iColumn 2.0 – 2009: The Year In Review

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 24th November 2009.

As this year draws to a close, a quick look at the events of the past 11 months suggests that 2009 will go down in the history books as an eventful one. The Black Saturday bushfires, Michael Jackson’s death, swine flu, Britney’s mime act, the rise of Masterchef , Guy Sabastian releasing the most irritating song ever and the crowning of the new Australian Idol (I’ve already forgotten his name) will all become a part of our collective memories and culture. 2009 has also seen several cases of fraudulent marketing where unscrupulous hucksters have done almost anything to get publicity, even if they don’t necessarily have a product or anything at all to market. Let’s relive some of these moments together and then perhaps banish them to the Recycling Bins of our minds. Only last week, two men who pretend to have fights in their underwear for a living, held a press conference where they proceeded to, wait for it, pretend to have a fight, and managed to get themselves covered by the mainstream Australian media. 80’s wrestling legend Hulk Hogan and 16 time World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair staged a bloody tussle to promote their upcoming pro-wrestling tour. Pictures and footage of a bleeding Hulkster were featured on the home pages of several major news websites and also made local television news. The story was then picked up internationally, however, the main focus of these stories was the Aussie media reporting on the fight as legitimate. The publicity stunt worked and initial poor sales for the Hulkamania Tour’s first show in Melbourne soared following the press coverage. At least they had a product to promote, unlike my next subject, Falcon Heene, better known as the Balloon Boy. In October, Falcon’s parents, who allegedly met at acting school, reported that he had accidentally floated away in a homemade helium balloon shaped as a flying saucer, resulting in approximately US$2 million being spent on rescue services. The balloon eventually landed without an occupant, sparking fears Falcon had fallen to his death. Of course, the whole time, Balloon Boy was hiding at home the whole time. Falcon’s parents have since confessed to the hoax, admitting it was a publicity stunt. It has yet to be determined what exactly the Balloon Boy incident was meant to be promoting. There was no product to sell, with the exception of a crazy family, but we’ve all got one of those. Hmm, seeking publicity for the sake of publicity… That reminds me of our final attention seeker, a home grown bogan better known as the “Chk Chk Boom Girl”. Clare Werberloff gained worldwide internet and media stardom for a few days when she gave an interview for a Nine Network film crew in Kings Cross. Giving completely false descriptions of a “fat wog” shooting a “skinny wog”, Werberloff had to get herself a publicist to deal with the international and local media requests for interviews. She later admitted that it was all in fun and would be a good story for the grandkids. I can just picture it. “When I was your age I made up a slightly racist story for the television and I was famous on Facebook for 5 minutes. Why don’t you kids play hide and seek in the attic while I launch my giant helium balloon?”

Published in: on January 28, 2010 at 13:53  Leave a Comment  
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Hey hey, is Yellowface the new Blackface?

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 13th October 2009.

The recent controversy surrounding the Jackson Jive sketch on the revival of Hey Hey It’s Saturday has certainly ignited a fierce debate regarding the appropriateness of racial stereotypes in modern entertainment and media. Whilst a Michael Jackson or Jackson Five tribute is itself not offensive (the question of taste is another question), the choice of the backing performers to wear blackface makeup and frizzy wigs is really the heart of the matter. Blackface is a theatrical style using makeup, usually greasepaint or shoe polish, to blacken the skin and accentuate the lips, and, combined with a shaggy wig, is based on the American stereotype from the 1800’s of the cheerful plantation negro. Originating in the United States in the mid-1800’s, this theatrical traditional was an extremely popular form of entertainment for over a hundred years, and quickly spread to the United Kingdom. The Black Minstrel shows of that era represent the heyday of blackface. Performed by white, and then later, black performers, the shows varied in content and tone between wildly comic buffoonery based on racial stereotypes and serious interpretations of spiritual songs. By the time of Vaudeville in the early years of the 1900’s, blackface was a live entertainment staple, and remained so until it became taboo in the US in the 1950’s with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, although it carried on in the UK until much later, even appearing on primetime television variety shows up until 1981. Al Jolson, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby were among famous film stars who appeared in blackface in movies from the 1930’s. Blackface was not limited to the US or UK either. In Orange, a local group of performers staged a Black Minstrel show at Amoco Hall as recently as the early 1980’s. In the modern world of theatre, blackface is generally no longer acceptable. Actors unions certainly would not allow a black character to be portrayed by a white performer. An exception to the rule would be the musical Jolson, which starred the late Rob Guest in its Australian run, and features blackface during its portrayal of the early years of the titular singer’s career. As blackface was historically part of Jolson’s life story, it would be very difficult to leave it out. Licences for theatrical productions of musicals such as Showboat or Porgy & Bess are subject to the condition that blackface is not used. Until recently, Miss Saigon could only be performed on condition that a black actor played the role of American G.I. John, although this has been lifted for amateur productions. Interestingly enough, the same taboo for racial stereotyping in theatre does not apply equally to all races. The King & I is still performed regularly in amateur circles with a predominantly white cast, made up to look Asian. Controversy erupted in 1989 over the original Broadway and London productions of Miss Saigon when Caucasian actor Jonathan Pryce was cast as the Vietnamese origin character, The Engineer. Whilst there is no easy answer to the question of the appropriateness of the Hey Hey sketch, it must be remembered that the performance originated from an episode 20 years ago. It may have been entertaining and acceptable then, but is it now?

…so how was your year?

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 8th December 2009.

With 2009 drawing to a close, let’s ponder who or what might consider the year to be a positive one, and commiserate with those who have had an annus horriblis.

2009 was a good year for…

Free to air television. With the launch of new digital channels Go!, One, ABC 2 and 3 plus 7TWO to begin broadcasting in Orange soonish, there are now many choices for non-Austar viewers. Why watch the news when you can enjoy the Flintstones instead?

Vampires. Boy wizards are so last year. With the Twilight Saga, Vampire Diaries and my favourite, True Blood, the blood sucking undead have never been so prolific in popular culture. Vampire fiction aimed at the pre-pubescent and post-menopausal demographic has become so popular that it is now a section of its own in most book shops. A sure fire money maker, my self-penned fictional saga, Vampire TAFE, will be on shelves soon.

Britney. The greatest mime artist since Marcel Marceau practically sold out her Australian arena tour. Why doesn’t she ever do the glass box?

Car wash owners. The red dust from the sky soon turned to manna from heaven for local car wash owners. I finally got my car cleaned about a month after the dust storm.

Aspiring NSW Premiers. Please add your name to the waiting list and you will soon be called up for your turn. Previous experience as a performer in a marionette show is preferred.

Michael Jackson. With a record breaking series of fifty sold-out concerts in London, a million plus in record sales, a hit movie and a renewed interest in his career, 2009 was an amazing year for The King of Pop, with one major hiccup.

2009 was a bad year for…

Michael Jackson. No explanation required.

Carbon Trading. With K-Rudd’s emissions trading scheme likely to fail in Parliament, may I suggest that Scanlens introduce a set of Carbon Trading Cards? Soon to be the newest fad to hit the school playground, children can collect and swap these cards which come with a stick of bubble gum and feature a picture and profile of a politician. Keep an eye out for the extremely rare Malcolm Turnbull card which was deemed faulty after printing and cut from the collection.

Television series storyline logic. Why can’t I stop watching FlashForward? It makes no sense. Everyone collapses and sees a vision of themselves six months into the future. An elite FBI team begins to investigate. Why does no-one in their flash forward seem to behave as though they are familiar with what is happening? Why does no-one seem to questions whether the future is set in stone? Am I thinking too much?

DVD Retailers. It must be pretty hard to make a living when the local supermarket sells the latest dvd for a third of the cost price when customers buy $100 worth of groceries. The local video store may soon be collateral damage in the war between Coles and Woolworths.

Tiger Woods. After a glorious win at the Australian Masters, Tiger celebrated by crashing his car into a fire hydrant outside his Florida home. Perhaps he should concentrate on driving towards the green and avoiding the water hazards?