Nick Young’s bookshelf

Reviews of Books, Films and More

Bookshelf

A more nuanced battle of the sexes

March 16, 2010 - 8:00am -- Nick Young

‘The Boys Are Back’ (Dir: Scott Hicks; Screnplay: Simon Carr, Allan Cubbit; Screen Australia, November 2009) Twenty years ago Adrian Lyne’s film Fatal Attraction (1987) offered a reminder of Eve’s role in the destruction of earthly paradise. Women, it warned us, prey on the natural innocence of men and if you don’t watch out they will bust your balls and boil your kid’s pet rabbit alive. Widely acclaimed as ‘slick’ and ‘classy’, this was the 1980s’ clearest cinematic expression of heterosexual male fear and resentment of the object of desire. The Boys Are Back is a more thoughtful and provocative piece by far—a study in male virtue not only overcoming emotional adversity but finding fulfilment beyond the civilizing grip of petticoats. Thrown in for good measure is the more predictable sub-theme that Australia is a less suffocating place than stuffy old England.

A world without bad guys

November 20, 2009 - 9:00am -- Nick Young

I come a decade late to the American political drama-soap, The West Wing, and regret taking so long to catch a show that is as captivating as Star Trek, which had me glued to the TV set 40 years ago.

The star ship Enterprise spent the Cold War zipping about the universe fighting evil, but it was not that which made it compelling so much as the informal camaraderie of its egalitarian and inclusive crew—a Russian, a Japanese, a Scotsman, a black woman with long legs, and a cute alien with pointy ears—all, of course, under American captaincy. It offered a brilliant, if distinctly narcissistic, vision of what American world leadership would be like. The BBC’s best home-grown rival offering at the time was Doctor Who—still going strong—about an old bloke who travels round the universe with a young woman assistant in a 1960s police box. It was a post-imperial eccentricity that would not sell well beyond Dover.

West Wing, I now see, boldly went where TV seldom went before: into a universe where audiences are presumed to include intelligent life.

Africa bites back

May 14, 2009 - 9:00am -- Nick Young


‘Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa’ by Dambisa Moyo, 2009 Allen Lane, London, 188 pp.

‘Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror’ by Mahmood Mamdani, 2009 Verso, London, 398 pp.

Dead Aid contains little original thinking but it is new and refreshing to find aid scepticism synthesised by an African woman with a big brain and a voice that is loud and clear: “Aid has become a cultural commodity. Millions march for it. Governments are judged by it. But has more than US$ 1 trillion in development assistance over the last several decades made African people better off? No.”

Fat-middle elites, civil society and the nation state

April 21, 2009 - 9:00am -- Nick Young


‘Africa Since Independence: A Comparative History’
Paul Nugent
2004, Palgrave Macmillan (Basingtoke and New York) 620 pp.

It takes a brave historian to write about the recent past and an ambitious one to span an entire continent. (This portrait is in fact confined to sub-Saharan Africa but that still encompasses vast environmental and cultural diversity.) Paul Nugent, a Reader in African History at the University of Edinburgh, marches on boldly—for the sake, he says, of “the student and the general reader” (p. 5)—and gives us an impressively compendious work, packed with process-specific case studies from numerous countries.

It is not long, however, before he stumbles into pitfalls that he himself flags at the outset. One problem is that, compared to the breadth of the title, the approach is rather narrow. This is principally a work of political history, the story of the struggle for and practice of power. Within a few score pages the reader is hard put to cope with the growing cast of named actors—individuals, political parties, movements—across the continent. Yet we get less feel for the varied and changing social and cultural life lying behind the names and organisational forms, or for the ways in which power in Africa is understood and legitimated, although these are among the under-the-skin complexities that a non-African student or general reader may well find the hardest to grasp.

Catholic fundamentalism is institutionally rational

February 10, 2009 - 9:00am -- Nick Young

This review has been reprinted (June 2010) on the inter-faith Patheos website.

‘Doubt’
Director: John Patrick Shanley
Screenplay: John Patrick Shanley
Miramax Films, 2008

Pope Benedict’s remarks to the Curia at the end of 2008 deploring the tendency of social gender theories to promote “emancipation of man from creation and the creator” drew predictable scorn from secular liberals and disappointment from Catholics who would like to see the Roman church remade in a 21st century image. (Benedict did not, actually, say that homosexuality was as great a threat to humanity as global warming, but that tabloidification of his message is what appears to have stuck.)

More cunning than gorgeous or shocking

January 31, 2009 - 9:00am -- Nick Young

‘Marrying Buddha’
(Zhou) Wei Hui
2005 Constable and Robinson (London) 248 pp.

Trivial, narcissistic trash. I picked up a copy of this because I had been too busy to catch the author’s 2000 international bestseller, ‘Shanghai Baby’ (six million copies sold in 34 languages according to Wikipedia) and was curious to see what all the fuss had been about; but I couldn’t get past page 23 of this, it is so awful.

Teen girl power comes of age

October 6, 2008 - 12:00am -- Nick Young


‘Juno’
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Fox Searchlight, 2007

Teen girl power has grown up with this film. Before, American TV had given us shows like ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ (1997-2003) in which teenage girls assumed dynamic, leadership roles and knew stuff that adults didn’t. The grown-ups were the innocents whilst the youngsters inhabited the ‘real’ world; yet the daft plot-lines made it all, well, puerile. Still, Buffy and other teen TV and film protagonists were emotionally and linguistically adult, clearly sexual although not yet having sex; and this was a lot edgier than, say, the 1980s Walt Disney universe of girls rehearsing for human relationships by becoming besotted with animals.

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