Vale Gruen, or What Is Dead May Never Die

Aside from how to hate life in all its forms, what did we learn from the latest season of Gruen? Because if you ask around, that’s generally seen as Gruen‘s big appeal: it’s a show that educates people about how the media, and advertising in particular, works. As education is obviously a good thing, Gruen is therefore a good show. Enjoy!

Well fuck that. It’s hard to pick one rock-bottom moment from this years endless parade of smug fuckwittery, but we’re going to go with the time millionaire Gerry Harvey was described as a loveable Aussie battler. Because he’s not. He’s an extremely wealthy man who has spent the last decade fighting against literally anything that could save Australian consumers money. But because he comes across as a cranky old coot in his commercials, he’s winning when it comes to media branding. Which, according to Gruen, is a shitload more important than reality. Remind us: what do we call an educational program based on lies?

So one more time for the folks up the back: Gruen isn’t a show that lifts the lid on advertising. Gruen is advertising: it’s a 35 minute weekly commercial for the wonders and glories of the business of advertising. You know how commercials for a product can tell you facts about that product and still be an advertisement for that product? That’s what Gruen does: it presents the facts in a slanted way to give the impression of a fair and balanced take while really pushing a biased message that’s in no way in the best interests of the consumer.

Once you realise that [less of the “wake up sheeple”, ok – ed] it becomes clear why Gruen is one of the dullest shows on television. Sure, if you take it at face value it’s a passable panel show where a bunch of millionaires sit around explaining why poor people are suckers, but upon realising that every single segment is advertising the concept of advertising it becomes as stale and predictable as any other commercial. No matter where a segment starts on Gruen, it always ends up at the same point: marketing is the solution to all problems. Which might seem fair enough – it is a show about marketing and advertising, after all – but it’s the reverse of how just about every other panel show works.

Everywhere else you go, the point of the show is the subject. Sports shows are about sports, political shows are about politics, and so on. When they discuss issues, they start with a story coming from their area of interest – “this is a sports story” or “this is a political story” – and then work out from there to find a solution. They’re basically telling a story: we know where they’re starting from and it’s the journey towards a somewhat unknown destination that provides the interest. Will the panel fight? Will someone have a crazy suggestion? Let’s find out!

But on Gruen it’s the reverse. Each episode the topics change – one week it’s AI home assistants and consumer boycotts, the next it’s Taylor Swift has a new album out – but the answer is always the same: marketing. Are AI home assistants a malware pipeline that promise to make home appliances as fun to deal with as a 1996 VCR? Why are consumer boycotts pretty much the only tool left to reign in corporate excesses? Has Taylor Swift progressed musically beyond the EDM-influenced pop that’s increasingly yesterday’s news on the charts? FUCK YEAH MARKETING.

And this is as boring as fuck because marketing is as boring as fuck. The topic is the interesting thing: the solution is just a bunch of buzzwords designed to render everything down to the same level of “how can we extract as much money out of the client as possible”. It’s like someone created a show that each week tackled the biggest issues facing our society and said the solution to every single problem was exactly the same: more tax cuts for the rich. Oh wait.

Unsurprisingly, this is now how a large chunk of our media works. Whether you’re Andrew Bolt or Helen Razer, one increasingly popular path to media success is to position yourself as someone with all the answers. You’re the only one who sees how our society really works so you’re the only one with the key to figuring it all out, and it doesn’t really matter what the answer you’re selling is (Communism! Tony Abbott! Marketing!) just so long as it’s even slightly convincing as an answer to the confusion of modern life.

Of course, the people behind Gruen know that this is a media strategy that’s extremely successful when it comes to promoting a product: they work in marketing. We just wish someone there worked in entertainment.





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