OyView – Have you lost your fucking MINDS?!!

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ABC 1, Rivetting Drama 0

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Whitlam: The Power and the Passion  (ABC 1)

Paper Giants: Magazine Wars               (ABC 1)

About 3-4 decades ago is the official motherlode for mainstream TV’s version of history dramatically revisited, apparently.

Earlier tonight, I caught about 15 minutes each of these two shows, which are doubtless going to be mistaken for dramatic events in themselves by cartoon-headed soft tops of all ages. Since I’m going to be hearing about them for a week or two – I figure that about ought to see out any possible interest from anybody – I’ll give my immediate thoughts on both, as a kind of hopeful anti-venom.

WHITLAM SHOW

– The rusted-on bores that are never going to get over the dismissal of the Whitlam Government and routinely announce, given five seconds and a soapbox, that the rest of the country will never get over it either, are never going to work out that for a fair amount of Australians of a certain age and below, this is so long ago now that they might as well be talking about when William the Conqueror shot Magna Carta off Maid Marian’s head with an apple. It’s not that it wasn’t an important Australian historic moment, it’s more that for anyone much under 50 it’s an Australian prehistoric moment.

– The folks who were in the flowery flight of their wild youth and nostalgia’s the main reason they get so fired up about this and try and flog everyone else into following suit – I think most of the rest of us have probably had a gutful by now.

– If you’re making a TV show about this and are trying to abracadabra some startling new perspectives, or whatever the deal is, how about you DON’T have a half-arsed scratch around and throw in whatever prime verbal soda-water some superannuated common-or-garden entertainers come up with? Mother Hubbard would have been giving thanks for the bountiful harvest in her cupboard next to the likes of Andrew Denton, Jean Kittson and the mortal remains of Max Gillies deployed for no apparent reason in this snooze ambush. (Points to Gillies for overacting and STILL working his one deal with the eyebrows, even though there was no real acting to be done and the eyebrows, much like the events depicted in the show, are pretty much consigned to history.)

– Andrew Denton’s shock reflection that he was the only guy in his class cool enough to be pro-Whitlam at the time – gag me with a barium enema. What was this doing on this programme? What was this doing on television? Why did the ABC not take the honourable way out and just pull the plug and go down to the pub for an hour?

You know, Denton is a year and change older than me. I’d just turned 14 prior to the Australian constitutional crisis and grill we now refer to as The Dismal. So I would have just finished what we used to quaintly term Form 2, which is Year 8 in the new money. Denton was 15 and presumably would have been loitering about in the general vicinity of Form 3-ish.

And THIS is the authoritative on-the-ground source you want to go to, to get your authoritative overview on the events of Whitlam v Fraser (Ref J.Kerr)? I’ve got two words for you – “Pa” and “thetic”.

It’s not like they just quoted him a bit. By the end of the episode, Mr Knobbly-Knee Form Three was the keynote speaker. They actually gave him the last word to sum everything up for us. How faaar-haaar-haaarking idiotic does Australian TV plan to get, exactly?

– Jean Kittson. Jolly Hockey Sticks, Let’s All Give That Floor a Good Scrub Girls, Then Head Out For Devonshire Tea, Jean Faaaarking Kittson.

“We all toodled orf to Bourke St to have a bit of a jolly good rally, but then people were saying “Hang Fraser” and “Kill Fraser” and that all seemed a bit, you know, not quite the ticket. Then we were having a lovely old protest down St Kilda Rd when someone started breaking windows at the US Embassy. That seemed jolly not quite right and then I thought things became quite untidy.”

Sheer unadulterated horse hockey and buffalo bagels – a waste of everybody’s fucking time. All right? Just in case anyone ever does this documentary idea about the 1975 deal ever again, the first thing you do is lose Jean Kittson’s phone number and BURNING the fucking thing would be preferable, presuming dynamite is unavailable.

Jesus wept! And if he’d have shat, he would have shat the idea of having Jean Fucking Kittson, Andrew Denton (the thinking man’s Graeme Blundell), and the mortal remains of Max Gillies on a documentary like this!

– What’s interesting although (or perhaps “thus”) completely parenthetical to the show they were trying to make is how much Malcolm Fraser changed between those times and his re-emergence/reinvention (and despite that phrasing, I don’t think the change in his values and personality was either contrived or calculated) 10-15 years ago. There was a 1975 shot in there around the time he was installed as caretaker PM that had him with a grin of pure, born-to-rule, Coalition…well “evil” was the word that came to mind, but impenetrable smugness will serve if that’s too dramatic. It may have reminded anyone that was around back then how non-responsive, disengaged, backward-looking and imperious the Australian conservative governments of those times were. And don’t kid yourself because he’s a nice old man and has decent values now – in my time rattling around the planet, the Liberals may have had no other leader who embodied the frankly horrible qualities previously mentioned more aptly and thoroughly than John Malcolm Fraser. If only we could have got, as PM then, the Malcolm Fraser that turned up in a different time/galaxy later on, Australia might have been a nicer country a lot sooner.

– You’ve got to take some of the bunk regurgitated by old folks about this stuff with something of a grain of salt, large enough to snugly plug up the Dead Sea. They banged on and on about how evenly divided the country seemed to be after Whitlam was sacked, prior to the double dissolution election. As the show eventually got around to spitting out, in between Jean Kittson and Andrew Denton verbal finger-painting, the Coalition won that election in a major landslide. Labor was pretty much devastated by that result and Labor weren’t the only ones. But you can’t look at that result and say the country was evenly split in the weeks immediately prior. It wasn’t a case of the entire nation turning up to the polls without a thought in their heads as to who they were going to vote for, all flipping a coin at once and all of them coincidentally coming up “heads”.  In the minds of the electorate at that time, Labor had blown it.

Basically, I’m glad I only caught the last 15 minutes of this, as in between the self-congratulation, the tedious navel-gazing, the antique leftie groin-scratch nostalgia, the general air of crushing importance, and the smattering of entirely irrelevant ABC entertainers of yesteryear, I probably would have had an aneurysm.

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MAGAZINE SHOW

This is a dramatization of the “legendary magazine wars” between Dulcie Boling and Nene King starting in the late 1980s. The legendary magazines we’re talking about are New Idea and Women’s Day. Dulce was running NI for Murdoch, and Nene King came to edit WD for Packer.

After 15 minutes I tuned out (i.e. turned off TV and amplifier with emphasis and swear words, turning them off rather than down or to other channels, just in case I accidentally pressed the wrong button and exposed myself to Magazine Wars some more even for a fleeting second.)

– The reasons were nothing to do with the actoring, which with the odd exception, was pretty much as good as the plank-thick scripting allowed, and in a number of cases, including both female leads, better than that.

– The main reason was, after 15 minutes it all flooded back to me how unremittingly mind-crushing ordinary and awful pretty much all mainstream media product was in Australia in the 1970s/1980s. All consumers were expected (by the media providers) to be into the same shit, shit was the only flavour served, and you could have any colour of entertainment you liked, so long as it was beige.

I probably can’t convey how oppressively tapioca conformist the Australian media was back then. It was even worse than now, times about 30, is probably as close as I could get. This was true of TV, radio, to some extent – probably a lesser one – movies, certainly the mainstream of music, and that brings me to the subject of ‘print’.

These magazines were (via any aesthetic or other consideration not specifically relating to the profit line) fucking awful – barely adequate as toilet reads – the shit they wrote about and the way they wrote about it was awful, the “celebrities” featured were a waste of everybody’s time, and had they been pinheaded enough to read Australian women’s toilet magazines of the time, would have been a waste of each other’s time as well.

Why in the merry blue hell would we celebrate them with a major TV production now? So one executive took on another executive in some sort of ego dogfight between two shit magazines. It’s not like anybody on the Planet Earth is reading any of that stuff now. Dan Hardy’s prose style will be considered comparatively immortal.

(Or was that Jeff or Matt Hardy? Whichever one of them wrote The DaVinciGate Affair anyway.)

– OK the dialogue and writing is the kind of Aussie historical drama production number that should come complete with Foghorn Leghorn leaning in and repeating his deathless line: “About as subtle as a hand grenade in a barrel of oatmeal.” They lurch from one allegedly major historical launch point to the other, coloured in with some extremely dubious and “+/- Home and Away” level scenes of domestic bathwater.

And then, there’s the trademark Aussie production “period detail”. They back up the truck, tip the tray and start filling the room with the old songs. Often they’re the wrong old songs, in terms of time and place, but why be picky? Someone does an op shop run for the period clothes. And, err, ahh, umm – that’s about it. There’s nothing else in dialogue, lighting, direction or general atmosphere that would fool a goat, let alone make us feel like we were following events of the period depicted. And they just kept dropping old radio pop songs at the start of each scene (and holding them under the action, until the next scene kicked in with the next Eurogliders or whatever the fuck it was crap old song) like a brick through a plate glass coffee table. After a while my head hurt from this sophisticated approach, which was another major motivating factor in tuning out and thus reclaiming an acceptably dull evening from what could have been a major TV coma/dyspepsia combination

– Anyway, there was nothing in terms of character, events, drama, writing or subject matter that held me, but some of the acting was good. Wasn’t overwhelmed with the guy playing Kerry Packer – a guy called Carleton, you’ve seen him doing his one-nuance one-expression routine in many parts over time, and given the shape the industry’s in, probably will any number of times again – who to me seemed to convey the raw dynamism of a discarded band-aid on life’s locker-room floor. Don’t know about Kerry Packer, but if anyone cares to dress, wig and make-up him this way again, he’s a sure thing if anyone loses their mind and makes a major documentary about Campbell McComas.

I am now done with these shows, or as I think of them, antidotes to the will-to-live. I would like to thank all concerned for reminding me why I have cable TV, and would additionally like to thank cable TV, as well as free-to-air for making me truly appreciate why I keep so many bizarre/obscure/ancient movies on DVD. Excelsior!

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3 thoughts on “OyView – Have you lost your fucking MINDS?!!

  1. Did Tim Ferguson crack a guernsey? He can generally be relied upon to give it the “when I was in form 2” treatment. In fact, it’s a trend in Aussie TV to have such shows and get the talking heads, who clearly were not old enough to have a there-and-then recollection despite their televised revisionist how-cool-I-was version, to utter the immortal words “you had to be there” as if they were, when in fact, they were not.

  2. PS: Channel Nine’s 20-1 is the worst example of “you had to be there.” When a 20-something talking face uses it to describe the Kennedy assassination, well, you just know the writers have gotten just a tad ambitious, to use that well-worn Cometti-ism.

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