Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Television

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

by Nicholas J Johnson , June 5, 2014Leave a comment

Last week at the Highbrow vs Lowbrow Cultural Showdown, six of our favourite writers faced off to defend their preferred cultural forms. This week, we’re publishing their speeches in full for your edification. Here, Nicholas J Johnson defends lowbrow TV.

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face.

It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble.

‘So, Nicholas,’ Eddie says, ‘how long have you and Bridget been together?’

‘Fifteen years, Eddie. Since we were both eighteen.’

There’s a five second pause while the game-show host does the math.

‘You’re thirty-three? Gee, your face is well lived in.’ He looks to the studio audience for approval. They titter awkwardly.

We weren’t even supposed to be on Million Dollar Drop. Originally, I’d convinced Bridget to audition for Deal Or No Deal and she’d agreed, even after the Wheel of Fortune fiasco of 2002.

But the casting director had decided that the old-beyond-his-years professional magician and his sweet, long-suffering wife were too good a talent to waste on Deal’s 5.30 timeslot, and had bumped us up to primetime: Million Dollar Drop.

Now, all we have to do to win one million dollars is tell Eddie McGuire whether the ‘B’ in the eBay logo is blue or red.

Of course, we aren’t there for the money. Neither is the studio audience. Or the cancellation-inducingly small number of people watching at home. No, we’re looking for something else altogether: a moment.

We search for it at the bottom, trawling shows like Sister Wives, Extreme Couponing, Best Funeral Ever, America’s Worst Tattoos and Bridalplasty.

We know these shows are awful and degrading and disposable. But we’re willing to lower ourselves into the muck, to thrust our arms elbow-deep into the feculent sludge to find those precious few truly human moments that only exist in the very worst television.

We have to watch closely or we might it miss it.

The little twitch in the previously confident young woman’s eye when she realises that a statistically significant portion of the population would rather avoid her, than either snog or marry her.

Honey Boo Boo and her obese road kill-cooking mother playfully tossing bulk-purchased rolls of toilet paper at each other, giggling, the cameras forgotten.

Every visceral image that flashes before your mind’s eye upon hearing that a television show exists called I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.

We are all that seventeen-year-old girl straining, dealing with what we think is just the usual shit, only to look down and see a baby, staring up at us from the toilet bowl of the KFC bathroom.

These characters are our clowns now. Cavorting like the grotesque archetypes of Commedia dell’arte in semi-improvised scenes of sex, love and base bodily functions. But instead of the swaggering El Capitano or the gossipy La Ruffianawe get Heather the entitled housewife and Kyle the non-threatening gay man. We get to see ourselves, reflected back, exaggerated and simplified.

We won’t find these characters if we search in critically acclaimed HBO dramas. The more finely crafted those shows are, the more subtext and erudition they inject into their Emmy award–winning scripts, the more artificial they become. They are museum pieces to be admired from afar.

Highbrow TV shows give us Brylcreem-slicked Madison Avenue advertising executives. They wrap sharp sixties fashion around classical allusions in the vain hope we won’t realise we’re just watching Bewitched without the spells.

Highbrow has to slaughter Robb Stark, his mother, his wife and his unborn child to come close to the emotional wreckage that was wrought when The Bachelor refused to tell the winning contestant that he loved her, even though Nikki was called first at every single rose ceremony and she is a paediatric nurse so you know she’s a good person and doesn’t she deserve a little happiness? Doesn’t she deserve a ring on her finger?

Well? Doesn’t she?

‘I’m afraid I’m going to need an answer, Nicholas.’

I take a deep breath and smile.

‘Red, Eddie. The B in the eBay logo is Red.’

As the trapdoor opens and the wads of cash fall from our grasp down the five metre–high Perspex tube there is an audible gasp of dismay from the studio audience, who are more horrified and heartbroken on our behalf than at a thousand Red Weddings.

And there, in the eye of the shitstorm, Bridget and I stand aghast, knowing that, at the very least, this is our moment.

 

Nicholas J Johnson is a Melbourne author and entertainer. His debut novel, Chasing the Ace, is out in July. His website is www.conman.com.au.


highbrowvslowbrow




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

9781863956932

Carody Culver

Charmless lives: Helen Garner’s This House of Grief and Erik Jensen’s Acute Misfortune

How do narrative non-fiction writers who dare to dissect the darker aspects of humanity keep their readers engaged, rather than simply horrified? Read more »

KrissyKneen_credit_DarrenJames

Carody Culver

‘As if the top of my head were taken off’: The digital possibilities of poetry

‘When Emily Dickinson says, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” I can’t help but think she would be stupefied by the possibilities of digital literature.’ Read more »

tumblr_n9hftkebsr1tfwx0xo1_1280

S.A. Jones

‘Fool the Axis, Use Prophylaxis’: World War II’s anti-venereal disease posters

Protect Yourself: Venereal Disease Posters of World War II gives a fascinating insight into one of the ways the United States ‘managed’ servicemen’s sexuality: through poster art. Read more »

15115828030_526f79c515_z

Julia Tulloh

The celebrity spokesperson phenomenon

What should we expect celebrity advocates to deliver? Emma Watson is not a full-time activist, but if she inspires young people to take an interest in gender equality, is that not a good thing? Read more »

Clara and Doctor

Julia Tulloh

Doctor Who’s gender dynamics: a mid-season evaluation

In some ways, Peter Capaldi was a problematic choice for the newest regeneration of Doctor Who. How on earth were the producers going to pull off a successful friendship between a middle-aged man and a twenty-something woman, without it seeming at best patriarchal and at worst creepy? Read more »

blue-ombr-speckle-liner

Julia Tulloh

From the outside in: the beauty vlogger phenomenon

A current cohort of beauty bloggers are helping to break down distinctions between internal and external expressions of self in ways that allow them to generate new ideas of beauty on their own terms, rather than according to society’s expectations of what women (or men) should look like. Read more »

Whiplash-Damien-Chazelle

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Whiplash: bloody fingers and broken drumsticks

Whiplash is one of the year’s most exciting and electrically charged films. Admittedly, that’s a large claim to make for a little movie about a New York music student, his abrasive teacher, and a whole lot of banging and yelling in band practice. Read more »

Gone-Girl-Ben-Affleck-Rosamund-Pike-Entertainment-Weekly-cover

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Marital Crises: Gone Girl and Force Majeure

You can share your body, your bed, your bank account, and even your toothbrush, with another human being. But each mind contains a private world that can never be fully understood or examined, let alone shared with another. Read more »

theskeletontwins1

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Suicide, Laughter and The Skeleton Twins

Even the best parents can inflict some form of lifelong damage upon their children. But when parents are outright mad, bad or dangerous – or in the case of the funny, bittersweet comic drama The Skeleton Twins, so depressed they commit suicide – the damage can feel impossible to bear, even decades down the track. Read more »

ST_Ello_600

Connor Tomas O'Brien

The Rise of the High-Minded Startup

Ello’s manifesto is the key to understanding its relative success, and how it has managed to sign up hundreds of thousands of users despite offering a wafer-thin feature set. Read more »

6289302147_38e8035680_z

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Jacqui Lambie and the limits of Remix Culture

The combination of Google Image Search, Photoshop, and Facebook is a powerful one, providing web users with the ability to seek out swaths of copyrighted visual material, rip and manipulate these pictures so the original source is obscured, then share the freshly “remixed” images to a broad audience with no real fear of legal action. Read more »

Streisand_Estate

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Don’t Look: The emergence of Streisand criticism

In the wake of the recent nude celebrity photo leak, I noticed something strange about the ways different publications skewed their coverage. Tabloid-style publications tended to be honest about their motives. The behaviour of left-leaning broadsheet-style outlets, however, was more complex. Read more »

9780062211194

Danielle Binks

Nepotism, bullying and stalking: When online reviews go bad

The tangible power author Kathleen Hale wields, evinced by her numerous connections and Guardian platform, enabled her continued harassment of her book’s 1-star reviewer. The vocal support and defence put forward by Hale’s influential friends and family appears to be a case of privilege feeding narcissism. Read more »

nonaandme

Danielle Binks

Race, growing up and Nona and Me

Nona & Me beautifully explores female friendship amid cultural and political upheaval. It’s a tender portrayal of two girls who have so much in common, but are worlds apart. Read more »

7183815590_de3f64bca6_z

Danielle Binks

‘YA-bashing’: sexism meets elitism

Another month, another critic who doesn’t read YA literature but still feels superior enough to dictate to those who do. And with this latest instalment of ‘YA bashing’ comes critique of the critics – as many start pointing to a patriarchal undercurrent that runs beneath such articles that claim young adult and children’s fiction is unworthy. Read more »

homepage_large.9419e472

Chad Parkhill

The music of exhaustion

The War on Drugs new album Lost in the Dream is the startling sound of exhaustion – both a personal exhaustion and a broader cultural exhaustion – transformed into art that is thrillingly and paradoxically vital. Read more »

free-u2-album-on-itunes

Chad Parkhill

The Perpetual Undeath of Rock

 ‘Hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die.’ Depending on your own tastes and cognitive biases, Neil Young’s famous lyric will now seem more prophetic than ever before – or profoundly misguided. Last week saw the release of U2’s Songs of Innocence in what Apple … Read more »

arthur-russel-beckman

Chad Parkhill

Calling out of context: The perennial appeal of Arthur Russell

When Arthur Russell died in 1992 at the age of forty, he did so in relative obscurity, having released four commercially unsuccessful albums and granted a single print interview: not exactly a promising oeuvre on which to build a legacy. Read more »

bojack-horseman-exclusive-trailer-debut_bghe

Stephanie Van Schilt

Jerks, antiheroes and failed adulthood in You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman

In addition to both being really funny, two new US comedies – You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman – speak to a widely-held fear about what, exactly, constitutes ‘adulthood’. Read more »

images

Stephanie Van Schilt

How To Talk Australians and the rise of web series

How To Talk Australians has deservedly garnered widespread praise both locally and internationally. With close to two million views worldwide, it could be deemed our first truly successful locally-produced web series. Read more »

please-like-me

Stephanie Van Schilt

Mental illness and Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me

While the jury is still out on the success of Please Like Me’s efforts to address ideas around mental health, the discussions both its seasons have provoked and continue to encourage are incredibly important. That, I definitely like. Read more »