Bruce Dawes poems explore the impacts of consumer culture and are an indictment of the growing materialism in modern society. In Enter Without So Much As Knocking (1962), Dawe portrays a world dominated by consumerism, which has lead to `conformity, and eroded the individuality of many people. The idea that our view of the world can only be seen through television and that our experience of life is restricted and controlled by it is highlighted in the satirical poem, Tele Vistas.(1977) This idea is revisited in The Not So Good Earth.(1966) Television in consumer society is the prime source of information and entertainment. Dawe expresses his concern that we have become desensitized to human suffering because it is presented to us as entertainment.
The central message of the satirical poem Enter Without So Much As Knocking by Bruce Dawe is that “you are dust and unto dust you shall return”. Dawe’s biblical allusion emphasizes that it doesn’t matter how many consumer items and materialistic things are bought, everybody ends up the same way, back to dust again. Society is portrayed as the product of the consumer age and human life is determined as a by-product, lacking in real value and soon rendered obsolete. Dawe suggests that contemporary society is false and superficial. The intertextual reference to ‘Bobby Dazzler’ epitomizes this: an empty smile behind the welcoming façade reinforced through the superficial cliché “all you lucky people” undercut by Dawe’s mocking tone in “and he really was lucky because it didn’t mean a thing to him”.
The family is defined in terms of what they look like in advertising jargon: the mother is ‘economy size’. Consumerism now defines identity or lack of individuality. This brings the idea that in order to belong to a consumer based society, the individual must conform. This idea is reinforced through negative listing in “he was old enough to be realistic like every other godless money-hungry back-stabbing miserable so-and-so”. The derogatory labeling is a clichéd reference to the gossiping and derisive comments that characterize the materialistic culture Dawe is criticizing in his poem.
Tele vistas (1977) is another satirical poem where humans are identified on the terms of brand names of communication companies, “ Sanyo-orientated, Rank-Arena bred”. This use of metaphor reinforces how identity is shaped by consumer culture – their character/personalization is determined by their choice of technology. The modern god is television and its viewing content is being satirized heavily by Dawe. This poem thoroughly ridicules the dominance of television media in our lives. Reality is defined by media constructs – relationships and human conversation comes second.
Through Dawe’s indictment of consumer culture, he raises the issue that modern society lacks identity, individuality and purpose and that contemporary Australians are typically co-dependent on television for basic human interaction, ”a faulty tube led to their meeting”. The romantic cliche’s juxtaposed with references to television suggest that the relationship of the couple would not have occurred without TV. The demise of the relationship is foreshadowed through the juxtaposition of ‘ever-faithful’ with an alliterative metaphoric reference to ‘’World at War’ in the final lines of the poem. Dawe suggests that relationships built on shared consumerism are ultimately shallow and unstable.
The Not So Good Earth, like Tele Vistas, is centered on the commonplace activity of watching television. Dawe expresses his concern that individuals have become desensitized to human suffering because it is presented as entertainment. Vivid imagery of human suffering is juxtaposed with the upbeat tone to describe the satisfaction achieved by a good quality picture. This is made evident through the phrase, “using the contrast knob to bring them up dark, all those screaming faces”. Life footage is depicted as a product like a movie to be judged on its value to the consumer through, “on the quieter parts where they’re just starving away”. It is a very satirical poem that creates black humor.
Through the characters’ complete insensitivity and absence of either empathy or sympathy, Dawe expresses amazement at the complacency of people in our society. A metaphoric and satirical reference is made by the poet commenting on the destruction of less privileged communities “We never did find out how it finished up… Dad at this stage tripped over the main lead in the dark, hauling the whole set down smack on its inscrutable face, 600 million Chinese without a trace…”. The light tone that focuses on the loss of the TV trivializes the loss of life referred to in these lines. By adopting the voice of a consumer Dawe parodies consumer culture and exposes the insensitivity that accompanies shallow materialistic values.
Enter Without So Much As Knocking (1962)outlines how consumer culture has eroded the individuality of people. This is also evident in Tele Vistas (1977) as Dawe portrays that life can only be seen through a television screen, not through common encounters. The Not So Good Earth (1966)is a very satirical poem that creates black humor through the idea that society has become desensitized to human suffering due to consumerism.