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Letters from Downunder

Hooray for Xeno

Submitted by Lindsay
Melbourne Australia!

Only the paranoid survive.
Dictum of Andrew Grove, president Intel corp.

(9/2013) Xeno, in a rather odd way, is the Greek word for strange. It's a great word, full of potential, even though one of its derivations is xenophobia, or the fear of strangers. But it's great because nearly everything in life is strange, one-way or another, or at least until we get used to it. Kids especially are constantly discovering strangeness, the unknown, the unexpected, and their excitement and wonder is so often seen and loved by their parents and teachers. As we grow older, of course, more and more things become familiar, and the excitement of discovery dies away, to be replaced by the humdrum of familiarity.

And familiarity can so easily become boredom, that time when nothing in the immediate future seems to offer any diversion, anything that might make the synapses jump to attention and say yes! Even novelty, a benign type of strangeness, is something we seek all our lives. Think of all the games, TV shows, music and talk shows we pursue in order to feel some stimulation, something that is different, no matter how slight. And although diversions from the daily drum may not be discoveries, they are certainly a way of briefly forgetting the current situation.

The world of advertising, however, sees danger in this, for it much prefers we stick with the tried, the true, the things we are comfortable with - for then their tailor-made pitches may have greater impact. You like brand X toothpaste? Good, keep buying it, but please don't try anything else, because we may not promote that brand. As for entertainment, we all know that America is the entertainment capital of the world, and as its consumption is never-ending, its production has to be as well. But novelty and appeal takes skilled imaginers to turn ideas into entertainment, and even they tend to despair when remakes of remakes, hashes of hashes and redarned shows with holes in them run out.

But, ever inventive, they can turn to overseas ideas. Yes, my friends, every country in the world makes their own shows, (oh no! Surely not), with their own points of view, values, actors and writers. And some of these are very good indeed, novel and entertaining. So they are mined by desperate American producers who are faced with a local desert, but - and here's the problem - most of these overseas shows are foreign, for heaven's sake! Audiences wouldn't get foreign, therefore they have to be redone for American audiences, with American English, scenery, actors, and values. So an idea is found, but the novelty and strangeness is excised.

What might have been a glimpse of another culture is packaged into the same old boredom, because the fear of losing a cent has plastered cultural makeup on the exotic so that it resembles the plaster cast of all other shows, denying watchers the opportunity of exercising their brain, wondering about something other than their own personal comfort, while reinforcing the strange notion that America can do no wrong.

For all its diversity there is a degree of sameness in American cities that help boredom on its way. There is also the strange notion that only the paranoid can do well, as quoted above. Be ever vigilant, is the cry, buy a gun, don't step outside, watch our safe shows, be wary of your neighbour, go to a social network and not a school, travel only so far as your auto can take you, and vote for the party that will keep that way.

Americans do seem to be paranoid. There can be no other explanation for the fear exhibited by the government, the wealthy, the military and many ordinary citizens as they go about their day-to-day business. Fear of being thought unprepared, of allowing terrorists power, of being robbed, made ill, deprived and being made to look both silly and underhand. These worries seem to be imprinted in and on the foreheads, an internal tattoo of scare.

Well, for the rich and famous that may be OK, because we aren't in that league,(I should say - at least I am not) - but how about the other side of that coin, the boredom that lack of stimulation inevitably brings? And brings more forcibly to the young, because their ability to create wholesome diversion has never been properly developed. Cotton wool insensitivity to the big, wonderful world around them is the attitude they have been led to develop - and we can see the outcome: Three young Oklahoma teenagers taking pot-shots at passers-bye because 'they were bored', (one version), or 'had to pass an initiation test by killing someone' (another version), the victim being Australian, so more upsetting for us here.

I know of no nation on earth that has ever tolerated such behaviour, has ever allowed it to develop, has nurtured it, made indifference to human life a norm, and given a kind of horrified but glorious publicity to the many role models those kids have: murders, mass killing, at home and abroad. When diversion is killing, when the fear of incarceration or death means nothing, then the society is in a parlous state. Erecting neon signs saying 'how great we are', building gaols and not goals, inoculating against wonder and awe - these are the symbols of a ravaged state. This is the picture that puts you in the hypocrite basket, as you export democracy to those that neither want it or can adjust to it, yet ignore the almost insane picture of free to kill, free to neglect, and free to exert your own lack of moral conduct.

Enough preaching already. I'm going to start a national Xeno week, when everyone has to tell of some new, wonderful, happy-making thing they have seen, done or said. It will be tailored to your culture, as we, and the rest of the world, have less need of it.

Don't be paranoid, be xeno strange -let me know how you get on, and I'll come to see how you get on. That will be really strange, but no doubt diverting.

Xeno (aka Lindsay) in Down Under

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker