Why We Fight II: In Which We See Enemies All Around Us

In today’s Age (Saturday July 2nd), TV columnist Ben Pobjie puts forward an argument no-one in their right mind would disagree with. So here goes.

But first, let’s let the man himself speak:

TASTE is a funny thing. Not ”funny ha-ha”, more ”funny you’re stupid and I hate you”. When I write about TV, I’m writing about matters of taste: opinion, personal preference, purely subjective judgments. There isn’t any ”good” or ”bad”, or ”right” or ”wrong”; there’s just ”what I like” and ”what I don’t like”. There’s no objective standard in TV, no absolute truth. Everyone can agree on this.

Ha ha! Just kidding! Nobody can agree on this. Everyone will say they agree on it, right up until someone else tells them what shows they like and then, like Buffy and that super-vampire thing in season seven, it is on. The argument will ignite and in a surprisingly high proportion of cases, it will be about season seven of Buffy.

Like we said, no-one in their right mind would disagree with this kind of thing. After all, it’s just television. Problem is, if this is what you believe, why would you bother… ah, we’ll get to that later. Let’s continue to the bit relevant to us today – and yes, it involves Angry Boys:

People are passionate about television. Are they as passionate about politics? Religion? Their own children? Try announcing you like Matt Smith’s Doctor (Doctor Who) better than David Tennant’s. Tell someone whose favourite show is The Wire that your favourite show is Jersey Shore. Claim that Angry Boys made you laugh/cry/throw shoes/long for the good old days of Benny Hill. You will find yourself in a world of trouble.

As we ourselves found when in this post we discussed an on-line review written by Steve Molk. Molk is twitter buddies with Pobjie and sent a few tweets back’n forth on the topic, prompting this tweet from Pobjie:

my pet hate: people who tell you: if you like this show, you’re wrong. Which is what that piece is (June 10, 2011)

Guess he missed this part of our post:

Suffice to say that currently we’re in the best of all possible worlds when it comes to the world of Chris Lilley: there’s no clear-cut consensus as to how we’re all supposed to be thinking.

Anyway, our bitchiness and self-obsession aside… oh wait, he’s got more to say about Angry Boys:

Because when someone develops an opinion about TV, nothing is a matter of taste. Everything is a matter of ironclad, indisputable, extremely obnoxious fact.

Take comedy Angry Boys, for example, or something similarly divisive, such as South Park or Everybody Loves Raymond. If such a show doesn’t make you laugh, it is difficult to resist the instinct to split the world into People Who Agree With Me and People Who Are Idiots. Our rational brains might know that ”That’s not funny” is just shorthand for ”that does not trigger the idiosyncratic response in my individual brain that results in laughter”. But our irrational brains, which are larger and more aggressive, tell us that we are right and we must come up with convincing and loud reasons. And that’s how people who do laugh at those shows receive lectures along the lines of: ”You don’t really like that show. You think you like it because you’ve been hoodwinked by media hype and it’s politically correct and you think this is the sort of show you’re supposed to like. But actually, you hate it, like me, because it’s a bad show, so how could you not hate it?” It can get seriously ugly.

Or, you know, it could just be a discussion about the show in which some people tend to disagree with you. Hey, if you want to keep things light and fluffy and agree to disagree, no-one’s saying you can’t. Oh wait, yes they are: YOU WRITE A TELEVISION REVIEW COLUMN.

Pobjie is completely, totally, 100% right here: when it comes to arguing about things people feel passionate about, it can get seriously ugly. That’s because it involves people who actually care about the subject under discussion.

Put another way, can anyone image a sports* columnist writing a column in which he or she said “when someone develops an opinion about football, nothing is a matter of taste. Everything is a matter of ironclad, indisputable, extremely obnoxious fact”. You’d be buried under an avalanche of emails saying one thing: “Duh”. And then you’d be fired, because of this kind of guff:

When we hear that others don’t share our tastes, we get defensive, our fur stands on end and we hiss angrily at those who shake our faith in our own good taste.

Which is an insult to anyone who actually – foolishly – not only gives a crap about sport – or television, or politics, or pretty much anything – but expects a columnist in a major newspaper to give a crap too. Shit, most columnists have built their entire careers around getting half the people out there to feel exactly that way: it’d probably come as quite a surprise to some at The Age to read that one of their columnists thinks getting readers worked up is A Bad Thing.

As for this bit from a fictional Angry Boys hater:

”You don’t really like that show. You think you like it because you’ve been hoodwinked by media hype and it’s politically correct and you think this is the sort of show you’re supposed to like. But actually, you hate it, like me, because it’s a bad show, so how could you not hate it?”

Yeah, we’d hate that too. And we’ve actually argued against that kind of lazy criticism before, so clearly Pobjie wasn’t talking about us with that crack, right?

Our completely unfounded and somewhat needy paranoia aside, we don’t doubt for a single solitary second that Angry Boys fans enjoy the show. We’d just like them to explain why without falling back on cliches that are wobbly at best and untrue at worst.

After all, we’re not talking about having a chat with people down the office about a television show. We’re talking about professionals writing thought-out pieces for major newspapers. Pobjie is totally right to say arguing over television is pointless and ugly – when you’re doing it down the pub. When you’re actually writing about television, it’s your job.

Not that Pobjie would agree. This is his final argument:

It’s only TV, after all – it’s important but it doesn’t matter.

An attitude which can be reasonably extended to cover roughly 85% of Western Civilisation and 99% of issues covered in The Age.  So this is a man who’s just written that the sole reason for him being in the paper “doesn’t matter”? Sorry, we didn’t realise we were reading his farewell column.

But back to Angry Boys. When the strongest comments coming out supporting a show are talking about an “outrage” that doesn’t exist, or the way its characters are edgy – despite being the same kind of thing Lilley’s been dishing up since 2005 – and realistic (S.mouse is realistic?), forgive us our shrillness but it’s hard for us not to wonder what is it people are laughing at. Especially when those who aren’t laughing so hard can come up with intelligent, thoughtful reviews like this one:

The reason Angry Boys keeps being accused of ‘juvenile nonsense’ is because Chris Lilley is scared to commit to anything serious. Gran revealing that she’s suffering from Alzheimer’s is proof that Lilley cares about these characters and wants to be taken seriously, but remember who she reveals this information too? The dog wanker. The kid who has just been given an eighteen month sentence for masturbating a dog. It’s as if Lilley is terrified that all the fifteen year olds in the audience will turn off unless there’s a dick or fart joke around. This is the same as in Blake’s story which takes a dramatic twist when he gets arrested for the murder of the man who shot off Blake’s balls, because remember Blake has no balls, remember how he has no balls, isn’t that funny how he has no balls.

Which certainly doesn’t read like “You think you like it because you’ve been hoodwinked by media hype and it’s politically correct and you think this is the sort of show you’re supposed to like” to us.

If you think Angry Boys is a great show, that’s awesome: surely then you’d be falling all over yourselves to let us in on the joke. Perhaps you’re seeing something there that we don’t, and we – along with the ever-growing number of viewers who’ve clearly given up on the show – would love to know what it is. But this whole “its just a matter of taste” thing is lazy writing and even lazier criticism. Music reviewers can’t get away with simply writing “it made me dance”, film reviewers can’t get away with “it made me cry”. Why should TV critics get away with “it made me laugh”?



*Yes, we know sports have verified winners & losers. Good luck explaining that to a supporter who thinks a dodgy umpiring decision cost their side the match in the dying seconds

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  • SOTCAA says:

    It’s like reading an online archive of UK arguments over the merits of I’m Alan Partridge, Time Gentlemen Please and The Office. All those original media/social cliches repeated, word for word. Depressing.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Seeing these old, tired non-arguments trotted out yet again is really depressing. Since when did thinking critically about television become the battle of who could care less?

    That said, no matter who writes it, the not-so-secret agenda of that particular television column – coming as it does up the back of a trend-driven “arts supplement” that increasingly covers cooking alongside books, street art, hipster cafes, etc – is that television is kind of shit and you really shouldn’t bother with it.

    Which would be fair enough if it actually pointed out shit shows and explained why they were shit, instead of saying “whatever, only idiots take this stuff seriously” week after week.

  • James says:

    The Vine has done an interesting article, showing S.mouse to members of the US hip-hop community. The last response, by a journo named Jeff Weiss, is particularly good –


  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Interesting stuff indeed. Lilley is clearly playing an individual rather than a stereotype (unless “crap black rapper” is a stereotype), but even so, why make him black? It’s not like the US hasn’t seen plenty of rubbish white hip hop artists – Australia even more so.