Against Hollywood Cinema: An Anti-Capitalist Rebuttal of Riordan’s ‘In Defence of Hollywood Cinema’

Culture, Film, Society

Tom Harrison

In this article I do not aim to offend Liam Riordan, nor any other person. Rather, I write this piece to express my feelings towards the debate around the ‘quality of Hollywood cinema’, as I feel many have been bogged down in the question ‘is Hollywood cinema good?’ rather than the far more important question ‘why does Hollywood cinema exist, and what does it do?’.

Liam Riordan’s article In Defence of Hollywood is not ill-conceived, as I too feel shame and despair when confronted by the plethora of cultural critics who construct monoliths – such as ‘the category of Hollywood cinema’ – merely to tear them down with rhetoric. Such ‘intellectuals’, often disciples of Jordan Peterson or of a thoughtless ‘popular’ feminism, invariably decry ‘mainstream media’ simply as bad. On this point I agree with Riordan, these uncomplicated critics have nothing to offer in terms of nuanced critique.

But such arguments, loosely described within Riordan’s article, must not be engaged with uncritically. At the risk of betraying myself as a reader of Foucault – a charge I may indeed be guilty of – the very notion of a Hollywood cannot remain unchallenged if it is to be honestly and critically discussed. Rather unfortunately, Riordan met his opponent on their own terms: he defended ‘Hollywood’. He defended, as I shall argue, the indefensible. He defended a system of production that is designed to subjugate the worker and prolong work itself, all in order to expand and enforce capitalism.

The ‘Hollywood’ that Riordan engages with does not exist. There is no unified force, no table of executives, no board of directors that creates films. But to say there is no ‘Hollywood’ is not to say there is no ‘culture industry’. Rather, the term Hollywood does not adequately or accurately describe the late capitalist emergence of manufactured culture; manufactured by and for those under capitalism in order to remedy the cultural chaos caused by, among other factors: the death of God, the dissolution of any precapitalistic restraints, and social and technological differentiation and specialisation. Such a system, as described by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, differentiates itself from the liberal notion of ‘Hollywood’, as the ‘culture industry’ is not a collection of production studios, but rather, production of culture itself. It is not conscious, nor reducible to the individual. ‘Hollywood’ is controlled by men, the ‘culture industry’ is controlled by the leviathan of late Capitalism: reducing all in its attempt to expand production.

The product of this system is the production of films for the purpose of ‘mass deception’ and uniform indoctrination, according to Adorno. Riordan describes a similar system himself:

“Hollywood is an industry, just like any other. It works on supply and demand: the smaller “sub-­studios” like Focus Features cater to an audience that wants smaller, more emotional, perhaps more specific experiences, where the bigger studios cater to a wider audience, as well as to those who want to see something that necessitates a huge budget.”

All tastes are catered for within the ‘culture industry’, but not because of supply and demand. To quote Adorno, “Something is provided for all so none may escape” (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2016, p.123). Riordan is correct in claiming that the totality of Hollywood is due to its capitalist structure, but wrong in assuming there is ‘demand’. The ‘culture industry’ is not driven by demand, there is no demand for the specific entertainment offered by the ‘culture industry’. No worker needs Toy Story, John Wick, or Love, Actually like they need food, medicine, shelter, etc. The worker seeks amusement, a distraction from the hell of late capitalism, and the culture industry provides it. “Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work” (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2016, p.137). The worker seeks distraction from his existence and turns to amusement rather than confronting his radical freedom and thus ability to change. He seeks a tranquiliser and the culture industry provides.

In doing so, the ‘culture industry’ no longer pretends to make art: “the people at the top are no longer concerned with concealing their monopoly … They call themselves industries; and when their directors’ incomes are published, any doubt of the social utility of their product is removed” (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2016, p.121). The ‘culture industry’ is merely an extension of the mechanics of late capitalism, which perpetuates its workforce and sustains it, as painkillers sustain a crippled man.

This claim may appear to be a wild Marxist conspiracy, written by a wild Marxist. Such an accusation is deeply offensive to me, as I am not a wrenched Marxist but an Anti-capitalist.

I couldn’t possibly hope to achieve a total description and deconstruction of the ‘culture industry’ within this piece, so instead I shall turn the reader’s attention to Chapter 5 of Dialectic of Enlightenment, The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.

Riordan’s piece came to the wrong conclusions, due to its being a response to the most pathetic and thoughtless cultural criticism imaginable. To say ‘the culture industry is incapable of producing art due to the profit motive eclipsing all intentions of meaningful expression and artistic creation’ is a fairly compelling argument (expanded on by Adorno) but to reduce this to the level of ‘Hollywood = Bad!’, well, on that I do sympathise with Riordan. It is a distraction from real analysis and inquiry.

This piece did not fully address whether Hollywood can produce good films or ‘art’, simply because such nebulous questions are almost impossible to answer and doing so would be tedious. Any definition of art is likely inadequate, as is any category of ‘good’. Rather, I expressed my feelings towards the ‘culture industry’ as an answer to the unspoken question, “what does ‘Hollywood’ do?”, hopefully correcting the otherwise pointless course of the dialogues surrounding ‘art and Hollywood’. The quality of the cinema the ‘culture industry’ produces should be as irrelevant to the consumer as it is to the producer, for ‘quality’ is merely a method of differentiation within a totalising system, which attempts to momentarily unify the schizophrenia of late capitalist signs within a product.

Britpop: The Story of British Politics and Society in the 1990s

Music, Society

Otis Platt

Much has been written of the British music phenomenon Britpop over the past 20 years. I argue that while Britpop started off as a reaction against the US grunge scene in way to promote a ‘British’ national identity based around working class grit, it became co-opted by capitalist marketing and the neoliberal agenda of New Labour. Using Benedict Anderson’s theory of “imagined communities”, along with E.P. Thompson’s concept of fluid social class, I will discuss how the “Britpop” phenomenon of mid-1990s Britain represented nostalgic British nationalism, I will look at three of the most well-known acts of the era: Oasis, Blur & Pulp during a time when their ideas were being called into question as problematic. After that I will detail how this popular alternative music subgenre was co-opted by capitalist marketing and nascent political forces (represented by Labour leader Tony Blair’s New Labour). In order to show this historical development and its socio-political contours I will begin by outlining the origins of Britpop in the early 1990s as a reaction against the influence on US Grunge.

Emphasis will be placed on how Britpop differed from Grunge and attempted to define itself in opposition to Grunge. I will chart the general history of Britpop to its decline in 1997 and the movement’s legacy to British music. The structural analysis will begin by outlining the representations of British nationalism inherent in the lyrics and music of Britpop bands such as Oasis, Blur and Pulp. This will include an analysis of the potentially problematic aspects of whether the nationalism of Britpop was simply nostalgic during a time when the reality of British identity was more complex. My final section will be on the attempted co-option of the Britpop genre by economic and political interests in the mid-to-late 1990s. This will show how the counter-cultural aspects of Britpop became just another aspect of neoliberal commodification and part of the new political establishment.

The History of Britpop

Britpop emerged as a musical phenomenon in Britain in the early 1990s. Historians point to the genre emerging after Blur embarked on a lengthy American tour in May 1992, which precipitated in them writing and recording an album about the Americanisation of Britain that November. The lead singer described British culture as being “under siege”, and that “We [Britons] should be proud of being British.” This change for Blur was the product of two factors. Firstly, Albarn listened repeatedly to English alternative records by the Specials, Madness, XTC, The Jam, and The Fall with his girlfriend Justine Frischmann, culminating with the band writing new songs on tour that told stories of English life. Secondly, much like in the USA, when the band returned home the UK music press was filled with American guitar bands like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. This only made Blur more determined to release Modern Life is Rubbish in a way that was stridently anti-American rock and pro-British pop. The band insisted that the resulting record was about British nostalgia over American importation. Albarn, according to Mike Smith, wanted to emphasise Britain’s rich Victorian-era musical tradition combined with the music of the 1960s and “come up with an articulate response to what had come from America.” Modern Life is Rubbish was released in May 1993 as Blur’s statement. The sixties influences of The Kinks was the ‘rubbish’ from the past that the band used to create its music. Thus, Britpop was born as a reaction to American grunge with a distinctly British twist.

In 1994 Blur released their second Britpop album, Parklife, with many of its 14 songs reflecting “Albarn’s claims to a bittersweet take on the UK’s human patchwork.” Parklife reached number one on the album charts. Nineteen Ninety-Four would also see Oasis release their first album, Definitely Maybe, a record with a profoundly Beatles influence. This group, led by Noel Gallagher, saw themselves as “proletarian sons of the soil, come to avenge music’s dependency on intellect and artifice.” This “proletarian swagger” of the Gallagher brothers would be something Damon Albarn and Blur would attempt to emulate, if unconvincingly. By the end of 1994, Noel urged British bands to stick together, in order to “go and break America.” However, 1995 saw the battle of the singles between Oasis’ “Roll With It” and Blur’s “Country House” (both released on 14 August) in the bid to get to number one on the charts. Musicians and the press often portrayed this battle as the middle-class southerners (Blur) versus the working-class northerners (Oasis). While Blur won this battle (reaching number one), Oasis won the war, due to the other songs off their second album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? achieving sustained sales in the US. The year 1995 also saw the release Pulp’s acclaimed album Different Class, the lead single of which (“Common People”) was a strident response to the “voyeurism on the part of the middle classes” of “a certain romanticism of working-class culture” in the words of singer Jarvis Cocker.

The year 1997 is considered the year Britpop declined in prominence. Many point to Blur’s self-titled album as a point of departure, where the English influences were traded in for American lo-fi influences (particularly Pavement) following a further stylistic change in 1996 spurred on by Albarn and Blur’s guitarist Graham Coxon. Ironically, the second single off Blur, “Song 2”, would become their biggest and most endearing hit. Additionally, Oasis’ third album Be Here Now has been identified as the moment the Britpop movement ended.

Britpop and British Nationalism

The Britpop movement had a strong emphasis on British nationalism. Ida Hølgo argued that “one of the reasons why British music and Britpop came into vogue was the change of focus from America and its rather depressive and self-pitying grunge, to music of a more positive character and lyrics about topics and concerns that were uniquely British and that British people could relate to.” Sociologist Andy Bennett argued: “music can work in a variety of ways to inform particular notions of nation and national identity.” Against industrial decline, high youth unemployment and an “increasing anxiety concerning the fate of national identity”, Britpop assisted with “the ‘magical recovery’ of British national identity.” In the 1990s there was much debate “about the kind of Britain that will emerge in the twenty-first century, and the problems upon putting forward any coherent notion of “Britishness”.” Britpop’s re-exploration of the themes and imagery contained in the songs of The Beatles, The Kinks and The Small Faces was postulated to be seen “as a nostalgic return of the past – harking back to a Britain that has been lost.”

Certainly, several of the songs of key Britpop acts fitted this trope. Blur were described in 1994 by journalist Cliff Jones as defining “a New Englishness”; “an attitude based not on a nostalgic Carry On Mr Kipling Britain, but a Britain you will recognise – the one you live in”. However, Bennett makes the point that the group’s video-clip to their 1994 song “Parklife” revisited “some of the themes and ideas concerning British life explored in the lyrics and music of 60s British bands.” The video explored the regional identity symbolised by Phil Daniels’ cockney accent, along with the virtues of simple working-class life (terraced streets and trips to the ice-cream man) that were so prevalent in the 1960s. However by the 1990s this was all done with a heavy dose of irony, with Bennett suggesting that the video harked back to “a ‘golden age’ of British life.” These concepts of British identity were also explored by Pulp.

Pulp’s video-clip to their song “Common People” was also replete with this new British nationalism of the 1990s. The Kitchen Sink social realism of the video evoked nostalgia to the 1950s and 1960s in a romanticist tone, reviving a class identity that was appearing to disappear by the 1990s. This was also a time when regional and national identities were more strongly felt, and the “Common People” video-clip went to great lengths to recapture this as much as the Blur video-clip did. It is argued that these representations form part of what Anderson calls an ‘imagined community’ of nationhood, as they are constructed in a way that reinforces an archetypal version of national identity that reinforces something which is imagined as “a deep, horizontal comradeship.”

At the time these representations of British identity were criticised as inauthentic. It was suggested that Britpop was glossing over the recent British social history of the racially turbulent 1970s and 1980s. It was seen as promoting a traditionalist view of British cultural identity through “flag-waving.” Jones argues that “[as] Britpop became the music that was seen as the preferred representation of British cultural identity, its ethos came to reflect and reinforce a nostalgic and chauvinist cultural turn which privileged whiteness and to a lesser extent maleness.” Retrospectives of the 1990s focusing on Britpop often ignore the success of socially, racially and sexually diverse and politically charged genres such as jungle and bhangra (electronic rather than guitar-based) that “engaged with and reflected contemporary concerns and anxieties rather than attempting to mould a self consciously nostalgic national identity that excluded large swathes of the country.”

However, this author takes the view along the lines of E.P. Thompson in that we should not judge the actions of the key players of Britpop, as their “aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience.” Additionally, people writing at the time believed that Britpop was not necessarily the Britain one recognised as the one they lived in, rather being one resource that young people chose to associate themselves with thanks to the cultural fragmentation that existed at the time. It was part of a pluralism of identity politics that meant one could take solace in “magical recovery” of traditionalism or embrace a new national identity that was more encompassing of multiculturalism. Both Britpop and South Asian Dance Music included all Britons regardless of race. Britpop was simply one version of national identity that coexisted “unproblematically alongside a range of other possible versions of national identity facilitated by an increasing musical and stylistic diversity within British youth culture.” Therefore, the criticism that Britpop was too white is unfounded.

Britpop’s Decline and Co-option by New Labour

The 1990s in Britain was a time of great consumerism. Britpop became one of “the most significant creative industries of the decade and became the shibboleth of cultural consumerism in Britain.” This became enhanced during the “Cool Britannia” period (1996-1998), where Tony Blair’s Labour Party used Britpop and its commercial consumption to great advantage by winning the 1997 General Election. In the lead up to the Election, Blair was portrayed as hip and cool, in contrast to the Conservatives. He even Noel Gallagher to Downing Street in an attempt to make the government likeable in popular (or populist) sense.

Once in government, Blair used Britpop as a means to an end with his socio-economic policies. Scholars have pointed out that Britpop “became increasingly acquiescent with, and deferential towards, the specific expressions of neoliberal triumphalism of the Blair years.” Navarro argues that New Labour successfully marketed Britpop through the politicisation of consumerism and the marketisation of popular culture that generated a cultural movement between 1996 and 1998 (“Cool Britannia”) by connecting politics with music, art and fashion. In endorsing “Cool Britannia”, Blair and his government “fostered a new conception of a young, dynamic and multicultural Britain by bringing pop culture to the foreground and activating a market-driven economy.” Once Blair won office, Noel Gallagher was appointed to his Creative Industries Task Force. This shows the close link between politics and the music industry in this period, emphasising Blair’s “favouring of a dynamic economy stimulated by culture industry.” Thus Britpop began to serve the neoliberal economics of Blair’s New Labour.

Conclusion

Britpop represented the cultural zeitgeist of 1990s Britain. While Britpop began as a reaction against Grunge, affirming a sense of British nationalism and working-class identity in the process, however, this movement became co-opted by political interests. Its use in politics by the Labour Party ensured Tony Blair’s ascension to Number 10 and emboldened a neoliberal consensus across both sides of British politics.

While it came to reflect the neoliberalisation of British politics, I argue that Britpop did not represent an exclusionary and nostalgic British national identity – it did quite the opposite. It was one cog in a pluralistic conception of national identity, one section of the imagined community of 1990s Britain. Britpop’s co-option by commerce coincided with its use in New Labour’s election strategy, along with the movement’s musical decline. By the end of “Cool Britannia” the party was over.

The Ageism Epidemic

Australia, Philosophy, Politics, Society

Lachlan Green

Disclaimer: Names have been changed at the request of those involved for the sake of privacy and dignity.

Jodie is an incredibly talented artist. Her rural landscapes dot the walls of her villa and her bedroom. The intricate details of the country settings are made even more incredible when it is discovered that all the locations are painted from Jodie’s own memory. Her modesty means she adamantly refuses to take any compliments about the works, preferring instead to criticise the tiny imperfections that only an artist can see.

Jodie is also in her late-70s and living in a residential aged care facility. In fact, her talent for painting wasn’t uncovered until she had her first art therapy session in the facility, in which she showed off a talent she hadn’t explored at all through the years. A major part of Jodie’s life has been her involvement in her local rugby league club, where she was heavily involved in team management and business operations for many decades. She maintains an undying love for her footy team, and frequent visits to the club show that she’s still a familiar face and her significant contributions are often celebrated.

On one standard Tuesday, Jodie had to catch a taxi into Brisbane city for a regular hospital appointment. When the taxi arrived, Jodie saw that it was a larger, van style, Maxi Taxi. Due to age-related complications, Jodie has limited mobility. On this particular day, the taxi driver refused to call Jodie a smaller taxi and refused to assist Jodie into the back of the taxi. After some time, Jodie hauled herself into the back of the cab and they were off.

On arrival to the hospital, the taxi driver remarked that she was slower than most people and asked her to get out of his vehicle. Jodie sat for a moment and asked once again for assistance, this time, clearly upset with the time all of this was taking – the driver finally agreed. Briskly opening the side door, grabbing Jodie roughly on both arms, and applying enough pressure to make Jodie feel like she was being pulled out onto the road. Jodie showed me the grab marks on her bruised arm that persisted. Jodie made one comment to the driver before leaving, “When you’re my age, I hope that no-one treats you the way you have treated me.”

While a more extreme example, this is just one way that ageism (age-related discrimination) manifests in our society. Ageism is surprisingly rife in western society and although many people would claim it does not affect their daily thinking, it pervades culture in interesting and unrecognised ways. Simple, “harmless” generalisations about older generations and assumptions about older peoples’ abilities are basic ways in which discrimination manifests and paves the way for more sinister forms of ageism. For instance, the taxi driver’s intolerance of Jodie’s impaired mobility could most likely be attributed to a sub-conscious belief that, as a younger person, he was superior to her. Current ideas regarding ageing implicitly perpetuated in the West centre around people becoming less capable and more worthless as they grow older. This is demonstrated by the countless stories of people unable to find work once they get to the later stage of the “middle-aged” bracket.

Of course, the most extreme manifestation of ageism is elder abuse, one of the most globally prevalent forms of abuse. Elder abuse merits an article to itself, but it is safe to say that stories of physical, sexual, financial and psychological abuse and neglect are not hard to find. Evidently, the mindset of many perpetrators of elder abuse is based in ageist stereotypes and judgements of the older victims.

As with other forms of discrimination, ageism can be questioned philosophically. The big question is, what part of human reasoning causes ageism? Many people have provided a range of answers, all of which probably hold some degree of truth. Some would say that the common perception that older people are a ‘drain’ on society and on public resources, causes people to treat older people with disregard. Yet, this perception itself is inherently ageist. Many older people do contribute economically and the generalisation that all older people do not serve any purpose in society is central to the problem of ageism (and is nothing more than a gross stereotype). In fact, in many instances where older people are not contributing, it is because of younger people in the workforce refusing to work with them.

Another interesting, and perhaps more philosophical answer would be that older people are treated poorly because of a human fear of growing old. While I am not in any place to deny or confirm that answer, I do not see fear as a valid reason to treat someone as less than oneself.

The story of Jodie is not unique, it’s not even especially remarkable. The taxi driver was reported and is pending disciplinary action. Jodie claims that she’s okay but she has stated, “I don’t feel like I’m comfortable going out on my own anymore.” Yet, it’s the words that follow that floor me, and in the many instances of ageism that I’ve been informed of over the last 4 years of working in, or close to, the aged care industry, these words always seem to follow. “Don’t worry, it’s just how it is.”

Works Cited

https://www.humanrights.gov.au/face-facts-older-australians#fn7

http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Previousproducts/3222.0Main%20Features12006%20to%202101?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=3222.0&issue=2006%20to%202101&num=&view=

http://www.agediscrimination.info/international/

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs381/en/

Gentrification or Urban Renewal? Brisbane’s Cultural Hubs at Risk of Homogenisation

Australia, Brisbane, Council, Society

Toby Rowen

Shortly after Premier Campbell Newman rolled out his ‘New World City’ plans for Brisbane in 2009, Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk commissioned his twenty year Economic Development Plan. The chief goal of the plan was to, rather optimistically, transform Brisbane into a ‘top-ten lifestyle city’ and bring over 300 000 jobs to the region by 2031. Additionally, the development plan predicted a population boom: over 800 000 new residents in the next 20 years, coupled with 150 000 new dwellings within the Brisbane metropolitan area, particularly in the inner city suburbs. The Brisbane City Council, in partnership with the State Government, appear to be committed to transforming Brisbane in accordance to its New World City ideal, tabling their 12.4 billion-dollar plans for seven mega-developments including the Queen’s Wharf Casino.

Such mega-developments are emblematic of the so-called ‘urban renewal’ already occurring throughout many of the historically working-class culture hubs of inner city Brisbane. Naturally, an increase in population begets an increase in housing infrastructure. However, given the demographic employment swing from labour-based jobs to professional and creative careers over the past few decades, higher demand for upper-market housing solutions in culturally significant locations close to the city centre have spiked property prices and created an opening for infrastructure developments by investors. What does this mean for the original residents in such areas, and for the fabric of the city as a whole?

West End, where the population is set to quadruple in the next 20 years as a result of government urban consolidation policies, is perhaps at the forefront of Brisbane’s urban renewal versus gentrification debate. Dr Peter Walters, an urban sociologist and researcher for the University of Queensland, says that West End is unique in that it’s experiencing what he deemed “the classic gentrification process”.

“Stage one is where students and artists and musicians – so renters, basically – move into an area,” he says. This demographic, given their lack of economic influence, don’t really affect an area too much in terms of “development and commodification of space”, however they do, according to Dr Walters, start to “affect the culture”. Once an area has been made “cool and hip” by this demographic, affluent professional couples start to move in and buy and renovate houses, triggering a sweeping demographical change and shift in retail. “This is the point where property values continue to increase to the point where the abstract capital starts to come in like property developers,” says Dr Walters. This process describes what Dr Walters refers to as “bottom-up gentrification – carried out by owner-occupiers, interested in preserving the heritage value of existing working-class properties”.

This differs from “top-down” gentrification, which has also begun to occur within West End. A 2014 case study of West End and its gentrification, authored by Dr Walters, found that “architecturally unsympathetic and opportunistic developer-led house demolitions and rebuilds” are, quite literally, on the rise in the area – which the study suggests “is simply  an exercise in the re-zoning of former industrial sites for market-led high-density residential development” with little commitment to social, cultural and recreational factors.

Dr Natalie Osbourne, whose primary work revolves around urban planning and critical human geography, says Brisbane is seeing more ‘top-down’ gentrification, such as West End’s West Village – marketed as “a picturesque residential and lifestyle village set against the historic backdrop of the old Peters Ice Cream Factory”. Deputy Premier Jackie Trad approved the West Village developers to build nine towers of up to 22 storeys when the site was originally zoned for a maximum of 15 storeys. “The West Village development is symbolic of a top-down gentrification process; a large development, considered out-of-scale and intrusive by many local residents, disrupting and destroying some beloved spaces and uses, and replacing them with apartments and retail out of the reach of many existing residents,” says Dr Osbourne.

The ‘out-of-reach’ nature of such developments don’t just mean original residents are unable to pursue property in the area or make full use of the public space; it also directly contributes to their marginalisation and in many cases, displacement. A joint study conducted by RMIT University and the University of Queensland found that West End’s ‘‘top-down’’ gentrification process “led by capital and the state planning policies” ultimately introduced policies that were in favour of urban consolidation to concentrate the population. The study found that the arrival of higher income households and the resulting spike in property prices and rental rates forced lower income households, particularly tenants, to relocate to more inexpensive pastures – usually the outer suburbs.

Greens Councillor for the Gabba Ward, Jonathan Sri, says the study is just “one of thousands of case studies around the world, all proving what we already know: gentrification and its associated negative effects is encouraged by the treatment of housing as a commodity for speculative profiteering”. Cr Sri, who has been vociferous in his condemnations of both the West Village and the Queen’s Wharf Casino developments, says gentrification “tends to exacerbate class stratification, with poorer people concentrated in low-status suburbs that are underserved by essential infrastructure, and wealthier residents concentrated in well-designed suburbs, usually closer to the city centre”.  According to Cr Sri, this means a “skewed” view of social realities is developed alongside a “loss of empathy” for people of different demographics and backgrounds. It also “undermines the cultural vibrancy of a city by reducing cross-pollination and collaboration between different social groups and sub-cultures,” he added.

Dr Erin Evans, GP by day and president of the West End Community Organisation by night, says the West End she knew and grew up in is “being torn apart right before my very eyes”.

“Increasing rent and property prices in both residential and commercial sectors has changed the accessibility for many West Ender’s: there is wholesale displacement of many types of people – musicians, artists, students, the homeless and working-class – who have lived here but can no longer afford to,” Dr Evans says. Single parent and low-income households have also failed to escape the grip of gentrification, which Dr Evans says has resulted in “a loss of diversity in the community, as most new occupants – residents or business owners – come from a similar situation and background”.

“The existing culture here is focused on diversity and tolerance,” says Dr Evans. She describes community members as “anxious,” increasingly living with less certainty that they will have affordable accommodation in the future. Residents worry West End will lose its vibrant alternative culture: “Street art becomes vandalism pretty quickly as an area gentrifies,” says Dr Evans.

Dr Osbourne says social stratification and the homogenisation of former culture hubs such as West End may “break down social networks” as people leave their neighbourhoods. According to Dr Osbourne, people may lose access to community spaces and infrastructure that have been important to their social life, sense of belonging, and wellbeing. They may lose track of people and hobbies, and may have to face longer and more expensive transports. She posits that gentrification may be an example of “collective trauma”, which describes a kind of damage inflicted on the social fabric of a community, which may include a “loss of shared identity, the fracturing of relationships, and a weakening of civil society”.

“Gentrification, particularly the displacement it is associated with, can contribute to the sense of alienation that many feel in modern cities – where people don’t know their neighbours, where they don’t feel connected to the place they live in, its history, its environment or people,” Dr Osbourne says. Gentrification, especially top-down driven expansion that emphasises large-scale redevelopment projects, can have a “homogenising effect on the urban landscape – in terms of people, in terms of design, and in terms of commercial activity.” In addition to “displacing people and destroying homes”, a gentrified area runs the risk of being “a little dull”.

“Cities allow diversity to happen,” says Dr Walters. “If you get rid of that in your city, you’re getting rid of a very important part of what makes a city a ‘city’. People who have different lifestyles, sexual preferences, cultural tastes and political views – they need space,” explains Dr Walters. He warns that if cultural hubs have their diversity extricated “you end up with a homogenous city – a boring, nothing, vanilla city”.

While the State Government and the Brisbane City Council continue marketing Brisbane as a ‘New World City’, one can’t help but think the approach may be slightly counter-intuitive. When the destruction of all that makes a city interesting – culture, diversity, art, heritage and the weird and wacky – ensues, questions are raised regarding how the city markets itself as special in the first place. Expensive buildings certainly aren’t anything ‘special’ – flagrant displays of vast capital accumulation are, after all, a pillar of neoliberal Western society. Realistically, it would seem the gentrification versus ‘urban renewal’ battle is an ideological one at its core: the intrinsic relationship between capital and political power buttressing the prioritisation of profits over people.