The Gruen Identity

What kind of mangled, dead-inside, meths-drinking husk would you have to be to watch Gruen week after week? What possible joy could you have left in your life that watching an endless hategasm pumping black spooge over the very idea of “community” in the name of making a quick buck was worth your while?

“How good is advertising,” says panellist Russell Howcroft (executive general manager, Channel Ten), “without advertising we wouldn’t know that story” – that story being the advertising-friendly story of someone doing something brave that we didn’t hear because we were too busy stomping the shit out of our television like we do every time we check back in with Gruen. Fuck that show.

You know how good advertising is? Not very fucking good at all. The only time advertising tells us anything, it’s because it wants something from us. Advertising doesn’t educate or inform; it exploits. That makes it ripe for comedy; comedy that rips the absolute shit out of its nasty self-serving world-view and the ghastly products it creates. You know, the exact opposite of the approach Gruen takes.

“Russell,” host Wil Anderson who sure as shit isn’t going to be getting away scott free here either, says, “should an ad tell you what the product is?” Russell laughs. Because he knows and we know that the whole basis of advertising is lying to people to get them to do something they otherwise might not do. And this is a show that celebrates that?

Look, if this was a serious drama we wouldn’t care in the slightest about its morals. Some of the best dramas of our time are morally dubious and yes, we are talking about Hardcore Henry. But for comedy to work, and by work we mean “be funny”, it really does have to try to side with the underdog. Someone powerful making fun of the weak isn’t comedy: it’s bullying.

But that’s all that Gruen does. It sides with the billion-dollar advertising industry against human beings and celebrates its ability to lie to the weak and powerless. Seriously, when your “non-capitalist running dog” panelist is Todd Sampson (board of directors, Fairfax Media; board of directors, Qantas; non-executive chairman, Leo Burnett Australia), you’ve fucked up big time.

And so the appeal of Gruen is the appeal of being friends with the bully. You’re smarter than the people being pushed around; you’re on the inside mocking those stupid enough to be out in the rain. But c’mon, this is a show where they look at a bunch of ads with a sexy sportswoman running around in a skin tight costume AND THEN HAVE TO EXPLAIN WHAT HER APPEAL IS TO ADVERTISERS.

Gruen isn’t exactly treating its audience like marketing geniuses. This is a show that shows ads and then has people sitting around explaining what we just saw. News flash: these are ads. They’re selling stuff. If they have to be explained, they’re not working. So if these are the world’s best commercials, and Gruen thinks you have to have them explained to you, what does Gruen think of you?

Even if you think we’re complete nutters for rabbiting on about the morals of a show that’s basically World Wackiest Commercials, it’s hard to deny that as a show it’s just plain, no-added nuts, shit. Wil Anderson tells the kind of arse-out gags left over from Good News Week then they cut to panellists laughing. Hey, Gruen: you have a live audience. They are laughing. What more convincing do we need? Sure, half the “comedy’ comes from showing a commercial then having Anderson just make some weird farting noise afterwards, but having Howcroft laughing at something in no way sells the idea that what we just heard was a joke.

Look, we get it. Companies spend millions of dollars on creating commercials. They grab some of the best creative talent in the world and put them to work creating these ads. They’re smart, they’re funny, they’re compelling, and bolting some half-arsed panel chat onto it while Wil Anderson does the same hosting job he’s been doing since The Glasshouse is a genius programming move. But if we were to praise Gruen simply for exploiting a free resource we’d be no better than them.

Gruen can’t be critical of the advertising industry because to exist it requires the goodwill of the advertising industry. We’re not the world’s biggest fans of The Checkout, but at least that’s a show that puts its audience ahead of an industry built on lying to them. We say this every time we talk about Gruen because it never stops being true: it’s nothing but one big advertisement for the advertising industry. Advertising is banned on the ABC, so exactly what the fuck is it doing on there?

Also, what’s going on with Todd Sampson’s hair?



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1 Comment

  • Andrew says:

    I don’t mind Gruen all that much – although sometimes you can know what they’re going to say before they say it – but it does absolutely grate when they have Wil crack some joke and all we see are the panellists cacking themselves. It’s so insincere and actually looks really awkward.