From's Sydney office


The first in an occasional series from New Matilda staff

This month’s Vanity Fair (the ‘Martha Stewart Version 2.1’ issue) announces their 2005 essay contest: What’s on the minds of America’s youth today? A noble question but the sub text is a concern: ‘More than 30 years ago, young people across the country staged sit-ins for civil rights, got up and protested against a misguided, undeclared war, and actually gave a damn if the president lied to them…Today it seems as if younger Americans are content to watch their MTV, fiddle with their game players, follow the lives of Brad, Jen, Jessica, and assume the hard work is being done for them by others.’ They’ve already lost their audience with the MTV reference.

First prize? $US15,000, a week at another Tuscan writers retreat and a Montblanc Meisterstuck 149 fountain pen. Hello, a pen? What would any funky-finger-on-the-pulse 20-something do with a Montblanc? Frame it or sell it on eBay?

In the US today they are busy listening to their iPods, emailing on their Blackberries and paying close attention to Jessica Simpson (if you are unsure who she is, don’t embarrass yourself by asking).

Thanks to Scratch

Thanks to Scratch

The mindless trivialities of youth? No, Americans young AND old are absorbed in these pursuits. Young Jessica was recently marketed in GQ Magazine with a stars and stripes bikini erupting out of unzipped combat fatigues. The byline: ‘God I love this country’. She dwells just as curvaceously on the radar of the middle-aged white male as their younger counterparts.

Similarly, New Matilda is concerned with what young Australians are thinking today. We’re not about to announce a lavish contest but we have been working at ways to amplify young Australian voices. The biggest hurdle may lie in falling for generalisations: ‘today’s youth think this’…’young people are only interested in that …’

Believe it or not, they aren’t a single species, and as fellow human beings have multiple views and interests. Each week New Matilda averages two contributors to the Magazine who are under-30 but we want to hear from more.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are real and being felt by families, work colleagues and friends throughout America. But footage of war is more readily available at the local Game Spot video game store.

America has always shown little interest in the rest of the world. It seems that present day America is becoming more isolationist, and even more conforming. Pre-9/11 evokes enormous sentimentality, a supposed era of trust and understanding. And in this climate, what hope is there for American youth to rebel with their own Kent State?

Retail America seems to have a looped soundtrack of Billy Joel and Manhattan Transfer. Gourmet America has reached ever new heights in delicacies with the introduction of ‘Cherry Flavored Dried Cranberries’ and Media America is almost unwatchable, but for the vain hope that in the next news hour they will ‘dumb-it up’. But it never happens. Long Island TV News reported the re-design for the Freedom Tower as "more squarer".

Vanity Fair is obviously concerned and their columnist James Wolcott is even more so. His piece in this months issue is a brilliant account of the media failure on Iraq and the nation’s lack of interest. His blog is also worth a look.

The wonder of America is that despite the vanilla mainstream, it does still create: writing (Cintra Wilson or Freakenomics), film (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), music (any genre). And cherry flavours aside, gastronomically, they are hard to beat. Week after week, New Matilda’s recommended links pages are filled with sites of progressive Americans (young AND old) fighting the Administration, the Media and challenging public animosity. Guess we aren’t really that different after all.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.