Separation of Powers

Over twenty four hours later and we’re still trying to get our heads around this:

In case you don’t know, Ben Pobjie is a professional, five-day-a-week-TV critic in the only newspaper chain that still runs daily TV criticism. He’s also publicly complaining that he’s not currently working with a TV comedian. You know, one of the people he’s paid to pass judgement on?

Maybe he’s just joking. Humour us a little here: what exactly is the joke? That he’s depressed over the sad state of his comedy writing career? That he’s depressed that he’s not good enough to work with Shaun Micallef? Hang on, isn’t this the guy who writes serious articles about his serious struggles with the serious topic of depression?

“I’m sitting in my car, late at night, watching the blood well from the lines I’ve just sliced into my arm, and I’m wondering just why I did it. In hindsight I’ll manufacture some kind of explanation, but in the moment all I can think of is, I’ve got to find a reason for someone to care.”

Not really seeing the joke there.

It’s not like he doesn’t have form with this kind of vaguely passive-aggressive social media chat either:

[it’s an article about Australia’s funniest twitter personalities. It doesn’t include Ben Pobjie]

[Racism?]

So this probably isn’t a “joke” in the commonly used sense of the word. But then what is it? Is Fairfax’s main TV critic really publicly complaining that one of Australia’s top comedians – and one who it’s presumably somewhat difficult to get work with, considering he’s been working with the same handful of writers (plus Francis Greenslade) for close to two decades now – hasn’t given him a job?

(It’s also worth wondering exactly why would Micallef want to work with Pobjie. This isn’t a slight on the quality of Pobjie’s work, but c’mon: he doesn’t have a background in sketch writing, or extensive TV credits to his name, and he doesn’t really do political stuff – at least, not stuff more pointed than the usual generic “ugh, Tony Abbott!” online stuff. It’s like a moderately talented pub guitarist publicly wondering why The Rolling Stones haven’t given him a call.)

Pobjie is a professional television critic. As such, his job is to tell his readers whether a television show is or isn’t worth their time. This is a job that has a certain amount of power, because when a television show has no viewers it is taken off the air. So for someone with that kind of power (even only in theory) to say “I’m depressed that I don’t work with Shaun Micallef” is, as the kids say, “problematic”.

Nobody is saying that Pobjie is suggesting that unless Micallef hires him he’s going to start giving his television shows negative reviews. He’s just publicly unhappy that he’s not working with Micallef. And he’s a TV critic who reviews Micallef’s television shows. His reviews could influence the amount of viewers Micallef’s shows get. His reviews could, in an extreme case, put Micallef out of work. Is anyone else worried about this?

It’s no secret that Pobjie is an aspiring comedian. It’s also no secret that writing TV reviews is how Pobjie currently pays his bills. The third totally-not-a-secret thing here is that it seems like those two jobs are rapidly becoming incompatible. This isn’t a case of a reviewer praising comedy then going off and making his or her own comedy; this is a reviewer publicly saying that he wants someone he’s reviewing to give him a job*.

And why would you even want a job under those circumstances anyway? If Micallef suddenly did say tomorrow “why sure Ben Pobjie, let’s work together on a project”**, wouldn’t there always be a worry in the back of your mind that perhaps you didn’t get the job because you’re the best possible comedy writer Micallef could be working with?

If that doesn’t matter to you – if what you’re interested in is not providing the best possible service you can to your audience but instead fulfilling your dreams of getting to hang out with your idols – then perhaps you might want to think about exactly what kind of service it is that you’re meant to be providing for your audience.

*in theory Pobjie could be saying “I want to work with Micallef as an equal, not for him as an employee”. But as Micallef isn’t part of a double act and everyone who’s worked “with” him since the late 90s (aside from his brief radio stint) has basically been a writer or co-star who was working for Micallef in some capacity (he’s the star of the show), that’s an extremely unlikely theory.

**here’s how you solve the whole “but maybe Pobjie was joking?” question: if Micallef did offer Pobjie a job working with him, do you think Pobjie would say no?

Similar Posts
Blurred Lines
You know that feeling when someone makes a joke and it’s completely obvious that it’s a joke and yet even...
That Was Pissweak That Was pt.2
If you’ve ever seriously wondered why television critics in this country are respected by no-one – even as television criticism...
Well, This Is a New Low
Ok @mscott, if you won't let me be on #qanda, how about the Chaser? Put in a good word? —...

25 Comments

  • Tony Tea says:

    I’m not much of a BP fan, although he is good for the odd twitter quip, but surely he is just saying “I wish I could work with SM” like I would say “I wish I could play cricket for Australia.” I don’t want to play for Australia, I know I’m not good enough, I just wish I could.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    No doubt that’s kind of what he was thinking. But there’s a big difference between a backyard cricketer saying that at home and one of the Nine commentary team saying it live during a match.

  • Billy C says:

    Pobjie’s reviews will actually stop him from getting any television work. When you slag off a show there’s very little chance that production company will later hire you to write for them. How many script editors and tv writers do you think are out there regularly working? He’s probably got most of then offside by now. That’s fine for a critic but for someone who so desperately wants to be a comic it is problematic. When Fiona Scott Norman did a show she had the sense to stop reviewing.

  • yeps says:

    This is why Pobjie was right to get so hysterically bent out of shape about Buzzfeed not declaring him one of the greatest Twitter-medians of all time.

    It’s not that he’s an untalented narcissist crippled with a persecution complex – oh, how simple and obvious that would be. No, it’s because he is engaged in one of the greatest comedic performance pieces ever conceived. He’s the Andy Kaufman of conceited, over-reaching critics blinded by their own hubris.

    I mean, could you imagine if he actually did think it was appropriate to beg for a job on social media from someone he’s meant to critique – even if he tried to play it off as ‘Ha-ha-I’m-just-joking-but-no-seriously…’? Could you imagine if he really did throw a tantrum and claim racism just because some Buzzfeed writer doesn’t think he’s the greatest?

    How fucking embarrassing would that be?

    But no, happily his commitment to this satire of a critic willing to utterly discredit his profession and skill is absolute.

    He’s turned criticism itself into comedy. Sure, it’s a dark, morally repugnant cringe-comedy – but it definitely makes you laugh.

    We’re through the looking glass here people. No wonder Micallef will be shamed into being impressed.

  • Faz says:

    This is one of the most pointless, dim-witted entries on this blog in a long time. Seriously, you’re reviewing tweets now?

    Like most of Pobjie’s tweets (he spits out about 30 a day on average), it was a throwaway comment, simply expressing a mock-realisation in a self-deprecating way. It warrants neither the laboured analysis nor the ethical handwringing that this doltish blog post has heaped upon it. And the glib dig at Pobjie’s depression is a callously low blow.

    As critics yourselves, it makes sense that you should take an interest in the output of other critics, and your recent dissections of the Fairfax love for Josh Thomas is I think fair game and on point; but you do the blog no favours by obsessing so irrationally over a simple, inconsequential tweet.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Pobjie wouldn’t be the first Fairfax reviewer to get in trouble over a tweet. The management there has seen at least two reviewers out the door on the basis of things they tweeted. So we’re going to guess that they, at least, take what their reviewers say on twitter somewhat seriously.

    As for our “glib dig” at Pobjie’s depression, perhaps if he didn’t lean on his illness quite so heavily himself in his professional life, we’d have thought twice about mentioning it.

  • Faz says:

    But Pobjie hasn’t got in trouble over this tweet. Nobody has given the tweet a moment’s thought except, bizarrely, this blog… which has devoted several hysterical paragraphs to it, based entirely on a misinterpretation of its intent.

    It almost makes sense for Pobjie to be so endlessly self-obsessed about his career. But it makes so sense whatsoever for you guys to be.

    As for his depression, Pobjie writes about it movingly and candidly, as is his right as the owner of the illness. You guys, on the other hand, just sound like sniggering tools.

  • yeps says:

    I’m not sure that I get your point, Faz.

    Pobjie himself made his Twitter feed directly relevant to any discussion of his work. It, apparently, is a direct extension of his efforts to be a professional comedian – it’s why he was so incensed at the racism (?) of his being excluded from a Buzzfeed list of comedy greats.

    And as the blog itself pointed out – Pobjie was the one who referenced both depression (an issue one would have assumed he’d be less blaze about given his own documented experience) and publicly almost-begging for a job with Micallef.

    Either it was an unprofessional blurring of his two occupations – critic and comedian – or just more evidence that he’s not the comic Twitter sharpshooter he thinks he is.

  • Matlock says:

    Guys, he was clearly joking. Are you just stretching for excuses to write about how much you don’t like him.

  • Michaela C says:

    It appears that you don’t understand satire. Which is, as the kids say, “problematic” for a comedy blog. Ben does many, many things beyond his TV reviewing and this piece just reads as a petty, vindictive attack on someone you don’t like.

    I agree with Matlock. You’re stretching to find things about him to bitch about. Move on.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    If you think writing about comments he made in public about his career is “stretching”, we’re lucky we didn’t review his Comedy Festival show.

  • Michaela C says:

    Did you see the show?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Not his current show, no. We’ve seen some of his previous efforts.

    The point was more that if you find discussing someone’s public statements “stretching”, then reviewing a live performance of theirs would pull a muscle.

  • Michaela C says:

    So you haven’t seen this year’s show (which I have) and yet you’re glad you’re not reviewing it? I guess that just proves you have a personal grudge against Ben. What did he do to you to deserve such nit-picking?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    No, we’re glad we didn’t review it because you don’t seem to understand that reviewing is commenting on someone’s public activity – you know, like what we did in this post.

  • Michaela C says:

    Show me one other post that you’ve done reviewing someone’s tweets only, then I might believe you really think you’re doing your job. Because this looks like a petty unprofessional hack-job that includes criticising someone for their mental health because you can’t understand that someone has depth enough to express themselves in multiple ways at once.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Posts based on tweets:

    http://blog.australiantumbleweeds.com/?p=5857

    http://blog.australiantumbleweeds.com/?p=4791

    And a bunch more just talking about things mentioned on twitter. Why not type “tweet” into the search bar? That’s what it’s there for.

    More relevantly, as mentioned in the actual post Fairfax – Ben Pobjie’s employers – have sacked two reviewers in two separate occasions over their twitter activities: Jim Schembri (http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/03/09/media-briefs-schembri-walked-abc-appointments-mitchell-v-manne/) and Catherine Deveny (http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/deveny-dropped-as-columnist-for-the-age-20100504-u6si.html). So if twitter is a place where Fairfax reviewers can get sacked for saying stupid things, it seems reasonable to both pay attention to it and comment on things said there.

    As for “criticising someone for their mental health”, Pobjie is the one who makes it part of his act. Unless you think a performer who deals with mental health issues in their act is above criticism simply because they discuss mental health issues?

  • Michaela C says:

    Re your examples:
    1) You talked about a tweet, as a jump-off point for discussion that wasn’t about the tweeter. So, you didn’t review the tweet.
    2) The Lilly review criticises his series, as well as his tweet. So not the tweets alone.

    As for your comment about people being fired, well, I never said people didn’t get fired for their tweets so I don’t think that’s relevant.

    Re mental health, his personal blog is not part of his comedy act. Yes, sure, it’s in the public domain, but he doesn’t use his mental health in his humour. But saying he relies on it too much, or that he writes seriously about it, AND jokes about it, how can that be?! is infantile.

    Still waiting for some proof that you’re giving balanced reviews here. Looks like I’ll be waiting a while.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    “well, I never said people didn’t get fired for their tweets so I don’t think that’s relevant.”

    You don’t get to judge what’s relevant here, sorry to inform you. If you don’t like our topics of discussion, or our opinions, you’re free to leave.

    Also, this:

  • Michaela C says:

    I gave you guys a chance to defend the lack of professionalism of this post and you’ve failed. If you want to be taken seriously doing what you do, you need to look at your personal motivations before publishing. If your motivations are just that you think someone is shit, then I think you’re in the wrong job.

  • Michaela C says:

    You base your argument on one poster? I saw that show. It wasn’t about Ben’s mental health.

    You’re right, I don’t have to read you. But you also have to be prepared to back up your opinions, and that’s what you’ve failed to do. Just remember that what you write here is about actual people, not some nebulous intellectual construct, so what you say here can hurt people. So think about your motivations before you publish, because this piece came across as petty and mean.

    I for one won’t be bothering to read anything else.

  • Michaela C says:

    Oh and if you don’t want to hear other people’s opinions unless they agree with yours, best just turn the comment section off.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Thanks for your time and feedback. We’re sorry that we didn’t meet your standards.

  • Michaela C says:

    Wow, bad reviews are a bitch, hey.

  • […] kind of thing coming from a professional television critic is a problem – and it’s a firmly established pattern of behaviour now – then chances are you’re part of the […]