The Not So Good Earth For a while there we had 25-inch Chinese peasant families famishing in comfort on the 25-inch screen and even Uncle Billy whose eyesight’s going fast by hunching up real close to the convex glass could just about make them out–the riot scene in the capital city for example he saw that better than anything, using the contrast knob to bring them up dark–all those screaming faces and bodies going under the horses’ hooves–he did a terrific job on that bit, not so successful though on the quieter parts where they’re just starving away igging for roots in the not-so-good earth cooking up a mess of old clay and coming out with all those Confucian analects to everybody’s considerable satisfaction (if I remember rightly Grandmother dies with naturally a suspenseful break in the action for a full symphony orchestra plug for Craven A neat as a whistle probably damn glad to be quit of the whole gang with their marvelous patience. ) 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, iping out in a blue flash and curlicue of smoke 600 million Chinese without a trace… The title contains “not-so-good” describing the contents of the poem, which is a negative adjective compound. It is a parody of the book “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck, which is about the good times, values and Chinese proverbs. The phrase “For a while there” shows how Western society is apathetic towards the Chinese. “25-inch Chinese peasant families” explains that the characters in the poem are watching a 25-inch screen television. “famishing in comfort” is a juxtaposition in line two, whose comfort?
Certainly not the Chinese. In line four “convex glass” relates to the television. Dashes “-” in the first nine lines represent changes in tone of language and persona of the narrator. “He saw that better than anything”-there is more concern for Uncle Billy being able to see what’s happening than what is actually happening. In line 11, the main character is bored by the part “where they’re just starving away”, this shows his lack of compassion for their situation. “Confucian analects” – Chinese philosopher. Analects are proverbs and/or homely wise sayings.
In line 21 “it” represents the television. From line 21 onwards they seem to be more worried about the television breaking than they do about the real life tragedy of the deaths of so many Chinese peasant families. Line 25 (the last line) concludes with the phrase “600 million Chinese without a trace… ” this portrays the complacency of western society in the way that they don’t realize there is life beyond their own lives, they are so immersed in themselves, that they think that this reportage is only for entertainment and once the television brakes the scene just goes off air.
Floating in the midst of reality displayed on the television, and the artificial world which our mind creates to block out the poverty and suffering that we are not directly involved with. Throughout the poem the media promotes death scenes and action, while blunting the emotional impact of reality. Dawe uses many colloquialisms “to be quit of the whole gang” this express the general laid back style of the poem. Tone: Dawe maintains the tension between humor and seriousness.
The Not-so-good Earth (1966) Like ‘Televistas’ this poem is centred on the common place activity of watching television. It is a concept totally within the audience’s experience. Television in our consumer society is our prime source of information and entertainment. Often the two become confused: lives and human tragedy are considered a product, something that will engender interest and thereby generate revenue. The greater the suffering, the more successful the program and the greater market share.
Dawe is concerned that we have become desensitised to human suffering because it is presented to us as entertainment: a product rather than an issue. The irony is that we have become emotionally distanced from reality even though the world enters our homes via television. The title and the film description are references to ‘The Good Earth” based on a novel by Pearl Buck. Set during the Japanese advance on China during the late 1930s, it contains ideas that the land sustains life and that suffering is rewarded.
This poem describes a family viewing the film, complete with the advertisements, and their reaction (or rather, lack of) to it. They never actually see the end as the father trips over the cord in the darkened room. It is a very satirical poem that creates black humour. Through the characters’ complete insensitivity and absence of either empathy or sympathy, Dawe expresses amazement at the complacency of people in our society. There is continual tension between the humour and the seriousness of what is described.
For instance, Uncle Billy’s sight problems are comical but Dawe’s biting satire is evident by its juxtaposition to the riot scene’s seriousness he is straining to see. The uncle’s triviality is as obvious as the insensitivity of the watchers. Modern man is more concerned with superficial appearances, ‘using the contrast knob to bring them up dark’, the ‘mess of old clay’ that is dinner, than in meanings attached to them. There seems an inability to comprehend the events as having happened to real people.
The narrator is used to suggest modern man is apathetic and completely self absorbed. He is revealed as such by his inability to comprehend the implication of his comments. He speaks about the Chinese ‘famishing in comfort on the 25-inch screen’. The paradox is clear to the audience. The reference to the ‘terrific job’ on the ‘screaming faces and bodies going under the horses’ hooves’ reveals a similar insensitivity. The lack of punctuation helps create the idea that society does not pause to consider the reality of other people’s suffering.
Instead, like the narrator, we just move quickly onto the next item of information. Here Dawe mocks the movie’s idea that suffering reaps reward: how can it if nobody even notices? The fact the narrator does not seem at all concerned about what happened in the unseen ending further demonstrates his lack of engagement. The ‘blue flash’ eliminating the picture represents how quickly the situation has been forgotten. The blank screen and the ‘dead’ set may symbolise modern peoples’ inability to empathise with others. Our concerns are trite and centred on ourselves.
We’re indifferent to the suffering of others and view it only as a source of entertainment. Dawe also suggests that the media nurtures this insensitivity. It is ironic that in an age (thanks to the media)where people know far more about what happens all over the world that people seem to care little beyond their own insular world. There is a sense of confusion between reality and fiction. It is ironic that advertisements for luxury indulgences like ‘Craven A’ cigarettes have been interjected into what should be deeply moving moments of the film.
The advertisement is described as having a ‘full symphony orchestra’ which is a farcical contrast to the grandmother’s death. The media does not treat tragedy as real and this blunts society’s reactions and emotional involvement. Linked to both these ideas is the way people distance themselves from unpleasantness and shirk responsibility. Dawe’s use of the aside'( if I remember rightly.. )’ implies that the narrator deliberately avoids discussion of the seriousness of the movie’s events. Not-so-good-Earth’ is a clever poem that maintains the audience’s interest. It is colloquial, using everyday expressions like ‘For a while there’, ‘a terrific job’ and ‘probably damn glad’. This makes it very accessible. It is also personal with the use of the first person. It is, at least at first glance, humorous, but the humour darkens as the poem progresses. The title is a pun, referring both to the movie and our modern society. Overall, whilst the events are clearly exaggerated, they stimulate the audience to evaluate their own attitudes.