Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns

Why Australian drama should be more political

by Stephanie Van Schilt , April 24, 20141 Comment

At Home with Julia

 

After binging on House of Cards season two and concluding season three of Scandal, I’ve finally taken up with Borgen. I’m only a few episodes into the highly acclaimed Danish political drama but already, as with The West Wing long before it, I’m totally hooked.

Borgen follows the first (fictional) female Prime Minister of Denmark (played by charismatic Sidse Babbett Kudsen). Compared to the ludicrous depths of House of Cards, the melodramatic heights of Scandal, or the liberal porn that was The West Wing, it offers a far more grounded approach to political drama.

This doesn’t mean Borgen is any less thrilling or any more worthy of viewership. The comparative range of each of these shows demonstrates the scope of possibility for political drama on television. Add the likes of the original BBC version of House of Cards, and you have a collection of acclaimed TV shows which demonstrate the different ways various political systems and cultures can be presented in a fictionalised form.

Which leads me to contemplate: where are all the good Aus Pol dramas?

Given our tendency toward self-deprecation, it’s not surprising that Australians produce far more political satires than we do dramas. In 2011, the poorly executed and inconsequential At Home With Julia was never going to be a match for the likes of HBO’s Veep or BBC’s The Thick of It. Granted, the latter shows engage with expansive mythologies surrounding Washington DC and the British parliament, but they also present intelligent, humorous takes on national governance via a series of well-crafted, panicked and totally fictitious spin-doctors, advisers, leaders and media. Comparatively, At Home With Julia presented a fictionalised version of a real leader in a domestic setting. It was more simplistic, inward-looking farce than actual commentary.

Thankfully, Shaun Micallef has continued to fight the good fight over the years as our very own Stephen Colbert-lite, most recently with his sketch/panel comedy show Mad As Hell, now in its third season. Likewise, the influential Working Dog crew produced two amusing seasons of their Canberra-based parody The Hollowmen in 2008, and since last year, The Roast has provided daily doses of interstitial-sized satire on the ABC. So, there are some Australian shows in this field – but not a lot.

Essentially, when stepping away from (often awkward) tongue-in-cheek satire, Australian content is skewed toward nostalgia-driven biopics or miniseries that – on one big night or over several consecutive Sundays – tend to humanise and even valorise political leaders in hindsight. These are relatively high-concept vehicles, often with big name actors playing notable figures. The central performances tend to outshine any political commentary – think Richard Roxburgh as Hawke (2010) or the recently announced Julia Gillard project in which Rachel Griffiths will play our first female PM. Due to the restrictions of the form, these projects lack the scope offered by serialised drama and are few and far between.

Last year Southern Star revealed the details of a new show, Party Tricks, starring golden girl Asher Keddie as Kate Ballard, a fictionalised politician committed to her campaign. According to producer Imogen Banks, this six-part drama series to be screened later this year will spotlight ‘politics, power and sex’. Just how these elements will be framed is yet to be seen, particularly given the casting of Keddie, best known for her beloved role as whimsical Nina in Offspring. Either way, this miniseries serves to highlight a gap in the Australian television market that it alone cannot fill.

In conversation with House of Cards creator Michael Dobbs, Borgen writer Adam Price noted that he intended his show to ‘stir an interest in politics’. One could say he has succeeded given that, like The West Wing’s prophetic storyline based on the rise of Barack Obama before it took place, Borgen pre-empted the election of Denmark’s first female Minister of State.

Regardless of whether it is life imitating art or art imitating life, the current Australian political climate is ripe for social commentary via culture. Deriving stories from our national headlines would offer a wealth of unmined opportunities – whether depicting fictionalised worlds in order to sadistically contemplate Machiavellian horrors, or envisioning aspirational political systems and exploring utopian dreams. When Olivia Pope’s love of a fine wine is rivalled by a fallen Premier’s own vino-soaked scandal, and former ministers are confused with fictional psychopaths, Australian television has some seriously fertile political ground to draw on.

Stephanie Van Schilt is Deputy Editor at The Lifted Brow and a freelance writer. She tweets @steph_adele.

ACO logo




  • Stephen Turner

    Generally we don’t do idealistic drama, we do cynical and angry, so that would seem to preclude us doing our own “West Wing”. That said, our drama could be much more political — even various common crime dramas and thrillers in the US and UK tend to be far more political (at times) than anything we make here. Interesting to see a few new works on the horizon here.

monroe

James Tierney

Survival and Contradiction: Jacqueline Rose’s Women in Dark Times

This book’s most impressive trick is in the way it pulls together seemingly disparate figures. In this fierce, insightful and wide-ranging collection, Jacqueline Rose calls for nothing less than a reformulation of feminism. Read more »

Clive-James-typical-mix-o-014

Cosima McGrath

The Unreliable Truth of Clive James

Some authors hermit themselves away and are unknowable to the public except through their writing. Clive James, on the other hand, carries his own spotlight. Read more »

9781926428659

James Tierney

Converting the Nonbeliever: Science fiction, climate change, and James Bradley’s Clade

For most of my reading life, I passed right over the fantasy and science fiction genres. As far as I was concerned, The Lord of the Rings was a decent doorstop, Dune was a prime spot on the beach from which to check out the swell, and 2001 meant only a year of once-distant promise, and now spiralling dread. Read more »

article-2301242-18FA52E4000005DC-314_470x763

Rebecca Shaw

An Inconvenient Truth: Social stigma and menstruation

If you have heard of menstruation, you would know that it is an essential process in a little tiny thing called the EXISTENCE AND CONTINUATION OF HUMAN LIFE, and it is something that most (not all) women experience for about five days every month for a large part of their lives. It is a topic (besides shopping, lol) that women think about frequently. Read more »

fx-2015-winter-tcajpeg-069cb_c0-146-3500-2186_s561x327

Rebecca Shaw

Billy, Don’t Be a Homophobe

As a non-heterosexual person who has lived my entire life in a heteronormative world, I have a finely tuned antenna for homophobia. Loaded terms, like those used recently by Billy Crystal, are becoming more common, as it becomes less acceptable to state openly that you get an icky feeling when you see two people of the same sex kiss. Read more »

B5QJwMhIYAAfjxG

Rebecca Shaw

A Tale of Two Penises: Double Dick Dude and the invisibility of male bisexuality

For the past year I have found myself fascinated by penises. If I’d been to the races, I would have created a monstrous dick fascinator to wear as a beautiful physical representation of my mental state. But let me be clear, I have not been captivated with all or even many penises. My fascination has solely been aimed at the two penises owned by the man known only as ‘Diphallic Dude’, or more casually ‘DoubleDickDude’. Read more »

girlwalkshomealoneatnight

Anwen Crawford

Bad Cities

A Most Violent Year has an atmosphere of all-pervading dread, like a film noir, as if the polluted air of New York itself was causing people to act against their better intentions. Even more haunting and more noir is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a memorably audacious debut feature from American-Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour. Read more »

cdn.indiewire

Kate Middleton

On the Trail: Wild and the voyage of the modern woman

Strayed articulates the question that drives so many pilgrimage narratives: ‘What if I forgive myself?’ That same question perhaps suggests why female-driven journeys are resonating with audiences now: self-reliance and the abandonment of a conventional life have long been male-dominated themes. Read more »

Film Review Selma

Anwen Crawford

An Urgent and Motivating Anger: The politics of Selma

How to approach a figure with the reputation of a secular saint? One achievement of Selma – and it is a film of many achievements – is to reanimate King as a living, breathing man; a man of politics, strategy, and absolute, underlying resolve. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

agent-carter-7683

Danielle Binks

Agent Carter and the future of the female superhero

Agent Carter has been described ‘a Triumph for Women, Marvel and TV,’ and heralded as an important new chapter in comics culture. If this supposedly groundbreaking new show fails, does it spell doom for the future of female-led superhero franchises? Read more »

39154_4f8f076801b89b442752af76ac226fc0

Anwen Crawford

Satire and Scandal: Revisiting Frontline

Frontline’s makers could not have anticipated the long, web-based afterlife of their creation, though they might not be surprised that their targets – the rampant egotism and moral hypocrisies of tabloid journalism – remain just as current. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

cher_horowitz_closet-010_2

Katie Williams

Fashion Forward: How hidden algorithms are dressing up technology

Though we increasingly rely on technology to simplify our lives, we still want to believe that behind the scenes is a happy, human face, rather than an impassive machine that does the dirty work for us. Read more »

wowx5-artwork-012-full

Katie Williams

Killing Monsters and Making Memories: How virtual worlds facilitate communication

When I hang out with my brother, we joke, make fun of each other, and swap stories about mutual friends. Sometimes, we’ll each pack a bag of stat-enhancing potions and go out to kill large monsters. It’s been well over a year since I saw my brother in the flesh – but thanks to World of Warcraft, I interact with him on a daily basis. Read more »

Before Us_3

Jane Howard

Stuart Bowden’s Unfamiliar, Universal Worlds

It’s hard to classify the work of Stuart Bowden. His one-person storytelling theatre works are at once hilarious and melancholy. They exist in a particular space of fringe theatre: intricately crafted stories built for small rooms & small audiences, they lift and rise that audience, gathering us all up in the magic of stories & the closeness they can breed. Read more »

The-Rabbits-2015-1280x470

Jane Howard

Thinking Outside the Box Seats: The future of Australian opera and musical theatre

If we want to see new work and innovation grow in opera and musical theatre, we need to consider how they might develop within our culture. Read more »

MovingMusicAndreCastellucci1

Jane Howard

The (Sometimes) Beauty of Being Alone at the Theatre

I often go to the theatre on my own. One of the great joys of writing reviews is that even when I attend productions solo, I still get to talk (write) about them at length after the fact. Seeing theatre is a wonderful activity to do unaccompanied, because as soon as the performance starts, everyone is alone in some way. Read more »