Destroying The Gruen

And in comedy news, Helen Razer’s written a long article on how the twitter hashtag #destroythejoint has betrayed feminism. We’re mentioning this why now? It’s not like anyone really sees Razer as a comedian these days – probably not even herself, as her last (that we know of) stab at hilarity here was last updated August 2012. Remember The Sponsored Lady? Seems to only have been a thing for two months. Guess we wasted our time reviewing it. Here’s hoping her current article has more of an impact.

Like pretty much everything Razer writes, it’s over-long and self-obsessed (like you can talk – ed), but the short version is that Helen grew up (yes, it starts with her childhood) being aware that feminism could easily be co-opted by marketing (insert reference to “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby”), but had hoped that #destroythejoint could avoid this fate, what with being at least a little bit about being funny.

Here comes the sad music: It’s stopped being funny, it’s been co-opted by marketing, and it’s now a waste of time.

Destroy the Joint had turned from an organisation that fought sexism with a mocking wit to one that did nothing but reproduce miserable sexism. For both the advertising industry and the patriarchy.

It’s not just her that thinks this: she’s also got “34-year-old Sydney-based marketing strategist” and former administrator of a Destroy the Joint Facebook page Aaron Darc backing her up. So a self-styled internet funny lady and a marketing guru think #destroythejoint needs to be funnier and better handled marketing-wise? Quelle surprise.

Just to engage with the substance of the article for a moment: Marketing using a social movement to market a product? That’s what capitalism does (cue Kyle Reese voice: “That’s all it does!!“). We’re hardly experts, but we dimly recall William Gibson saying that grunge – remember that, 90s fans? – was the last bohemia that had a chance to develop before it was co-opted by marketing. That was pre-internet and 20 years ago: come up with a social movement today and it’ll be harnessed to some kind of marketing push by, um, later that day.

The reason we even bring this article up – considering Razer and professional comedy are pretty much strangers these days and yes, we do know that if the writer starts talking about themselves in the first sentence of an article about an issue that involves at least half the population we really shouldn’t act surprised if the whole thing is basically “WHY ISN’T THIS SOCIAL MOVEMENT FOLLOWING MY BRIGHT AND SHINING LEAD” – is that this is a prime example of the kind of thinking that leads to thinking that The Gruen Whatever is a worthwhile effort. Fight marketing with marketing! That way, marketing wins.

What if #destroythejoint had followed Razer’s wishes and remained a “mocking wit”-based takedown of misogyny in the media and Australian life? For one thing, it would still be exploited by marketers; yes, it’s easier for marketers to exploit you when your online movement is entirely built around stoking OUTRAGE (it’s pretty much the only marketing tool the ABC used for its comedy programs for a few years there), but if your movement involves drawing attention to things*, it can be used as a marketing tool to expand the reach of those things whether you’re laughing or crying at them.

Wait, doesn’t this mean that all comedy is actually supporting the things they’re making fun of? Duh, no. But comedy making fun of advertising is supporting advertising pretty much all the time. That’s because advertising is about getting people to pay attention to you. Of course, there’s such a thing as negative attention, which is what #destroyingthejoint wants to apply. But you can’t really apply that to an ad, because as the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. Especially when misogyny (at least, in the mild “women are sex objects and household providers” form many ads use) actually still appeals to some consumers. That “What’s wrong with being sexy?” line from Spinal Tap was funny for more than one reason, after all.

Gruen doesn’t work because it tries – well, it pretends to try – to fight marketing with marketing. “These lies are bad lies,” says the panel, “they should have lied like this”. In contrast, The Checkout (no matter what you might think of it as a comedy) at least works on this level, by fighting marketing with facts. “Marketing says this burger looks good” says someone against a wacky backdrop, “reality says this burger looks bad.” Marketing can’t get around that, because that’s the kind of issue marketing is designed to avoid.

[Which may be the reason why googling “lawsuit against The Gruen Transfer” turns up no examples of anyone important getting annoyed while “lawsuit against The Checkout” gives you this.]

We are in no way saying that misogyny doesn’t exist in the Australian media. It’s all over the place and it’s a disgrace. But it’s something marketers can use, because for the most part it doesn’t relate to the product they’re marketing. No-one (Men’s Rights Activists and some politicians aside) is selling “misogyny” as their product: they use misogyny to get your attention because what they really want is your attention.

But surely comedy is powerful enough to defeat even the most evil forms of marketing? Well, considering the most evil forms of marketing usually involve comedy, maybe not. Good comedy should open our eyes to the truth; marketing wants to open our eyes to whatever it is they’re selling to us. Basically, comedy fails when the message becomes more important than getting a laugh.  “These examples of sexism in the media are hilarious” works as an approach to comedy. “These examples of sexism in the media are horrible” does not**.

Then you’re just back to fighting marketing with marketing and unless there’s a deeper truth on your side – one that goes beyond “this ad or person is sexist”, because as we’ve pointed out, that’s probably what the marketers want you to think as sadly not everyone agrees that “being sexist” is a bad thing – marketing will win. As regular Gruen watchers know all too well.

And no, we’re not saying “ignore it and it’ll go away”. We actually kind of agree with Razer here: there’s no simple solution to the problem of entrenched misogyny and retweeting a joke on twitter isn’t going to change anything. But we’re not a social activism blog, we’re a blog about comedy. And selling this kind of social activism as comedy doesn’t work as either social activism OR as comedy.

It’s probably appropriate Razer was the one who brought it up, come to think of it.



*Basically, #destroythejoint was and is a method of marketing that attempts to over-write the original message with “this is sexist”. Razer thinks that comedy was a more effective way of doing that than outrage, because comedy is harder for marketing to co-opt. We disagree; ads are trying to get ‘in on the joke’ all the time.

**The difference being, when the joke stops being funny you have to move on, which is a bit tricky for a social movement supposedly naming and shaming society’s creeps over an important and on-going issue.

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  • Urinal Cake says:

    Comedy (and the Internet) hasn’t really brought about social and political change since it preaches to the choir. When it has (Arab Spring) people have gone outside their house to do something.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    You know what’s great marketing? Fairfax creating a self-sustaining whirlpool of feminist ‘discourse’.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Yeah, reading the reply to Razer’s piece today did kind of underline the real purpose behind a lot of these articles.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    I agree with a bit of what Razer says. But she’s often accused other people resorting to media ‘hyperbole’ but obviously her job makes it impossible for her to write without looking like a hypocrite. Especially if you’re on twitter responding to the noise.