Saturday, December 13, 2008

Duffy, Manufactured Housing, Pensioners, Psycho Social Joy, and Trailer Park Trash

A reader kindly pointed out to me that purchasers of last week's hard copy Sydney Morning Herald - a paper now in the kind of free fall usually reserved for the gaggle of  Tribune papers or the William Kristol inflected New York Times -  not only had the joy of Michael Duffy, esteemed columnist, rabbiting on about trout farms, but were also blessed by two extensive pieces of Duffster reporting. 

The Duffster offered up a cultural trends article, which announced that The Wire was part of a new trend in television - suggesting that the Duffster might be better off trend spotting in trout farms than in television, since The Wire is long gone and anybody who can only manage the word 'interesting' to describe possibly one of the best television mini-series made to date should immediately swallow a dictionary of aesthetics. (He mentioned a few other shows already long ignored by pirates eager to catch up with the latest episode of the Gossip Girls, which does, I admit, suggest pirates have no taste either).

He even proposed that television miniseries had replaced the Victorian novel and that collecting dvd sets had replaced novels, and that this was a totally new phenomenon he was reporting to the world, which must puzzle the makers of Roots, who way back in 1977 did for blacks what Dickens did for David Copperfield (and who even got to release it on VHS as a box set once that boom got under way).

But it's true, since I boycott the hard copy Herald, that I regularly miss such Duffster delicacies. It's no burden. Really. No crocodile tears here. Not if it means handing over $2.30 to reward the current board and management of Fairfax Media.

Anyway, this column is dedicated to the Duffster's musings in the opinion pages, and the fact that the Herald is now turning him into a roving reporter suggests just how much hard times have infected the rag (sheesh, now Brian McCarthy's been put in charge, it's going to turn into the Rural Press, and cost cut and downsize its way towards oblivion. Slouching towards Bethlehem you might say, a rough beast, its hour come round at last).

But maybe I should pay more attention, because I believe the Duffster also led the front page of the features section with a full blown feature about the wonders of Kellyville and surrounds.

Now there's little new here - the Duffster has long had a profound fascination for the north west and its sprawl of McMansions, and anything he has to say about it has to be refracted through his Camelot mythologizing of dinkum crikeys living the life of Riley in the land of oz (or Reilly or whatever). 

Indeedy, there's something very strange and compelling about Duffy's fixation, and though I'm no psychiatrist, I'm guessing it comes from the same strain of delusion and despair which leads him to believe in golden ages (where nobody did graffiti and the world was full of social order).

It's significant that in his youth the Duffster was self admittedly something of a socialist, but in despair at that dream being obviously soiled, he shifted across to the right. This is not uncommon - socialism and communism by definition offer utopian dreams which can't ever be realized. 

It's a bit like the utopian dream of capitalism, which is also unsatisfying and often profoundly banal in its materialism, though sometimes people only get agitated about it when things go astray, as with the current greed-driven recession.

You get the sense that utopian dreamers often believe that life can be turned into an orderly and satisfying progress towards the grave, and that socialists and capitalists are just peas at opposite ends of the pod (or big and little enders for all the Swift lovers in the world). In Australia, this manifests as the kind of picket fence nonsense proffered by the Liberal government under Howard; in America, in the kind of suburban sprawl that now is the realm of mortgage nightmares and abandoned homes. 

If you drive across America - and especially through desolate downtowns - you soon get to realise that there's a huge dark and bleak underbelly to American dreaming. Drive to the strip mall in your auto, pick up some fructose corn syrup (in anything you buy), get obese, retire to a trailer park, and then you die.

Interestingly conservative thought in America now is shifting away from the Disney-fication of the American dream - a trend celebrated in Weeds by the heroine's willingness to survive by dealing drugs to her fellow American Beauty survivors.

Only this week David Brooks wrote a column in the New York Times bemoaning suburban sprawl, the death of downtowns all over America, the lack of community and social bonds in the suburbs, the lack of facilities and meeting places, and urging on the need for new forms of clustering, social infrastructure (focal points and town squares), and innovative transport which steps away from hub and spoke. 

Of course being a token conservative who sometimes steps outside the tent, Brooks now expects government - and more particularly Obama - to fix this with a grand social engineering program. Ain't it grand how there's conservatives that want to drown government in a bathtub and others that want it to fix anything and everything that ails you. Well Mr Brooks the market place spoke, and there's no way back for the likes of you suggesting that somehow it mis-spoke.

No doubt the Duffster will get with this program like he did with The Wire - well down the track and well into syndication. It's arguable that his fascination with Kellyville represents a deep yearning, an emotional desire to believe in alternate lifestyles and notions of suburban bliss for average Joe Plumber and his kind (though not so deeply yearning as to make the Duffster shift out of his eastern suburbs bliss and join the suckers in their car bound, expensive to run castles remote from anything but a mall where they go to consume in the way that caged beak trimmed hens get to feast on specially mixed meals).

But there's no point brooding about the past or on lost opportunities to relish the Duffster's writing, because this week he's excelled himself, in a column all about ... yep, you've guessed it .... da dah ... the joys of pensioners turning into trailer park trash, grandly entitled "Manufactured houses can make pensioners feel right at home".

First let's take a look at the Orwellian wording of the Duffster throughout his column - in olden times manufactured homes were known as portables or prefabs and many a school child suffered in sweaty forty degree heat in their own special version of portable hell. But being associated with caravan parks and trailer trash, the industry needed respectability, and like the aspirational funeral directors of the time, they began to take on American terminology.

Duffy swallows the industry outlook whole of course, and again it sounds like psychological need on his part. Here's a man so afraid of apartment living and flats and New York style cramped compression that he prefers Kellyville and caravan parks where the poor can buy into their own version of the picket fence (even if it's just two palings stuck outside the canvas awning).

Duffy starts by explaining how he's been cruising the master-planned estates of the city, "finding them impressive but pricey". That's the first bit of verbiage verging on a lie - "master-planned". Choke on it. Kellyville shows all the planning of a caged hen farm. No wonder a monster church like Hillsong, one of the few providers of any kind of entertainment outside a barroom brawl, flourishes as they tend the emotional and social despair of the suburbs by offering capitalist hope and joy (with a subtle vanilla bean Christian flavoring). 

Ever the social engineer with a private enterprise conscience, the Duffster apparently took the road up the Central Coast to discover the true joy of retirement in caravan parks in mobile homes, which you can buy from as little as $50,000 second hand way up to $150,000 (and as little as $80-120 a week for the site). What a spruiker. 

Duffy suggests this is a most happy and expedient way to pack in the retirement rats as the economic crunch hits and the poor buggers can't afford anything else. Let's just elide over the quality control issues in terms of building mobile homes - Duffy just buys hook line and sinker one manufacturer's assurance that the boxes made out of ticky tacky are designed to make them "look like they weren't built in a factory" and come complete with kitchen and bathroom fittings (in much the same way I guess that my car looks like it was raised organically on a health food farm and comes complete with a horn and steering wheel). 

I guess that the fact that mobile homes generally decay and require quick replacement (you beaut, more business) is one of those inconvenient facts that can be ignored for the greater truth and benefit of parking old people in a fenced off social slum.

So let's also elide over social issues. The Duffster notes that city councils are sometimes reluctant to embrace trailer parks (okay, manufactured homes on rental estates) because they can attract people "with various problems". You don't say - trailer parks just happen to be full of poor people "with problems". Well at least they don't get blown away at regular intervals like they do in the United States. But it's a great way to herd together unfortunates - just ask survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

But wait, one of the local developers has found one Dr. Rigmor Berg, a "psycho-social researcher", to assure the Duffster that these parks offer a proto lesbian post feminist lifestyle for over 55 single retired women who just want to spend their last years together in an Amazonian lifestyle far removed from their extended families. Group hugs will replace hospital and retirement village support services, as these single female retirees escape from flats and townhouses and frolic under their awnings to build strong informal support networks.

Once upon a time, you'd have expected the Duffster to ask just what the fuck a psycho-social researcher might happen to be, and what good they might be, and how their fine and fancy words will actually improve the circumstances of poor fuckers forced by poverty to live in a trailer park surrounded by other poor trash - it's amusing to google up the good Dr. Berg's name and find her work being roundly abused on Tim Blair's blog - but he's now so intent on huckstering and shilling for developers of all stripes that he has no shame.

Now portables have a fine future servicing remote mining camps, or things like the pilot training school at Gunnedah mentioned by Duffy where housing needs to be built quickly and cheaply, and then moved as necessary.

But the Duffster shares the kool aid about portables having a big future once their image improves. These dreamers, the Duffster suggests, have a "welcome commitment to extending the diversity of Australia's housing". What a load of horseshit. They can see an angle in the market - poor people, especially poor pensioners, are on the way down, but you can always make a buck out of them and dress it up as a kind of social nobility and charity.

If you've seen this particular aspect of the American dream in action, you'll wonder just how long before the Duffster begins to shill for Jim Jones and the need to build another Jonestown so poor black people can develop a proper sense of community and go off to a better place. 

In America mile upon mile of trailer parks house people who once were industrial fodder and now can't afford anything better than a trailer, a veehikle and cable, and who have been swept up like detritus into forgotten spaces to eke out their years.

 Sheesh, you wouldn't want to be a crippled chook out of a home on a falling pension and call on the Duffster for help. It'd be off to the trailer park for you, and if you get to live next to a neighbor who gets into an alcoholic rage on a weekly basis when his pension cheque comes in, well just give him a group hug and think what you're doing for housing diversity. You just have to hope that in a world of karma that somehow the Duffster gets to live one day in a trailer park, and enjoy the many social advantages and diversity he extols.

On to the score card for the week:

Orwellian use of language that would do a developer proud: 11
Willingness to elide over any social or practical issues to promote the cause: 11
Obsessive ability to ignore any alternative visions: 11
Willingness to embrace a psycho-social discourse in a non-dialectical way to promote syncretic communalism: 11
Capacity to blame councils for thinking caravan parks might have issues: 11
Actual empathy and understanding for the plight of poor people: 0

Once again the Duffster gets close to a perfect score. He shows a wonderful capacity for perfidy and double speak - master planned,  manufactured, factory quality, friendship enclaves, diversity, pyscho-social tendencies, and affordable housing. Gobbledegook of the highest quality, all in the service of developers pre-packaging pensioners into their new expectations - abject poverty. Such a brave new world.

Sadly he's let down by just a hint of reality he doesn't bother to explore. What it's actually like to live in a trailer park. That wouldn't take just an hour's drive up the F3. That'd take some research, some actual talking to real people about their real situations (and not a developer, a builder and an academic seeking to profit from them). And reality is something the Duffster just can't bear, even if David Brooks has now looked in the mirror and seen the reality of George Bush's America. Pray we never get there, no matter how hard the Duffster tries to make it so.

Next week, after an exhausting trip on the F3, the Duffster, in a psycho-social way, discovers the relevance of psychic intuition and star signs for pensioners seeking spiritual solace while living in trailer parks? In the interests of affordable and diverse spirituality. Here's hoping ...


Anonymous said...

Were you a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald? You sound very bitter

dorothy parker said...

A journalist for the granny? Not sure if that's a compliment or a carefully crafted and calculated insult about my writing ability?

Bitter? Very bitter? Well I do like the taste of lemons limes and grapefruit. But think of me as one of Peter Finch's mob - mad as hell and happy as larry. Now open the window in your mind, lean out and shout "I'm mad as hell and I'm not ..."

Sad that the Herald is being destroyed as a quality paper by inept, greedy and dumb management? You betcha! Unhappy the esteemed Duffy is considered a house intellectual? More confused and bemused than anything. Is this the way the world of ideas ends in the Herald, not with a bang but a Duffster?

Wondering if you've ever lived in a trailer park or prefer the leafy confines of Turramurra? Guess the rich never get tired to telling the poor to eat cake, provided it's a sponge with no health or nutritional value, but it's bought from Coles so that retail keeps strong, shares stay strong, and the leafy values for the select view can continue to prevail.

Anyhoo, thanks for dropping by. Y'all come back anytime, take care, and have a nice day.