Australian Journal of Cultural Studies|
Volume 3 Number 2 December 1985
Come in Spinner: The Politics of the Toss
Judi Mauger & John Hartley
We shall all have to live with this. (Sir John Kerr)A spinner is a short, speculative or polemical article in the Australian Journal of Cultural Studies The AJCS is one of those Australian institutions that seek to capture, or con, the best out of a diversity of both Australian and Overseas cultural domains, and put it all together under the banner 'Australian'. Another such institution is Paul Hogan. Not only is he uniquely Australian, but he has made a career out of a philosophical conundrum that dogs the AJCS: how can 'different' be 'the same'? This conundrum is itself a characteristically Australian one, founded as it is on the game of two-up.
You certainly will. (Gough Whitlam)
Two-up is the uniquely Australian gambling game in which bets are made on the chances of two coins falling with the same face uppermost, either heads or tails. Being uniquely Australian, two-up is itself a potent sign of Australiannesslike other such signs, it is both loaded with historical connotations and, in most places in Australia, currently illegal. Similarly, Paul Hogan represents Australia to an astonished world, transgressing currently accepted cultural norms of representativenessan ambassadorial Ned Kelly.
Easy Come, Easy Go
The scene is set for the Australian mini-series Anzacs, broadcast in October, 1985, to resolve the philosophical conundrum. 'Different' can indeed be 'same'. Enter Anzac Pat Cleary (Paul Hogan [for it is he] in his first 'straight' acting role). This is towards the end of the story, in the last episode, after Anzac/Australian courage, mateship and unity have been forged despite the sneering superiority of British and American allies (the Turks and Germans, however, respect our heroes). At this point, the Australian Army is to lead an attack, but at the eleventh hour the promised American support is withdrawn. Paul Hogan, meanwhile, has lost all the money he'd been winning from his mates since episode one (in two-up bets) to a recently arrived bunch of American GIs. He cannot compete with their national game, craps. Here then is 'difference'; Australia is different from America, Britain, the world. Having gambled with Hogan and battled
alongside the Anzacs, however, the GIs refuse to accept their own high command's dim view of Australianness. Hogan magically procures Anzac uniforms for them, and, before setting off with General Monash to win the war, they all go outside for the ceremony that will initiate these New Australians into the culture: a game of two-up. Here, then, difference is 'same'; America, Britain, the world is the same as Australiabut Australia wins.
Two-up, Paul Hogan and the AJCS are, therefore, engaged in a game whose object is to override difference. Along the way, Australianness is a safe bet, no matter which way the coins fall. It's a toss up between courage and comedy, quality and con, philosophical conundrum and gambling, but what counts is keeping these incommensurate opposites in play, not choosing between them. The national gesture to recognize rules by breaking them, to welcome the immigrant and import-culture with the outstretched hand of the pick-pocket.
The term 'come in spinner' refers not only to the game of two-up, marking the moment at which the coins are tossed. It also refers to the verbal art of the wind-up, marking the moment when the narrator of a shaggy dog story tells the hapless listener s/he's been conned. The stakes in this game are not just the small change of little truths (which you lose to the biggest liar), but the status of truths themselves. In order to arrive at that delicious moment when you can say 'come in spinner', you have to give away those little truths that will be recognized, picked up and followed; followed right up the garden path. In fact, in order to mislead, you must tell the truth. In order to produce difference, to put your listeners in a different place from where they think you are, you have to convince them they're in the same place.
This is also the politics of the cover up. The deceptiveness of appearance is not just a matter of overriding difference; of covering facts with fictions, or fictions with facts. The deceptiveness of appearance is also a uniquely Australian cultural norm. It deceptively appeared, for example, that Australia was constitutionally different from Britain until Remembrance Day 1975, when ocker met a Kerr, and difference was overridden. The AJCS is no exception to this cultural norm. It too has a politics of the cover-up. Like Gough Whitlam, it is dedicated to uncovering The Truth of the Matter,  but like Australia it has made transgression and illegality the true symbols of a national culture.
Tossing up, Tossing out: uncovering our cover
Ned Kelly has been the AJCS front man ever since Vol. 1.1: the ambassador between past and future, between art and culture, between Australia and Overseasan editorial Paul Hogan, overridden by the pen of Sir Sydney Nolan, hero-thief conned into art. The deceptive appearance of the masked head set in that 'ageless, featureless landscape' (O'Toole, 1983:190) has overridden all differences, even those of history (ageless), perception and signification (featureless) and nature (landscape). As well, the AJCS has had its gaze, though masked, firmly fixed on posterityon the look of all those covers, all the same, forging a link with the shelves of the future. But now that syntagmatic chain has been broken; Ned, Nolan and sameness have been tossed out.
This is the politics of the toss. Of tossing in informal elements for debate. Of tossing out the old, and tossing up for the new. Of reducing the covers of the AJCS to words tossed onto a page. Of placing our metaphorical money on the chances of a mis-match, a head and a tail. So now the truth of the matter is not sameness but difference; change, discontinuity, multiplicity, cultural difference, textual difference, political difference, sexual difference and the difference between teacher and student; signified by changes from myth (Ned Kelly) to histories (both European and Aboriginal), from art to cutting-up-photographs.
The Great Cultural Coat-Hanger
... We are constrained by our belief that the mainstream is the only path to freedom. While the right to enter white dominated bourgeois culture ought not to be denied anyone, we must pause before granting this road a privileged place in the struggle for a new society. It is entirely possible that oppressed groups, including sexually as well as racially oppressed groups, may choose a different way (Aronowitz, 1981:95).
It is time, then, to consider not roots (Ned Kelly, Anzacs, two-up, Paul Hogan ... Australia), but routes. In the toss-ups of two-up, knowledge of the game is restricted to white men, the tossers, who ride roughshod over the difference between men and women, between white and black, between elders and betters, gambling on the chance that while east is east and west is west we're all Australians, all readers of AJCS. Instead of that deceptive unity we now choose a different way. Our cover is a montage, the politics of which have
been proclaimed as follows: 'There is no pretence to make all the bits fit into a neat, seamless whole', but on the contrary, montage is 'concerned with bits as bits, not as fragments broken from some original whole, nor as special detachments, representative of some greater whole' (Lomax and Leeson, 1982:9). Our cover doesn't represent 'Australia'if representation means, in Lomax and Leeson's phrase, the 'return of the same' (ibid). Instead, it can be used as a metaphorical 'vehicle', the 'tenor' of which is to inaugurate new routes.
The study of culture proceeds apace within these covers, taking new and unexpected directions. In the juxtaposition of incommensurate articles and reviews a kind of communication can be heard, a unity not of representation but of dialogue. Here's Iain Chambers:
The city has also become a dirty sign, contaminated by different cultures, different forms, different needs that accumulate in the metropolitan body. And there is no guarantee that they are commensurable: there exists a 'surplus of meaning' (Chambers, 1985).
Occasionally, the surplus of meaning appears, deceptively, to be flowing all in the same direction, as in our cover where masses of congregated people flow across the newly opened Sydney Harbour Bridge, in what Paolo Prato and Gianluca Trivero have identified as a 'ritual of locomotion':
The birth and death of a means of transport are amongst the most spectacular moments in its existence ... Through the ritual collectivization of the initial/inaugural moment and the burial/catastrophe, society is caught up in the birth and death of highly symbolic values both for itself and for humanity in general. The most acclaimed rites are those that celebrate the unique object ... [which is] almost immune from the laws of social and spectacular time; with them functionality and extravagancy can coexist for a far longer period (Prato and Trivero, 1985).
It seems then that the Sydney Harbour Bridge can escape from the temporal bounds of Saturday, 19th March, 1932, and serve forever as the image of Australia; the great coat-hanger on which our culture depends. This was of course known at the time, the spectacle being witnessed by Premiers, Prime Ministers and Governors General; broadcast direct throughout Australia, Britain and America; photographed from shore, sea and sky; and the Australianness of it all
signified by floats representing history, trade, industry, agriculture, learning; while the marching contingents included school children, scouts, the Bridge workers (a later representative of whom was of course Paul Hogan), 'Aboriginals, Anzacs and ... lady life-savers'.
The yoking together of Aboriginals and Anzacs, lady life-savers and Bridge workers is not only a metaphorical form of 'violence'. It is also part of what Peter Williams has identified as the aestheticization of politics:
Aestheticizations are part of generalizing and historically produced ways of seeing according to transcendent 'standards' of the essentially dramatic, comic, sublime, beautiful and true. They achieve the effect of rendering political forces and relations in static aesthetic categories. Apparently innocent ('apolitical') aesthetic activities are carried out in definite practices ... (Williams, 1985).
Definite practices like crossing a bridge as an aestheticization of politics, in the name of a national totality, the representative figure for which is the completed great coat-hanger itself. But, as Peter Williams writes:
It is at once difficult to prove but necessary to argue that no figure of a unitary, functional and undivided national or universal 'totality'of completioncan be read unproblematically, either in 'whole' or 'part', through particular aesthetico-moral grids (Williams, 1985).
Of Bridges and Aborigines
But here we may begin to sense that awful moment of abstraction, the moment when our analysis is levitated from the concrete of specifics, as our feet leave the ground and we are hoist, on the coat-hanger itself, with our own petard. For we have sought to avoid the generalized, dominant, aestheticizing discourses that, for instance, cause us to hear a lot about 'aborigines being "dirty", women "beautiful" or "plain" or "ugly", unionists being "lazy" ...' (Williams, 1985), etc. In fact we have found a photograph showing an Aboriginal hand showing us a photograph of a group of Aboriginal people who are manifestly not reduced to dishevelled infantilism, not awaiting the paternal face-washer to clean behind the ears, not washing away the history of assimilation and integration. The photograph is from Reading the Country (reviewed in this issue by both (Colin Johnson and (Gary Wickham). And we have caused that photograph to be juxtaposed
with the technology of the colonizers (the Bridge was built by the Middlesborough, England, firm of Dorman Long). But this is not a question of juxtaposing negative and positive images; not simply a matter of drawing a line between cultures. The juxtaposition poses another questionthat of the line itself. For we, like our culture, declare the shortest distance between two points to be a straight line. But, as these lines of Colin Johnson observe:
Their roads are straight
Their streets are straight
Their fences are straight
Straight as the bricks
Of their walls,
As straight as the lines
Of their vehicle-minds,
Rushing in straight thoughts
To straight feelings.
Thus, poised, precariously, on the very girders of this aesthetico moral grid, we fall, accused. But just as it is not clear from the poem who 'they' may beexcept, in a generalized way, 'us' Europeansso it is not clear from the photograph on the cover who the addressee is: the hand may be showing 'Aboriginality' to 'us' Europeans; but the photograph may be one taken by and for the people in it and holding it. And now that it has been re-presented, both in Reading the Country and on the AJCS, its addressee is uncontrollable, unaccountable. As Eric Michaels suggests, this has implications for the conduct and method of academic discoursing itself:
I realise that in discussing these cases, I have collapsed what many academics would distinguish as 'pure/theoretical' re search with 'applied/policy' research. In the current context, in fact, in any research on a living population, I believe that distinction is false. My own work proceeds from what I take to be profound questions about the contrast between oral and electronic societies in order to inform a theory about what it means to be human, and to communicate that. But anything that I write, or publish, is apt to be used by policy makers or by technicians, or government, to affect the lives of the people about whom I write. Thus ... I would argue that in Aboriginal Australia, at least, no research is 'pure', only unaccountable (Michaels, 1985).
How can the AJCS and its reader account for all this? Purity is clearly dangerous, but impure mixturesof theory and practice, male and female, teacher and taught, white and blackare themselves
apt to bring on a nasty attack of odium academicum. What's needed to get us off the hook is a pure theory of impurity and a mixed practice of vulgar popularization. Luckily both academic theory and popular practice have signposted the way, although it is by no means a straight line.
Put on Your (Red) Dancing Shoes
The little truths that we have been picking up and following for the last few pages have led us to the conclusion that Australianness is proclaimed as uniquely different from other cultures, and uniquely the same. The AJCS, as hero/thief, has picked the pockets of diverse cultural and academic domains, and brought the booty back home. In the realms of popular culture, this process has begun to work the other way. Already there are 12-metre yachts from around the world massing off Fremantle. And, according to David Rowe, David Bowie has been licking his lips too:
Bowie, acutely mindful that Australia is flavour of the month amongst the chic gatekeepers of global popular culture, relishes the contrast between its hi-tech cities and its largely pre-industrial interior. The scandal of the Aborigines' plight provides him with a social cause to champion and a cinematically unique landscape for a backcloth ... The attractions of urban white culture (symbolized by a pair of red dancing shoes) are rejected, but there is no hint of a strategy, a way of overcoming white domination (Rowe, 1985).
Having a social cause to champion does not lead automatically to a strategy, cinematic or otherwise. For a strategy, we must of course return to theory, but a theory of 'bits as bits', of strategic montage, same-but-different. In this context, it's no use invoking people's 'plight', especially other people's plight, since that is to imply that 'we' possess the power that those others lack. In fact, according to Cathy Greenfield, we mustn't invoke people at all:
The formulation of the objective contradiction people/state or people/power bloc is grounded in a theory of power as rightthat is, in a theory of sovereigntyand ignores demonstrably different organizations of power relations that are also operating, across a network of institutions, in modern societies. These decentred and unauthored organizations of a multiplicity of heterogeneous, circulating, 'micro' power relations make political calculation for socialist transformation far more complex
than a matter of locating power (to be resisted or mobilized) as the possession of a particular group or class or as that which a particular group or class is lacking (Greenfield, 1985).
As a matter of fact, the power relations that usually kick up a real stink of odium academicum are precisely the unauthored ones, for 'most knowledges used in normal academic work are supposed to be ascribed to a particular owner. Homage must be paid to this owner in the form of a footnote',  or 'some other reference' (Wickham, 1985). In this spinner we have tossed in a few fragments; thieved from else where in this issue of AJCS. But we haven't covered everything. For instance, in his review of Stephen Muecke's contributions to Reading the Country Gary Wickham writes that 'his fragments (and "fragments" is a good term to signal his intervention) cover a large range of topics in not many pages'. We, on the other hand, have covered only our traces, and the deceptive appearance of the AJCS. However, our lack of finishing-power is a calculated gamble: like Muecke's, our fragments are:
... a very effective means of broadening the conditions of production and operation of academic arguments. Without work like Muecke's fragments the unfortunate tendency within academic institutions to play it safe when it comes to the production of arguments, to work only within widely accepted theoretical frameworks, to be very suspicious of any work which at tempts to shift the boundaries of these frameworks or which uses other, not so widely accepted frameworks, would become further entrenched (Wickham, 1985).
And so, you see, the question of how the AJCS and its reader should account for all this turns out to be a Foolish Question. All we have done is to spin together a few incommensurate clues, producing a surplus of meaning, to reach a point where, before you toss aside this copy of the AJCS, we can say to you that the sovereign remedy