I am often concerned by the homogenising of culture that is apparent in this age of globalisation (not to mention consumerism). The mass market in Australia is dominated by movies, music and television from the US- and, to a smaller extent, the UK, and I don’t think it is a stretch to say that we can see the flow on effects here in Australia. We see clothes (and lunchboxes, and toys, and cereal) for toddlers emblazoned with Disney characters; the ring tones of mobile phones we hear in passing are American rap artists, and we find ourselves quoting- or at least being able to identify- lines from The Simpsons or some other program.

I do worry that as globalization becomes more and more the norm- indeed, it is so ingrained in our day to day lives that we take it for granted- that worldwide, regional idiosyncracies and cultural identity will be a thing of the past.

The publishing industry is currently being threatened by the recommendation of the Productivity Commission to ease import restrictions on books.

In a nutshell, parallel importing restrictions prevent book sellers from importing books that can be purchased from overseas at a cheaper price . If these restrictions are eased, then retailers may then buy books to onsell from overseas, rather than from local publishing houses.

It is expected (although, this has been debated by some) that allowing parallel importation of books will result in cheaper books for the consumer.

In a recent email to Dymocks club members, it was stated: “Dymocks and the Coalition for Cheaper Books believe Australian booklovers deserve better. Dymocks believes that lower prices will enable more Australians to read more and as a consequence Australian literacy levels will improve. Dymocks believes that the Australian book industry should be driven by the Australian book buyer and not the local subsidiaries and agents of overseas publishers.”

Dymocks, and their CEO Don Grover, have sustained some criticism of their part in the debate. Grover has been outspoken as a member of the Coalition for Cheaper Books- an alliance that also includes Woolworths, Coles, Target, K-mart and Big W- in support of the abolition of parallel import restrictions so that their customers can enjoy cheaper book prices. However, it is not hard to see that it could well be a case of retailer benefit in the guise of consumer benefit.

If the laws are eased, retailers will then be able to buy in books from the overseas market. One major criticism of parallel importing is that many Australian books published overseas are edited to fit into the culture at hand. For example, in the US the children’s book (and subsequent series) by Andy Griffiths is changed from “The Day my Bum Went Psycho” to “The Day my Butt went Psycho“. Words will be changed, say from jumper to sweater, from Autumn to Fall, and even settings and characters may change to be American (or whatever country the book is published in).

In a side note, it is heartening to see that Mem Fox insisted on the word ‘lamington’ being retained in her book Possum Magic, rather than being substituted with ‘brownie’ as her American publisher desired!

So if our retailers purchase their stock from overseas, we will then be sold an Americanised version of an Australian work (on Anglicised, or wherever the book happens to be purchased from).

And so to back to my concerns about cultural homogeneity: if our books are being imported from the cultural empires of the US and UK, we lose our distinctive voice. Ever so subtly, we take on lexicon from these cultural juggernauts, and our own vernacular becomes more and more quaint and peculiar. We find ourselves identifying better with a character based in a large US city, than one experiencing the unique conflicts, issues and lifestyle of someone living here. We come to see the US norms as our norms, and our own norms as odd.

This really scares me. I’m not being xenophobic- of course there is nothing at all with publishers editing works to suit their own audiences, but when this challenges our own identity, especially in subtle ways, it needs to be addressed as what it is: culture and identity being traded off by the retailers for cheaper books, and more powerfully, larger profits.

Additionally, this will create problems for the Australian publishing industry. If our industry has to compete with larger, more affluent and cheaper overseas publishers, they will need to reduce their costs. Ultimately, this means less royalties for the writer- who only earn perhaps one dollar on a thirty dollar book- and also, that less funds will be available to publish Australian writers, especially new and riskier, more artistic writing.

SO not only will we be importing Americanised versions of Australian books, we will also be limiting the Australian Publishing Industry to sticking to “safe” works- works that don’t push boundaries, or cover new ground. And ultimately, that is what writing should be doing.

I will finish by quoting Jeff Sparrow, editor of literary magazine Overland: ‘The economist John Maynard Keynes once explained that the free market rested on “the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone”‘.

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Drug of the Nation

March 5, 2009

The other day, I had a door to door salesperson come to my house. I usually have trouble extracting myself from this kind of situation, but this day it was easy. He wanted to sell me Pay TV, asked if I had a satellite dish, and I told him we were a TV free household.

It’s the easiest time I ever had getting rid of a cold seller.

To be honest, we aren’t a TV free household. We are, however, very TV limited. We have an old set in an unobtrusive corner of the spare room, as Zai likes to chill out with a bit of TV at the end of a long day after Bodhi and I are asleep. I use it too, for DVDs or shows on SBS or ABC like Foreign Correspondent or Insight. I choose not to watch commercial channels. My use is occasional though: I watched the DVD “Birth as We Know It” a few nights ago, and before that, it was about six weeks ago.

Zai and I have made the decision not to expose Bodhi to TV. Admittedly, he would have seen a little bit of it (maybe averaging half an hour a month) in the first few months of his life, and he does see it when he visits other people’s houses and it is on in the background, but it is our intention to protect him from it as much as possible.

Below is a brief rundown of the reasons that led us to make this decision.

TV Disengages us from nature, reality and relationships

Whilst we watch TV, we engage with a machine. We learn little about the world around us, the rhythm of life, of love and nurturing. At best, we may witness things like these concepts, but are simply passively observing rather than experiencing them for ourselves.

TV is harmful to neurological development

TV has a hypnotic effect. As soon as the television is turned on, a child within close range will experience a change in brain function, from beta waves that indicate conscious alertness, to alpha waves, which are daydreaming, unconscious state (Large, 1990).

The effect may be addictive, and it is linked to underdevelopment synaptically, and in language, high order organisation, control and motivation (Healy, 1990).

Furthermore, whilst in this quasi-hypnotic state, our left-hemisphere brain which is responsible for analytical and logical thinking, shuts down, so we are unable to properly debate the issues presented to us in a responsible way, making us more vulnerable to advertising, opinion and all the rest (Sigman, cited in Kindred, Issue 22)

The flickering, radiant light of TV is like nothing we can experience in nature, so we are not evolutionarily designed to witness it. As such, our brain shuts down whilst watching TV (Large, 1990).

TV  aggressively pushes negative and/or violent images into a child’s memory

In the first few years of a child’s life, he or she is unable to discern what is real and what is not on TV. Furthermore, the child will take on and remember images they have seen on TV, sometimes not remembering it was on TV that they saw it. As a result the child may have nightmares, irrational fears or emotional maladjustment. The average child will witness over 20000 acts of violence in movies, on TV and in video/computer games by the time they are 18. These images stay with them.

Children (and adults) can be vicariously traumatised by images seen on TV. For example, do you remember the image of people jumping out of the Twin Towers after the September 11 attacks? Did you feel overwhelmed, or have a greif reaction following the recent Victorian Bushfires, even if you weren’t directly involved?

Following September 11, the American Psychiatric Association found there was a “significant rise in new prescriptions for antidepressants, antipsychotics and benzodiazepine tranquillisers”, and of which they stated “The attacks were unprecedented in scope, and Americans viewed them again and again on television.”

TV impedes our quality of life

I personally would rather spend my time  playing with Bodhi, catching up with friends, reading, cooking, writing, studying, making love and a number of other activities than watch TV.

TV would interrupt my bond and connection with Bodhi, and our lifestyles would be less sedentary.

TV impedes us from thinking for ourselves

A great deal of TV  is taken up with advertising, making our already consumerist lives even more focused on bigger, better and more expensive “stuff”. As already mentioned, we are already vulnerable to the messages we see and hear on TV, so are likely to be drawn to the advertised product. Many (if not most products) advertised will either use slave labour for manufacture, be transported thousands of kilometres across the planet, will be made with toxic chemicals, require vast logging in their production and/or require a number of other social and environmental disasters to bring them to arrive at our shops. Not really worth it for a flash pair of shoes or a plastic toy, is it?

I could go on, but I think my point is obvious. Weighing up the pro’s and con’s, I believe TV is far more harmful to my child than beneficial.
That’s not to say being TV free has been easy. Parenting is damn exhausting, emotionally demanding and draining sometimes. There are times that I would love to be able to pop Bodhi in front of the TV for half an hour whilst I rest (or more likely to cook without having to hold him on my hip, clean without him riding the vacuum cleaner, study without being climbed all over or write or work on Birth Healing without him jumping on my lap for a feed). It’s been very difficult at times to be constantly present to him, but I owe him that. Life is about living, not about watching someone else living (or acting out living) on TV. The tiredness fades, but love and nurturing endures always.