Review of Gangland: Cultural Elites and the New Generationalism, by Mark Davis
It's a long time since I read a book by torch-light, but Mark Davis's Gangland drove me to just such lengths the first time I read it. It's an exhilarating discussion of Australian literary culture, or as Meaghan Morris describes it in a cover blurb that is for once actually true, 'unputdownable'. The book is overtly and even ostentatiously polemical, sometimes contradictory, sometimes repetitive, with the broad social sweep of precisely those commentators whose work Davis critiques. Where it differs from the work it engages with is in its assembly of a compelling body of evidence to support its readings of contemporary cultural politics. But Gangland is also a profoundly depressing book, in its portrait of an Australian media and cultural world in which simple questioning, let alone active dissent, prompts paranoid vituperation in the language of the American extreme right, albeit vituperation that is repackaged as homegrown 'debate' in what are generally called the 'culture wars'. Crucially, 'At the centre of every narrativisation of this "war" is a middle-aged white male figure whose previously taken-for-granted authority has been questioned' (172). An upbeat finale doesn't change this overall impression.
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