“It’s Time”: remembering modems, BBS, Telecom, Gough and The Dismissal in Peter Carey’s Amnesia

Author Peter Carey, one of Australia’s best known literary exports (he has lived in New York City for the past 20 years) is probably most identified with novels such as The True History of the Kelly Gang, Illywhacker, and Oscar and Lucinda which all draw heavily on Australian history and mythology of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Oscar and Lucinda  was also made into 1997 film film of the same name featuring Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchette.  Despite this reputation, Carey has written novels that deal with more contemporary life, including the darkly comic Bliss, in which bored advertising executive, Harry Joy, is briefly clinically dead, but upon returning to life, finds himself in a reality that may, or may not, be a version of hell.   (Bliss was also made into a highly underrated film, with the peerless Barry Otto as Joy).  Carey’s most recent effort, Amnesia, delves into the very present day concerns of technology and surveillance.  Largely split between a present-day “thriller” narrative and a slightly disheveled and cut-up history of both 1950s and 1980s Melbourne life as seen through the lens of politically active family, Amnesia fuses Carey’s brilliant use of language, with more overt political undertones.

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“Hey Peter, I’m gonna need you to come in all the time. Does all the time work for you?”

Fans of the 1999 movie Office Space will have surely noticed the recent front page above-the-fold article in last Sunday’s New York Times on working conditions at Amazon has stirred up a lot of interest, including a response from Jeff Bezos himself (who states, somewhat incongruously, that he has “zero tolerance for lack of empathy”).   One of the reasons that this article gained so much traction (as opposed to the steady drip-drip of articles about work conditions at it’s warehouses), is that it focused on the changing work environment of many upper-middle-class white-collar workers all over the country (which is, let’s face it, the readership of the New York Times).   The rise of the 24/7 work culture, constant e-mail, tethering to our smartphones, and now the micro-surveillance of work “productivity” has now passed some kind of rubicon, where more and more people are increasingly asking, like the Peter Gibbons character in the film: what’s the whole point of it?

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The Newsroom, unicorns and the Sorkin view of the world

The-NewsroomAaron Sorkin’s cable news drama The Newsroom wrapped up it’s third, and final season at the end of last year on HBO.  As pure piece of entertainment it’s fun to watch, especially with a great cast and the pyrotechnic dialog for which Sorkin is a specialist, but as a commentary on the current state of news, it has some serious flaws, that bothered me enough to write them down.  What’s that, you’ve never heard of The Newsroom?  Well, allow me a brief recap: Jeff Daniels plays Will McAvoy, a cable news anchor of the Dan Rather/Tom Brokaw/Peter Jennings vintage on the fictional Atlantis Cable News (ACN) network (a sly dig at Atlanta-based CNN, no doubt).  The series opens in the Q&A portion of a panel discussion on a university campus featuring McAvoy, when a college student asks a particularly naive question: “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”.  After a few attempts to avoid answering this directly (clearly he disagrees with the premise of the question), McAvoy decides enough is enough and starts channelling his inner Howard Beale (the fictional TV newscaster from the 1976 film Network who extorted  his audience to open their windows and yell: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not taking it anymore”).  McAvoy’s response is worth reading in detail, it’s pure Sorkin, the kind of thing that we all wish important people would say, but never do.Read More »