Thursday, June 18, 2009

The funniest thing Tracy Ullman ever did?

Would it be wrong to suggest that the two week ‘resting’ of The Chaser’s War on Everything and its replacement with Tracey Ullman's State of the Union, confirms that the funniest thing Tracy Ullman ever did for television was commissioning The Simpsons shorts back in 1987?

, ,, .

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A new strapline for Canberra

One of the alternative straplines* for Canberra I’ve been trying to encourage is, “Canberra - where the middle-class lost their manners”. It’s a touch more peppy than the Canberra Tourism and Events Corporation’s “See for yourself” tag, usually rendered in the sort of scribbly typeface that suggests the office manager has just bought new fonts for their iMac.

For a city that claims more university educated inhabitants as a percentage of the population than anywhere else in the country, Canberra, on the evidence of the roads and footpaths, is also home to many folk who don’t readily know left from right. Combine this with a steady state mantra of “I shall not be inconvenienced” and the ACT can resemble a movable bird hide, showcasing boorish behaviour by people who, as my peach-fuzz cheeked old grandmother used to say, ‘ought to bloody well know better’.

Case in point, Kingston last Friday afternoon. I’m stopped at the seat near the Vietnamese bakery to stow a bottle of Hanwood Chardonnay La Chablisienne Chablis into my bag and spot a middle-aged woman helping a frail, elderly woman, to cross Giles street. I spend some time duck diving into the bag, trying to make sure nothing gets squashed, when voices are raised.

A box-headed bloke in his early forties yells across the road at the women, who by this point are heading to the chemist, “And what does that have to do with you being an idiot!” At a guess I’d say Mr Box-head didn’t get the park he wanted.

The middle-aged woman continued to shepherd the old lady into the chemist and without a word, or a backward glance, deftly flips him the bird.
“Fucking moron!” bawls Boxy by way of reply, and then stomps into Artespresso... followed by a kid who looked about eight or nine years old and probably had the bad luck to be closely related to him.

I'd suggest the next time somebody complains to you about kids today or Gen Ys having no manners, you might point out some parents aren’t really setting the bar all that high. And if you do spot a dinky, bright red BMW, rego number YEW 27P, give the driver a big wave. He shouldn’t be too hard to spot - a cubist-style head, anger management issues and a complexion the same colour as his car.

*Along with the slogans Bill Bryson came up with in Down Under when he got pissed at the Rex: “Canberra - There’s Nothing to It!” and “Canberra - Why Wait for Death?”

, ,, .

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Duthie first casualty of war on everything (Ver 2)

The ABC's Amanda Duthie has been removed from her position as head of TV comedy because of the controversy surrounding The Chaser's Make a Realistic Wish sketch. The announcement was made by the Corporation's always reasonable managing director Mark Scott. Report is here. Duthie will continue to be responsible for arts and entertainment programs.

I made a comment at the ABC news site, in my best non-Angry of Mayfair* voice, querying why, given the program's history of offending the permanently sensitive, head of content Courtney Gibson hadn't run the rule over the episode (or for that matter Kim Dalton, but I'm guessing he had his hands full, automating another newsroom or outsourcing ABC editorial to Pagemasters or some such).

...At which point, after bashing out those hastily arranged electrons, I left this post yesterday . Couple of more things that I didn't originally make clear. Given my views on the skit and the complaints about it, the fact someone needs to be found responsible and punished seems vaguely ludicrous. However, changing Duthie's job title is not so much a punishment but a fairly shallow attempt at being seen to do something. I suspect it has less to do with the public outcry and more to do with boardroom pressure. Dicking with Duthie's job title is also a bad move because it sets a precedent.

Last year Duthie and Gibson were interviewed by Greg Callaghan of The Australian for an article entitled The Power of Two. Towards the end of the article Callaghan quoted Gibson:

Does it bother Gibson and Duthie when popular shows such as Kath & Kim – shows that have been carefully nurtured by the ABC – sell out to the commercial networks? Or scare them when rumours fly, as they did last year, about The Chaser meeting Seven Network brass? “We were probably ready to let Kath & Kim go,” Gibson concedes. “I would be very sorry to lose The Chaser, as it would almost certainly mean they would have to make creative compromises to fit in with the rules of a commercial network.”

It seems to fit in with the ABC there are now similar creative compromises to be made. And I'm just foolish enough to think this is not such a good thing.

*although I did end with the line that Gibson, Dalton and Scott seem to have mastered the first and most important rule of management: 'cover your arse'. Will try better next time.

, ,,, .

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Queen's Birthday long weekend 1990

You’re in the Book Grocer at Kingston trying to decide whether you don’t have time to read the Sebastian Faulks Bond remix or Mark Twain’s adventures in Australia when Throw Your Arms Around Me starts playing softly over the sound system.

You wonder whether there's an Australian over the age of 35 who doesn't think of an old flame when they hear this song. You remember when you were younger, hairier and much less self-aware.

But most of all you remember her.

You met in 1989 in Alice Springs, she was an accountant working for the NT office of a large east coast firm but her goofy charm crunched through your brittle sense of cool. You couldn't help but like her, and you suavely expressed this by attempting to alternatively tease and patronise her.

Apart from that you said nothing. Except months later, when she danced with Les, the station’s resident sleazy salesman. You sounded like a dad and she couldn’t manage to keep a straight face.

The two of you had a few mutual friends and kept running into each other but it was still a complete surprise when she said she wanted to sleep with you. Your chest puffed out like a prematurely deployed airbag while you tried to be offhand, as though this was a burden you regularly had to shoulder. You were such a tool.

And the time went too quickly. You were leaving, she was staying. It was something to savour but instead you gorged.

You remember in one of his autobiographies Clive James, looking back at how poorly he treated one woman, writes he put his fingers in his ears and made nah-nah noises to try and drown out the memory. You weren’t that much of bastard but the nagging regret you didn't cherish that brief time chases you around the book shop.

Fuck... Not another Chabon book, you're still trying to get over the Holmes pastiche he squeezed out a few years back.

You remember that when you rang the accounting firm where she worked and had to leave messages, you used the names of famous economists to make her laugh. The receptionist never picked up on John Stuart Mill or JK Galbraith but rumbled you on Milton Friedman. She preferred Galbraith.

The last time you saw her was the Queen's Birthday long weekend 1990. She gave you a lock of her hair and you still have it, tucked away with a couple of letters you can't bring yourself to read anymore.

You realize it's unlikely she's thought about you at all in the past 15 years but you always think of her around this time, each year. Except this one. You almost forgot, until the song started playing and for whatever reason, this twists the sad/self-indulgent dial up another notch and you have to get out of the shop.

Music sometimes flings us back to places we’re not always comfortable with and people we should have done better by. You leave the store, shaking your head to dislodge the memories and the tightness in your throat. Of course, it could have been worse, it's lucky Can You Feel It by The Jacksons wasn’t also on the playlist.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Making a realistic wish about The Chaser

I watched The Chaser’s War on Everything on Wednesday night and found the skit on the Make a Realistic Wish Foundation funny.

The line “they're only going to die anyway” cracked me up.

Obviously, many other people don’t share this view. They are entitled to this opinion, as I am to mine.

Mind you, a couple of points do occur.

If a comedy show you intend to watch has a classification warning at the start, then there’s a chance it may contain material that you will find offensive.

If the comedy show you intend to watch has a solid, well-known reputation for bad taste and black comedy, then the chances of you being offended goes up accordingly.

If the comedy show you intend to watch is called The Chaser’s War on Everything don’t be too surprised if it has a go at... everything.

And if a child of mine had a terminal or life threatening illness, I’m guessing there might be other things to do, rather than taking such bitter offense about a one minute TV segment that the combined reaction of thousands of viewers having a hissy fit becomes a media circus and prolongs that same offense over the course of several days.

Finally, as to the idea that some topics are just too serious, too sensitive or too important, and therefore must never be used as the basis for comedy, I’ll hand over to PJ O’Rourke (who admittedly was writing in the mid-eighties about the left versus right but it does go to a certain mindset on humour).

He explains in the intro to Republican Party Reptile that some people, for example those who are deeply concerned about sexism in language or fear the government is hiding nuclear waste in their fridge, can’t be expected to have a sense of humour.

And they don’t. Radicals and liberals and such want all jokes to have a “meaning,” to “make a point”. But laughter is involuntary and points are not. A conservative may tell you that you shouldn’t make fun of something. “You shouldn’t make fun of cripples,” he may say. And he may be right. But a liberal will tell you, “You can’t make fun of cripples.” And he’s wrong - as anybody who’s heard the one about Helen Keller falling into a well and breaking three fingers calling for help can tell you.”

To quote another funny man, who spent time in the comedy bad taste trenches, "Oh, you're going straight to hell for that one."

, ,, .

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Meet the New Class

Overheard in a Manuka carpark: “No Gaspard! Stay with the trolley!”

I gawked at the woman giving the order because I expected it to have been directed at a large poodle instead of a small boy. Predictably, the kid ignored mum and tried to make a break for it - as would anyone whose parents had saddled him with the sort of name that is appropriate for a lecherous minor character in a play by Molière.

Of course the bourgeoisie has been slapping weird monikers on their offspring since Marx was in short pants and, as noted in an earlier post, while the creative spelling of bevan/westie/bogan/chav names has launched a thousand sneering blog posts, the naming habits of the chattering classes rarely seems to rate a mention.

All of which got me thinking - has the use of ‘prestige’ first names (those names that seem to be selected to make it clear the parents have read at least one Penguin classic) increased in the last 15 years? Are we seeing more little Agamemnons and Antigones, Desdemonas, grizzling Hamlets, Caspars and lippy Dantes, as well as the Thomas Hardy/scullery maid twofers of Daisy and Maisie?

The news that Wendy Were (the Sydney writer’s festival head sherang with an uneasy relationship with free speech) recently named her daughter ‘Juniper’ seemed to confirm these suspicions.

Then I came across the small, out of print gem Meet the New Class by the late Alex Buzo. Back in 1981 he wrote:

“Many New Class people are products of the post-war baby boom and have been over-educated to a new level of discontent... they have taken most of the jobs and set up most of the committees to inquire into everything. Their language has come to dominate the media... they have formed mafias, coined words, opened gulfs and influenced morals.”

And tellingly:

“Their children - if they have any - are called Tarquin and Beancurd.”

If you ditched the boomer reference and wedged the phrase “competed in triathlons” somewhere in the last sentence, the book could have been printed yesterday as a field guide to the inner south and north of Canberra. The more things change... or as Gaspard might say plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

, ,, .