In an ABC bubble, where Steve Bannon and Hillary Clinton softball interviews are good, and Tonightly skits which skewer actual reality are bad, Helen Razer prepares you for the new media world order.
News last month that satirical youth-news shambles Tonightly would be cancelled by “Our” ABC was bleak. And, no. Before you come over all “it wasn’t funny anyhow”, consider not only that our tastes are not the point here, but that Charlie Pickering, head prefect at the Private Boys School of St Woke, just keeps on getting renewed.
To appease those who applaud the decision, let me say: yes. Ballard and pals began with a whimper. But, they ended with the bang of annihilation.
You may have found nothing to laugh at in these last Tonightly weeks. Or, perhaps you found it in the search for Australia’s Main Asian or when asked So You Think You Can Trans. Po-faced or cack-dacked, you can probably agree that these kids gave it a go. If you can’t agree that the fact of a writer’s room far younger and more diverse than most is to our common cultural good, then you and me shan’t get on.
The Tonightly end is more evidence that the ABC is not our property, but that of powerful shits. Between happy-clappy ABC 30 second promos that look, and sound, like a late 90s tampon ad — that “these are the moments” jingle now serves to make me long for menopause — we get propaganda disguised as current events.
New Matilda’s publisher made this claim more than a decade ago, but it has become even clearer that this is State Media in its undisguised form. It’s hard to want to save a thing that runs claims about the Chinese taste for dog meat as “news”.
It’s impossible to see why three weeks of the flagship current affairs program is given to Russia is The Evil Empire. They already run a collusion fantasy podcast and when Our ABC refers to the suspicion of electoral interference by Russia, it becomes settled fact. Let’s leave aside that the ABC has never before given its serious attention to those problems of a corrupted system for which there is hard evidence, like suppression of Black voters or actually broken voting machines. Let’s leave aside that this is not the USA, that the US domestic and foreign agendas have remained on the same trajectory for more than a lifetime no matter the President, and that if I have to hear that Trump is not a “true American” again, I will start my own “birther” movement proving that nothing is more nakedly evocative of US power than Trump.
Let’s just say that a bit of US and Israel collusion news would be welcome. I mean, the President’s son-in-law gave up his boyhood bed for Netanyahu. His frequent visits with the occupiers deserve a little more scrutiny, surely, than is given.
Look. Whatever. Turn Foreign Correspondent into a lifestyle travel show for rich people who think that The War on Waste is a great way to save the planet. Let’s celebrate the appointment of another bloke from The Chaser and let’s all pretend that it’s up to poor people to save the planet whose irresponsible use of plastic bags has led us to this apocalyptic prelude. Anything to let the state and the planet-fucking business it supports off the hook and, my goodness, isn’t it amazing when Sarah Ferguson pops off to ask Hillary to tell us again just how inspiring she is. To everyone, except for The Russians.
The Australian State Advances in Perfect Glory. This falsehood is the work of the ABC. Any hard analysis from the Left is not welcome and “debate” is had only between your neoliberal who is not openly racist and your neoliberal who is. Oh. Sometimes we get a neoliberal who pretends to be neonationalist. This week, we watched as the man who made the Breitbart of 2016 possible tell porkies uncontested by the host.
So, an appearance by Steve Bannon is proof of “free speech” whereas one by a Leftist would just be proof of bias. The ABC is as close to the Left as the soup spoons used by board members and also, why in the name of bare poverty has the organisation chosen to support a training day for corporate bruisers of the future? Does the aspiring female CEO really need a boost funded by taxpayers, or has the ABC Leaned In to the lie that lady leaders are better than the man sort so hard that it can’t get the fuck up from the executive bathroom floor?
Which bring us back to Tonightly. Even the flicker of satire frightens those who’ve learned to serve state power in the dark. It needn’t, though. Forget what you’ve heard on Netflix specials: comedy poses no real threat to power, or its subjects. Peter Cook says it best: when asked what sort of acts he planned to book at his newly opened club, the late comedian answered that it would be political comedy inspired by that of the “Berlin cabaret clubs of the 30s, which did so much to prevent the rise of Adolf Hitler”.
Of course, this is no moral rationale for the comedy of “punching down” and it’s certainly not to suggest endorsement for the racist joke. It is my view that one of Bill Leak’s unfunny fingers ought to have been broken every time he drew for the pleasure of the white unconscious. He did so at the cost of real pain. A vile joke can cut people deep and I’m all for the people cutting back. (We cannot trust the state.)
But, Tonightly never did this. Power was its punching bag. And power remains its punching bag in a skit from its final days, although, I hear, the protests are quite otherwise.
The Lefty Boot Camp is a bang. It’s a punch at power, even if understood as an unkind stab at those progressives who would make the world more tolerant, loving and generally formed to comply with the rules set forth in other, gentler comedies.
It seems clear to me that the target here is the white and tertiary educated Western progressive — and, no even if we are ladies, we don’t get to claim that we are not, at times, the instruments of power. Actually, nobody does. We can all unwittingly serve an agenda against the interests of our identity category and in service to the maintenance of power. Like, for example, cheering on Hillary Clinton because she is a woman, the “most qualified”, or not Donald Trump.
To cheer for Hillary is to cheer for US power, to cheer the “qualification” of waging war and setting wages low. To denigrate her hawkish record and support for the fortunes of the finance sector is not to denigrate women. Clinton tried to cover her future program of wealth creation for the few, and her past program of outright racism and welfare crushing, with exactly the stuff pilloried in the Boot Camp skit. She said “women women women” and “diversity” to a group of people who have come to believe that this positive representation alone will truly change power.
Women people, black people, brown people, white people, queer people all people are capable of serving this agenda. Which is not, for a minute, to say that representation means nothing or even that some people might have felt quite good about the fact that Clinton invited the Muslim parents of a dead US solider. If this is your feelgood moment, fine.
But if you mistake this moment of pleasure for a moment of true change, what you haven’t seen is the background to Clinton’s policy, which not only produced the death of soldier Khan, but produced it in an ongoing war against the people of the Global South, which happens to include many Muslims.
Hillary defended her unconcern for bank reform by claiming she was far too interested in Black people. Chiding her rival Sanders’ for his interest in a little thing like poverty, she asked a crowd, “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, would that end racism?”
She did not go on to prescribe a means to end racism during her primaries speeches. Nor did she address the way that the financial crisis of a decade ago was built precisely through predation on poor people of colour. I am white, and I cannot speak to the pain of racism. Nonetheless, I feel confident in saying that the pain of losing one’s savings or home due to racial profiling is not improved much by having Hillary saying nice things about your identity category on telly.
Let’s say you-we take the racism out of banks and all societies with the election of Clinton, awareness raising or a magic pill. Presto. The fact remains that banks have built their power on the backs of the poorest peoples and nations. Now, and from the beginning of the West’s industrial ascent, these nations and peoples have been overwhelmingly black and brown. Even if we could upturn racism with awareness raising and good TV, they will remain black and brown. And let’s say that somehow, the world’s most immiserated and exploited people suddenly become white. And then if you answer “good, about time”, then just admit it: you’re okay with crushing debt, war, and labour exploitation. You just want nice pictures of happiness to look at.
Tonightly will be gone. But not before it gave some kids a glimpse of a big picture they may not have seen. It was not, as I saw it, disrespectful. It was utopian.
Yes. Yes. Of course. Any revolutionary movement worth the name must do all it can not to reproduce the bigotry of the world it seeks to renew. But, any movement which seeks to end bigotry and stigma and comedy and nothing else will fail.
The big picture and the little picture interweave. They are not separate. They are two halves of a torn whole that only has force when we put them back together.
Put them together again. Do it with a bang.
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