Australia is without a doubt a thriving hub of on-line comedy. Problem is, unless it’s being made by someone with an already significant media profile, it can be a little hard to find. Which makes our covering The Sponsored Lady slightly ironic: not only is it a comedy site we only discovered due to the fact that one of its contributors is Helen Razer, but it’s a site that – in part – exists to make fun of online advertising. One specific kind of online advertising in particular: “sponsored posts”.
In case you don’t know – and having different things to do with our time than read blogs about child-rearing (which is where this stuff supposedly happens), we didn’t until we read this post on the topic by Razer – sponsored posts are good old-fashioned “live read” ads from the golden age of radio, only in blog form: the blogger, either due to direct sponsorship from a company or in an attempt to win some sort of prize from a company, posts positive stuff about a product or service. It’s not a big deal to us, but it is to some people. Hence, The Sponsored Lady.
Problem is, if the joke behind that site is “we’re making fun of people who say nice things about stuff for money” – and we’re going to guess it is, considering that their masthead says “In It For The Free Shit” and this introductory post spells it out even more clearly* – it’s not exactly coming through loud and clear. On the one hand, there are posts like this one, reviewing a bunch of Playboys from the early 70s. Once you get past all the references to bush, it’s basically a straight (and fairly positive) review with a few sassy comments thrown in. Fair enough.
On the other, there’s this post reviewing abortion. Let’s quote the intro, shall we?
There are many common injustices women of the developed world endure. Perhaps chief among these is the very, very poor available variety of post-abortion snacks. Feminism has been regrettably silent on the matter of Women and Post-Termination Amuse Bouche. Until now.
What follows is pretty much what it says on the tin: people talking about their real-life abortion experiences with a focus on the ‘keep your strength up” food they had afterwards. Not exactly funny to us (the food being supplied is mostly bland, dull and kind of sad, as you’d expect), but fair enough. It’s how this fits in with the blog’s comedy premise that remains something of a mystery: a close reading seems to suggest that premise-wise these posts are there to just mark time until some actual paid product placement rolls in. Which kind of makes sense comedy-wise until you read the actual posts which, whatever their merits, don’t exactly feed into the premise in any way.
If the joke is “we’ll say anything for money”, presumably you want to make fun of people that will say anything for money. That would be the joke you would be trying to make. Presumably you’d make it by writing earnest but crap endorsements where you reveal you only care about money, the product is toxic or shithouse, you go on about something else entirely and only mention the product at the end… don’t ask us, we just review comedy, not make it.
What The Sponsored Lady serves up is more about people writing the kind of thing best described as “internet snark” – vaguely smart-arsed, trying to shock a little, you know the drill by now. There’s nothing wrong with that but if that’s what you want to do – talk about random stuff in a mildly ironic, bitchy way – why set up the whole “sponsored lady” angle as your hook? It’s a solid idea for comedy, but the site itself doesn’t actually seem interested in using it in a funny way.
And then there’s this post, which is somewhat surprisingly a played straight example of the very thing they’re supposedly making fun of: a glowing sponsored review, in this case of Ben Pobjie’s book SuperChef: A Parody. This one misses the comedy target by going the other way – it actually is a sponsored post in every way that counts. No fun is being poked at, either at the book itself or the kind of person who would write a post promoting their own book. At the very best it’s an in-joke for people who know (or think they know) author Ben Pobjie well enough to laugh at the fact that Pobjie is not really trying to hide the fact that he’s written a post designed to get people interested in a book he’s written.
That’s what the whole site really feels like; a string of in-jokes for those already in the know. That’s why the non de plumes being used are so obvious – you have to be able to figure out pretty easily that “Helen Rasin” is “Helen Razer”, pre-established media celebrity (another clue: the photo of “Helen Rasin” on the contributor’s page is of Razer herself), because the material here isn’t really strong enough to sustain interest on its own.
[it's not just Razer tipping her hand here - co-lady "Glenda Von CoCo" seems to be - if her contributor photo and FUCK YEAH catchphrase are any guide - Nadine Von Cohen, a writer currently best known, according to this self-penned article at least, for starting off all her tweets with FUCK YEAH]
The thing is, this approach works. If Razer hadn’t dropped some heavy hints that she was involved in this website, we wouldn’t have bothered checking it out. If we didn’t know she was involved, we probably wouldn’t have mentioned it here – after all, we clearly don’t think it’s funny enough to bring it to your attention based on its merits. It’s a side project from a name celebrity using her profile to get you to look at her side project: like a lot of things on the internet, it’s an in-joke where being in is a lot more important than the joke.
*there’s a very small chance they might claim they’re doing all this non-ironically. That is, instead of mocking the idea of sponsored posts, we should take the site at face value – they really are just doing it to score some free swag. In which case: oh, fuck off.