Flying the Flag

Ever get the feeling large swathes of Australian society aren’t actually alive? Oh sure, they walk and talk and seem human, but bring up one of any number of obvious hot-button issues and they spew out the same clockwork preprogrammed responses time and time again. Some might say this kind of dehumanising imagery is the kind of thing the forces of evil spout to make it easier to dispose of those who oppose their views; after reading this “news” story, we don’t really have a problem with that.

THE ABC’s controversial satire At Home With Julia has prompted Coalition calls for the broadcaster’s funding to be slashed.

Outraged Coalition MPs debated the show’s merits in a partyroom meeting yesterday, with Nationals MP John Forrest expressing nostalgia for “traditional” comedies such as the 1970s’ Are You Being Served?

He told colleagues the satirical take on Julia Gillard’s private life demeaned the office of prime minister, with tonight’s episode to feature Amanda Bishop as Ms Gillard and Phil Lloyd, playing her partner Tim Mathieson, in a compromising position under a flag. Mr Forrest said the ABC had crossed the line of good taste.

“It’s nothing to do with Julia Gillard . . . It’s the office of prime minister and it’s not even funny. The old English traditional shows like Are You Being Served? — they were funny, but this isn’t. And to desecrate the flag dishonours what my dad did.”

Less jokes about the flag, more jokes about pussy; got it.

In case you were busy having an actual life yesterday, it seems that tonight’s episode of At Home With Julia features a scene where Julia and Tim get it on under an Australian flag. Cue predictable outrage from people who don’t seem to realise that their predictable outrage is the entire point of the exercise. For fucks sake, even we’re sick of this stuff and comedy is all we write about. Last time we looked, the flag was a pattern on a piece of cloth; if you’re not going to spend your summer running around beaches ripping it off teenagers wearing it as a cape – when they’re not dropping it on the dirt and groping each other on it – having this level of outrage over a scene in a comedy show seems a trifle excessive.

Then there are those whose equally predictable complaints swing in from another direction entirely:

What is of political interest in At Home with Julia turns not on the politicians and public figures who appear as the characters on the show but, rather, on those who are ignored. The comedy is a co-production between the ABC and Quail TV. Debbie Lee is the public broadcaster’s executive producer and this role at Quail TV is filled by Rick Kalowski and Greg Quail. The writers are Kalowski, Amanda Bishop (who plays Gillard) and Phil Lloyd (who plays Mathieson).

It seems that the likes of Lee, Kalowski, Quail, Bishop and Lloyd do not regard the Greens as a laughing matter. Interviewed by Peter Van Onselen on The Showdown on Sky News last Tuesday, Kalowski defended himself against the criticism that At Home with Julia was either anti-Gillard or anti-Labor.

In case you haven’t been following Gerard Henderson’s career as a comedy critic, he runs a media watchdog website called The Sydney Institute. Get This fans’ ears are pricking up at the mention of the word “Institute” – yes, he’s that Gerard Henderson. Anyway, he’s a ruthless scourge of all forms of comedy that don’t make fun of the things he thinks are funny, which amazingly mostly seems to involve politicians and political parties he disagrees with. Cue a decade long one-man war against Clarke & Dawe that shows no signs of either abating or having any effect whatsoever.

We’ve got absolutely nothing against people criticising comedy – apart from them muscling in on our turf of course, but once we get our gang jackets back from the embroiderers we’ll be ready to sort them out West Side Story-style – but it does tend to help if you have something to say beyond “why aren’t you making fun of the Greens, they’re hilarious… and if you can’t see that, you’re a Labor dupe”. Not that he said that in so many words, and if you want to read the many, many, many words he used to not say that, feel free to read what he did say to the producer of At Home With Julia here. Henderson sums his views up thus:

In my view, people like Bob Brown – who believe that the end of the world is nigh due to carbon emissions and then see fit to emit carbon emissions while travelling from here to there warning about the end of the world – are potentially suitable targets for comedy.  Alas, no such character appears in At Home With Julia.

You are asking me to believe that an Adam Bandt character was in Episode 1 during script stage – but was deleted.

And you are asking me to believe that the Greens were lampooned in Episodes 5 and 6 – which never made it into At Home With Julia, since the project was cut to four episodes at the insistence of the ABC.

Well, I accept what you are saying.  Nevertheless, at some stage you and the Quail Television team made a conscious decision to exclude the Adam Bandt character from Episode 1.  And you made a conscious decision not to have Bob Brown or Lee Rhiannon or any other of the Greens “turn up” in Episodes 1, 2, 3 and 4. There may not have been what you refer to as “a deliberate decision to go easy on the Greens” in At Home With Julia.  However, this is exactly what happened.

This seems common practice within the ABC generally.  John Clarke and Bryan Dawe regularly mock Labor and the Coalition on 7.30 each Thursday – but rarely, if ever, ridicule any member of the Greens.

It is a matter of record that no one at the ABC, which commissioned At Home With Julia for showing on ABC 1, recognised the potential problem involved in a taxpayer funded comedy which laughed at Labor, the Coalition and the Independents – but not the Greens.

Hang on, doesn’t that view kind of mean that only people who don’t believe in global warming should be allowed on planes without being branded complete moral hypocrites and driven out of public life? That seems a little unfair, especially when you stop to consider what would happen if Brown really did travel from his home state of Tasmania to Canberra by environmentally friendly bike or solar car. Wouldn’t Henderson and the rest of the right make fun of him then for his silly car? Doesn’t that mean Brown’s only two choices both end in him being mocked? Wow, someone give Henderson his own weekly satirical review stat!

This is the problem with overtly politically-driven humour, and why what we like most about At Home With Julia are the silly personal and relationship jokes. Trying to score points and trying to get laughs almost never go hand in hand: funny Australian comedy is hard enough to make without taking orders from anyone zany enough to think the number one goal of humour should be “balance” instead of laughs.

… all that said,  if  At Home With Julia actually had contained a joke where Bob Brown said “greenhouse gases are destroying the environment” then got on a GREENHOUSE GAS-SPEWING PLANE, obviously hilarity would have ensued. Yeah, we can totally see that. Actually, didn’t we see that on South Park six years ago?


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  • tim says:

    Gerro needs his own show called ‘What about the Greens, what about the Muslims?’. Or just a 3 min faux satirical interview slot at the end of ‘The Bolt Report’.

    Could you bring the car around!

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    In the latest edition of the podcast Televised Revolution the hosts mentioned that a media release referencing the flag sex was issued to promote this episode of At Home with Julia, although a media release was not issued to promote episode 2. They suggested that the ABC were trying to whip up controversy and interest in a show whose ratings were falling. Given the ABC’s history in this area I think there’s something in this theory.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Good to have that kind of thing actually confirmed for once. Strange how the Murdoch press – who’re usually all over the ABC for the slightest infraction of Murdoch’s moral code – never seem to mention it’s the ABC themselves telling them about their latest “outrage”.

  • billyc says:

    Apparently they were hassled by the press and eventually released a photo. They asked the producers not to comment so I don’t think they were fanning the flames. Colin Vickery loves trying to find any outrage he can. He’s probably paid by impressions

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    But how did the press find out? Actually, it’s not that hard to believe Vickery spotted the scene while watching a preview and flagging it for further attention. Still, they could’ve easily taken a screengrab and printed that.

    Is Vickery’s stuff seen in print outside Victoria? We have a feeling that, with News Ltd’s paper’s having centralised their TV guide, he’s the daily Herald-Sun’s TV writer now that everyone above him is off working on a quasi-national publication. In which case he’s probably working hard to stir up controversy to try and shore up his position – he’d be the first to go if the weekly Switched On guide shrinks any further and Diane Butler / Darren Devlin go back into the regular paper.

  • billyc says:

    TV tonight did a preview saying that there was likely to be controversy a few days before it hit the press so I assume there were preview tapes sent out. Not sure if Vickery is still around. He likes to stay up late and watch the Chaser and then write an outrage piece online about an hour after broadcast so I’m sure he’ll be back when the new show starts. He should have a byline that says “pot stirrer”. He’s certainly not a journalist or critic.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Oh, Vickery is still around – he’s the main TV writer in the pages of the daily Herald-Sun. He used to be the radio columnist, but he dropped off there for a while after being cut out of the Wednesday TV guide.

    Now tho’ the TV guide is national (and presumably separate from the daily Herald-Sun), and he’s back as the go-to guy for daily updates about ABC controversies, etc.

    To be fair, the Herald-Sun clearly has a large and consistent demand for someone to write about how television was better in 1965, and with Robert Fidgeon dead someone had to step in and stand up for the ghost of Frankie J Holden.