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.

loitering-cover-cmyk-570

Sam van Zweden

The Writer at the Centre of the Essay: Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering

Loitering is Charles D’Ambrosio’s quietly brave collection of experimental essays. It doesn’t announce itself noisily, but associations slide sideways through the essays in unexpected ways. This collection is lyric in both senses – freely associative and loose, it borrows from the world, trying meaning on for size, producing metaphors and connections wherever it sees fit. Read more »

discworld

Elizabeth Flux

Footnote to a life: How Terry Pratchett kept me from going postal

If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then teenage me would have been the steamroller to Terry Pratchett’s somewhat plagiarised tarmac. In the ten years since I first picked up The Fifth Elephant, my work has been littered with Pratchettisms to varying degrees. Read more »

Patricia-Highsmith2

James Tierney

The Necessary Paradoxes of Patricia Highsmith

A highly regarded author of complex psychological thrillers, including The Talented Mr Ripley and Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith’s fiction comes freighted with a heady mix of cross-purposes and intimate alienations. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

9807778273_afe6ec792d_z

Rebecca Shaw

Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling

We are still at a point where far less than half the movies we see have a clear female protagonist, even though women are half of the population. If women as an ENTITY are not properly represented, their stories not told, what chance then do women of colour have? 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 »

flock_roof

Anwen Crawford

Don’t be Sheepish: Why Ewe Should See Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest feature-length production from Aardman Animations (the folk who brought us Chicken Run), and it is a delight. Borrow a young relative for cover if you must, but believe me, you are not too cool for a kid’s movie when it’s this much fun. Read more »

9331818982_322b389ff2_z

Annabel Brady-Brown

The blue pill or the red pill? In defence of highbrow film

Cinema is a powerful medium. Going to the movies, be it a Lav Diaz epic or a Michael Bay blockbuster, is an act of submission. You hand over $15 and the whole mash of your brain/senses/heart/dreams for ninety minutes. 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 »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. 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 »

jakobson0052

Katie Williams

Storytelling vs. interactivity: What makes a highbrow game?

What makes a game ‘highbrow’? We don’t have solid criteria for deciding conclusively which games are masterpieces, and which are just dumb, explosive fun. 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 »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »

Tessa Waters stars in Womanz

Jane Howard

Fringe Feminism: Women, comedy and performance art

Taken together, the work of these female comics and performers loudly proclaims that their ideas about gender, femininity, performance and comedy are not diametrically opposed. It is because of their performance backgrounds that their shows are hilarious, not in spite of them. 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 »