Mediamatic Magazine 3#4 Philip Hayward 1 Jan 1989

Metropolitan Synthesis

PHILIP HAYWARD will be our music-video editor from now on. In this article by his own hand, THE GO-BETWEENS' pop video Streets of Your Town is considered as an exercise in cultural politics.


Metropolitan Synthesis -

All too often the Pop Video is dismissed as an ephemeral textual commodity, only deemed of interest when it is either produced by an established filmic, televisual or video auteur or is otherwise analysed for the significance of its representations of sexual, racial or gender politics. Cultural-political analyses of pop videos as texts are rare. In
part this reflects the somewhat hermetic domain of youth culture hedonism addressed by many pop videos, but also demonstrates a blind-spot of critical address. This short analysis of one pop video text, THE GO-BETWEENS~Streets of Your Town (directed by ROGER GOLDBERG), attempts to offer one such cultural-political reading of what might initially appear a merely 'superficial' promo video.

THE GO-BETWEENS are an Australian band who have been repeatedly featured in influential music magazines as Britain's New Musical Express. To date however, they have been more critically acclaimed than commercially successful in their twin bases of Britain and Australia. The popularity of their latest single Streets of Your Town, together with their latest LP (17 Lovers Lane), looks likely to lift them out of this'cult' status however, and along with the success of their latest music has also come arguably their most accomplished pop video to date Streets of Your Town (widely screened on MTV and Australia's ABC TV channel).
While formally unremarkable in constrast to the more oblique hyper-active visual stylisations dominant in contemporary (North Atlantic) pop video production, Streets of Your Town is distinguished by its specific engagement with a complex national-cultural project, namely the maintenance and development of a coherent national cultural identity for the territory 'Australia'. In particular, THE GOBETWEENS' video engages with specific issues related to territory and landscape which represent deeper facets of Australia's 'imagined' cultural identity, emphasising the simultaneously potent and problematic aspects of asserting a coherent territorial-cultural entity Australia'. As ANNE CURTHOYS has argued, if nationalism invokes imagined communities then for Australians the issue of what to imagine is a complex and troubling one.
The Streets of Your Town video creates an (Australian) synthetic city out of visual components of other Australian cities (both identifiable and unidentifiable). Defined and contextualised by the song's lyrics, and its emphatic refrain of //through the streets of your
town, these images construct a cultural city-space emblematic of a vibrant metropolitan Australia. In accomplishing this , the band is countering a dominant aspect of Australian culture's address to landscape and its territory, it's imagining// a nation predicated on its
wild remote interior landscapes.
The emphasis on the Australian landscape in Australian cinema (in Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Man from Snowy River, Young Einstein etc.) and perhaps more suprisingly, a whole genre of Australian Pop Videos, is a key aspect of the imagined of Australian
national culture. But while this emphasis tends to confirm STEVEN BODE'S broad assertion of the Pop Video's close affinity to the form of the travelogue/ its distinct realist and even reverential emphasis marks it out from the fizzy effusion of Pop Video's dominant 'international style'.
Curiously, given the relative conservatism of its project, the Streets of Your Town reflects similar concerns to those which motivated such Soviet Revolutionary film-makers as DZIGA VERTOV and MIKHAIL KAUFMAN. In films such as A Sixth of the Earth (1926) and Spring (1927), VERTOV and KAUFMAN stitched together diverse geographical locations to create syntheses of a diverse but coherent (continental) Russia, or in the case of VERTOV'S avant garde tour-deforce Man with a Movie Camera (1929), a synthetic Futurist cityscape evoking a grand vision of the modern industrial communist metropolis. While pursuing a similar synthetic project Streets of Your Town differs from the work of VERTOV and KAUFMAN however in both eschewing self-reflexivity and in being addressed to an ongoing (rather than revolutionary), national-political project; but nevertheless projects a quasi-Futurist metropolitan emphasis which would be almost archaic in any other (developed) national context than Australia's.
In synthesising its Australian collective cityscape, Streets of Your Town produces a particular inflection of city politics, suggesting a definition of Australia as primarily metropolitan and effectively effacing the marked regional rivalries (particularly between Sydney and Melbourne), rivalries which are still replicated in both regional folklore and (city based) media of radio, television and the press. The video's project asserts a cultural emphasis often curiously under-stated in contemporary Australian cinema (with its emphasis on the outback) and Australian television with its emphasis on suburbs (Neighbours) or country towns (A Country Practice ). The predominant image Australia projects of itself in the dominant audiovisual media is still that viewed through the rear-mirror of history, a vision of Australia as the rural rimose culture of the pre war era which ignores the country's rapid metropolitan shift over the last three decades.
If the bountiful rural and suburban images of Australia in the dominant media are premised on a semi -nostalgic idealisation of the Australian dream of its white society's 'imagined' culture, then it may be that the more deviant realms of its youth-culture are offering alternative reflections closer to an experienced reality than an imagined existence.