisms should be allowed to continue in their current form. The strangest thing about these things is that it is argued, that these institutions are necessary for 'cultural reasons'.

Cultural reasons??

What the hell is going on here? There is nothing cultural about high art.

The word 'culture' most commonly applies these days to a particular lifestyle, and the art-forms of that particular lifestyle. So does high art accurately reflect our culture?


Cases in point - Classical Music

Point one: Classical music has been described as the rock and roll of it's day.

This is a crock. Classical music was never the rock and roll of it's day.

Classical music may have evolved from the music of the masses in the middle ages. Minstrels that entertained the people moonlighted as the entertainment to the nobility. But this soon changed as those who could pay for their taste in music soon paid some of the musos big bucks to entertain them exclusively, while those musos unlucky enough to miss this bandwagon stayed in the taverns playing their ballads and jigs for the people of the general public.

The real rock and rollers were the folkies in the pubs, entertaining one and all with their simple songs about life, love, beer and sex while the classical musos stayed in the palaces and courts getting stoned out of their minds and sticking their heads up their arses. So what if they farted out a tune occasionally? They were fully paid professionals compared to the guys down at the pub who were probably working two day jobs and only doing the gigs at the pub because their mates knew that they could hold a tune after a few ales.

Lets face it. When Britain, France, Spain and Portugal were in a race to colonise the rest of the world, the crews, convicts and cargoes were not singing operas and oratorios. They were singing Bound for Botany Bay, Blow the Man Down and Frigging in the Rigging. Not exactly classical, and most likely in breach of today's obscenity laws in some circumstances.

Point Two - Classical Music has always been the cutting edge of music.

This is not in any way correct.

Although we only remember classical tunes from the past, and not the music of the people, the advent of Thomas Edison's phonograph has meant that we now have documentary evidence of popular music back to the start of this century.

Try to tell me that anything that has been written by a classical muso this century could possibly compare with works such as these in terms of cutting edge criteria:

Miles Davis' "Bitch's Brew",

Jimi Hendrix' "Electric Ladyland",

Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon",

Sonic Youth's "Daydream Nation",

Ministry's "Psalm 69", and

The Prodigy's "Music for the Jilted Generation"

to name but a few:

Other Artforms

The same thing can be said for the other artforms that the highbrow regard as 'superior'.

Visual art has long been superseded by comics and cartoons as entertainment for the masses. Who will people go to see more readily? The works of the painter or those of the animator?

Literary fiction versus popular fiction?

Can theatre, ballet and opera be compared with TV and cinema?

The answer is no. Comparing any of these is like comparing Rugby with Australian Rules Football. It can't be done. Art is a purely subjective experience, and can't be rated objectively.

Yeah!! A Conspiracy theory!

If I was to say to you that popular artforms were put down by the highbrow (highborn?) because they were seen as subversive by those who were unable to appreciate it, would you believe me?

I'm not sure if I believe it myself, but the evidence is overwhelming.

Gangster rap, death metal, violent movies and manga have been held by the powers that be to be dangerous as they encourage viewpoints that oppose those who don't understand those artforms.

Teenagers and students shake their heads in disbelief when certain articles of popular art are censored for their extreme views.

One of the most famous issues in the last few years was the fuss that was kicked up by wowser groups everywhere when the NWA song "F**k the Police" was receiving high rotation on Triple J, ironically an Australian Government funded radio station that broadcasts nationally as part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). The ABC also includes Radio National (news, current affairs and variety), News Radio, local talkback stations such as 3LO in Melbourne and 2BL in Sydney, and ABC-FM (a classical music station) as well as Radio Australia and ABC-TV.

When Triple J added this song to their playlist, it led to an imbroglio so big that, amongst events such as some announcers barricading themselves in the studios, announcers resigned or were sacked amongst a wholesale cleaning out by a management that has long been held to be the most conservative in the country.

Has music by Wagner ever been banned due to racist overtones?

No. And it will never be, because the highbrow like it so much, and they control society.