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Straw Dogs

Straw dogs were used as ceremonial objects in ancient China.

In one translation Chapter 5 of the Tao Te Ching begins with the lines; “Heaven and Earth are heartless/treating creatures like straw dogs”.

Su Zhe‘s commentary on this verse explains:

“Heaven and Earth are not partial. They do not kill living things out of cruelty or give them birth out of kindness. We do the same when we make straw dogs to use in sacrifices. We dress them up and put them on the altar, but not because we love them. And when the ceremony is over, we throw them into the street, but not because we hate them.” (Wikipedia).

Last week saw the first of the Manus Island/Nauru refugees transferred to America as part of a re-settlement deal with the USA:

“Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has taken aim at the first group of refugees to leave Australia’s offshore detention centres for resettlement in the United States.

Sydney radio host Ray Hadley put to the minister during a regular interview on Thursday that a photograph of the group published by News Corp this week looked like a fashion show on a catwalk in Paris or New York.

“Somebody once said to me the world’s biggest collection of Armani jeans and handbags was up on Nauru waiting for people to collect it when they depart,” Mr Dutton told 2GB radio.

More than 50 refugees this week left offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru for a new life in the US.” (SBS news report 28 /9 /17).

“Straw Dogs” was a film released in 1971:

“The plot of ( the film) Straw Dogs is fairly simple. A young couple moves to a rural English town and rents a house. David Sumner, an American, is an astrophysicist with a grant to do research. His wife, Amy, is English, originally from the town where they now live. In the opening shots, they run into one of her old flames, a handsome, hulking man who dwarfs and plainly intimidates David, played by Dustin Hoffman at his squirrelly, brittle best. Amy, played with a teasing sultriness by Susan George (who delivers by far the film’s best performance), only half-heartedly resists her old boyfriend.

The Sumners, we find out soon enough, have a bad marriage, with nothing much in common other than sex and a sort of teasing affection. Moreover, David is apolitical and apathetic. He has come to get away from the violence rampant in the States, and he pretends to be proud of not taking a stand or getting involved. When one of the villagers asks him if he saw any of the urban rioting or campus violence, he quips, “Only between commercials … No one laughs.” (Wikipedia review).

The Female Eunuch is a 1970 book by Germane Greer that became an international bestseller and an important text in the feminist movement. Greer’s thesis is that the “traditional” suburban, consumerist, nuclear family represses women sexually, and that this devitalises them, rendering them eunuchs. The book was published in London in October 1970. It received a mixed reception, but by March 1971, it had nearly sold out its second printing. It has been translated into eleven languages. (Wikipedia).

There was also dissenting critique about the intentions of the Straw Dogs film:

“The late film critic Robin Wood once smartly described Straw Dogs as being about a man who was determined to “defend a home that doesn’t really exist.” (When David is driving Niles back to the village after the carnage, Niles tells him, “I don’t know my way home.” David answers, as the movie concludes, “That’s okay, I don’t either.”) Wood went on to say that “the film is a reminder that the violence is not in the action but in them.” By ‘them,’ Wood was referring to those he called the “moralistic critics” who attacked the film, perhaps like Pauline Kael who famously called Straw Dogs “the first American film that is a fascist work of art.” While fascist is a word that continues to get thrown around rather sloppily even today, Kael was referring specifically to the sexual fascism inherent in the material. What she saw was the macho imperative. Kael abhorred the idea of violence making a man out of the pacifist; she hated that Peckinpah held David up to ridicule until he finally proved that – deep down – his animal cunning made him once again sexually appealing to his wife. She also despised the fact that a major artist (whose work she generally loved) had done nothing more than present a view of violence and rape no more sophisticated than what was commonly voiced in bars by male drunks.”

The Miles Franklin Award in 1971 went to Australian author David Ireland for his book: The Unknown Industrial Prisoner.

In 1978 a film version was planned, to be produced by Richard Mason and directed by Arch Nicholson, with Ken Cameron also working on it. Funding was from Film Australia. However the (LNP) Minister for Home Affairs Bob Ellicott cancelled the film on the grounds it was uncommercial, a rare instance of political interference in the Australian film industry.

Dustjacket synopsis:

“In his ‘preface’ which comes near the end of this extraordinary novel David Ireland says:
‘It has been my aim to take apart, then build up piece by piece this mosaic of one kind of human life … to remind my present age of its industrial adolescence.’

“Piece by piece, David Ireland portrays a kind of life which is lived at an oil refinery in Sydney – from its highest tower from which one of the workers plunges to death, to the secret hide-out in the mangroves where the men refresh themselves with such ladies as the Sandpiper and Never on Sundays. He takes apart this vast industrial complex and its multitudinous characters, then reassembles it into a mosaic fiery and macabre, whose crazy patterns are lit with grim humour.

“The huge structure becomes an image, at once amusing and appalling, of the whole industrial society in which modern man is trapped.” (Wikipedia review)

The dangers of allowing a government of autocratic or fascist intent to frame policy toward its ideology was warned against more than a century ago:

“From (Julius) Caesar’s time, as the sequel will show and (Edward) Gibbon has shown a long time ago, the Roman system had only an external coherence and received only mechanical extension, while internally even with him utterly withered and dead. If in the early stages of the autocracy and above all in Caesar’s own soul the hopeful dream of a combination of a free popular development and absolute rule was still cherished, the government of the highly gifted emperors of the Julian house soon taught men in a terrible form how far it was possible to hold fire and water in the same vessel.” (Theodor Mommsen: History of Rome).

Where is the oversight to control the excesses of bad governance?

(Pauline Kael has a very good critique of “A Clockwork Orange” from 1972. You may find it both an excellent extra read to this article by Pauline Kael).


12 comments

  1. Joseph Carli

    For those of you who may be curious why there is very little written dialogue from myself, I wanted to show just when all this aggressive right-wing shit started to come down..So many things were happening around that time just before Whitlam gained government and then the fascists in the Murdoch / LNP sabotaged it..so many good books and events..yet we could not stop the fascist juggernaut that now threatens to overwhelm the entire western world.
    This has to be the most threatening time for western democracy since the second world war.

  2. diannaart

    A thought provoking read, Joe.

    I wonder, if, after WW2, most who believed in fascism simply kept a low profile (albeit with occasional flare-ups) until the ideologues felt they could raise their cowardly heads once again. In other words, fascism has never really left us, as bullies and power hungry have never left us.

    When leaders feel free (Dutton) to publicly denigrate the least powerful people…

    When leaders, with their hands on the triggers of the most deadly weapons, can name call without regard for consequences…

    When basic human rights are turned into a mockery of democracy by straw polls…

  3. Joseph Carli

    diannaart..it is like Mommsen writes of the house of the Julian emperors…they tried to contain a populist support base with all the trappings of supposed freedom for the citizens, yet held all governance in check with a tyranny of dictatorship…: fire and water in the same vessel..we see the same attempt now with the neo-liberals clamoring for “freedom from political correctness” and smash the “nanny state” and trickle-down economics that is supposed to loosen up investments, while at the same time having a stranglehold on so many minority groups and vulnerable citizens..trying to have it both ways..but they are killing us all.
    WE..the citizens are made into their straw dogs.

  4. OPPOSE THE MAJOUR PARTIES

    hi i found myself attempting to guess at what the point of this article was. but i agree with this. “This has to be the most threatening time for western democracy since the second world war.”

    globalisation is merely a reactionary response to marx’s internationism and it it is a world wide process funded by international finance linked to the banks on the usa fed reserve.

    abbot wants to call the troops out against elected state gov and ban certain music. fascism all fascism.

  5. Joseph Carli

    ” hi i found myself attempting to guess at what the point of this article was. “…If you follow the opening statement about Straw Dogs being a sacrificial offering, then the notice about the transfer of refugees to USA and the Hadley/ Dutton’s comments on them, using them as a “straw Dog ” sacrifice to their listeners..followed by the description of the 1971 film; “Straw Dogs” where the pacifist husband David was sacrificed as another Straw Dog to the violent macho-making of him, along with Germane Greer’ “Female Eunuch” where women were sacrificed as Straw Dogs to suburban consumerism…oh FFS!..follow the theme..and don’t be so intellectually lazy!
    Be honest..you didn’t even read the whole thing , did you?…How old are you?

  6. stephengb2014

    Hi Joseph, I read the whole thing and it took a little while for me to get the point.

    Perhaps my ignorance played a part.

    Meanwhile, yes this is the most dangerous time for democracy since the second world war,

    Oh, is that apart from the 1962 cuban missile threat?

    But I get your point.

    Right now extreme Right wing zealots, are attacking everything Left of their ideology, I fear that they may be going to plunge us into war yet again.

    S G B

    By the way, I think there regular contributors are fantastic.

    Thank you

  7. Joseph Carli

    Yes..stephen..good that you read it through..and yes, also, I was aware when I presented the piece it would take some thought to run down the time-line..that is why I wrote the first comment as soon as it was put up..And I asked “OPPOSE” how old they were to ascertain if the reviews and other things were before they were born or beyond their historical comprehension.
    The fact that it takes a degree of thought to dissect a piece cannot really be a bad thing, surely.
    When I set about to write a new piece on the subject of “Straw Dog” principle, I looked up the title, the use of such in popular media (I had seen Straw Dogs, the film, way back in the seventies) and how the theme of sacrificing such offerings was connected with contemporary issues..hence the refugees, Germaine Greer , metaphorical writing (David Ireland) and my old favourite ; Roman history…
    In the end, I could see that adding MY opinion to the examples would only add another layer to the already sufficient details, so I let it sit as a somewhat enigmatic piece with the “clues” in the theme of “Straw Dogs” connecting the bits together. I would have thought there would be a welcome degree of intellectual challenge in the reading and responding..after all..it is not really that hard!
    Anyway..thanks for the feedback.

  8. Freetasman

    IMO you are spot on Joe in bringing the comparison of the Straw Dogs.
    When we are not Straw Dogs we are piñatas.

  9. Glenn K

    interesting that you would quote Tommy Douglas – a Canadian. He is the “father” of universal healthcare in Canada and was the first true socialist leader elected in Canada (as premier of Saskatchewan). Australia can trace it’s public medicare system to Tommy Douglas in a roundabout way as Australia looked to Canada’s example of a public medicare system. A minor note, under current Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, the federal Canada Health Act was introduced in 1984 which enshrined Medicare as a universal accessible and non-profit system. Whilst the provinces administer the system in their own domain, the federal government sets the rules which protects the fundamental right for healthcare access. This is the public healthcare system the American’s moan about wanting……..

  10. Michael Fairweather

    To play to the religious readers, “god help us under this Turdbull Fascist Government ” To play to the atheist ” we are in shit with this Turdbull Fascist Government ” No wonder Australian are committing suicide with the way Australia is heading down that Fascist Path. To mention a health system which is being systematically being taken to pieces is like rubbing salt into our wounds.

  11. diannaart

    Freetasman

    Agree.

    We, the public, are definitely considered disposable.

  12. roma guerin

    Orwell knew.

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