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




capote-dog

The Outsiders: The early stories of Truman Capote

The recent publication of The Early Stories of Truman Capote – a collection of newly-discovered short stories from the archives of the New York Public Library – reveals the preoccupations of the adolescent Capote, drawn to drifters, exiles, and others living on society’s fringes. Read more »

CAROL

You Could Burn a House Down: Todd Haynes’s Carol

For many years, lesbians in fiction were punished for their social transgressions, condemned to a life of solitude, insanity, feigned heterosexuality and/or suicide. Radically, Carol portrays a lesbian love that doesn’t destroy or diminish its subjects, but enables them to transform, to grow and to be free. Read more »

21EMMYJP6-master675

Killings Columnists Pick Their Best of 2015

As 2015 concludes, we also farewell our fabulous 2015 Killings columnists. They’ve entertained and delighted us all year with fortnightly columns on culture, politics and society, and now they offer us a wrap up of their highlights for 2015 across their respective fields. Read more »

21EMMYJP6-master675

Killings Columnists Pick Their Best of 2015

As 2015 concludes, we also farewell our fabulous 2015 Killings columnists. They’ve entertained and delighted us all year with fortnightly columns on culture, politics and society, and now they offer us a wrap up of their highlights for 2015 across their respective fields. Read more »

18-gilmore-girls.w1200.h630

Tim McGuire

Progressive to a Point: Homophobia and Gilmore Girls

You can’t watch a TV show over and over again without picking up on a couple of its flaws, much as you might prefer not to see them. In the case of Gilmore Girls, the hamartia I didn’t want to find was a troubling and weirdly homophobic one, layered over with pithy dialogue, pop culture nods, and the small town charm that made the show’s seven seasons such a success. Read more »

ROSEANNE - On set in New York - 10/16/93 
Sara Gilbert (Darlene) on the ABC Television Network comedy "Roseanne". "Roseanne" is the story of a working class family struggling with life's essential problems.
(AMERICAN BROADCASTING COMPANIES, INC.)
SARA GILBERT

Rebecca Shaw

Out of the Imaginary Closet: Fictional characters who should have been gay

When you are part of a group that isn’t portrayed in the same way (or only negatively, or not at all) you become desperate for that glimmer of recognition. Here are several characters that I loved as a young person, who became stand-ins for the openly lesbian characters I wanted to see so much. Read more »

SPEAR_0014_Edward_Mulvihill copy 2

Lauren Carroll Harris

Eyes Open Dreaming: Spear and the potential for an Australian art cinema

Commercial success has long been prized as Australian cinema’s salve, and the values of that commerce-based vision of success have deeply permeated the national conversation. Spear sets this conversation aside entirely, raising in its stead the possibility of an art cinema in Australia. Read more »

CAROL

You Could Burn a House Down: Todd Haynes’s Carol

For many years, lesbians in fiction were punished for their social transgressions, condemned to a life of solitude, insanity, feigned heterosexuality and/or suicide. Radically, Carol portrays a lesbian love that doesn’t destroy or diminish its subjects, but enables them to transform, to grow and to be free. Read more »

Bowie - The Image  1

The Art of Immortality: David Bowie and The Image

With the news this week of David Bowie’s death at the age of 69 from a long battle with cancer, watching The Image is an oddly reassuring experience: the shared, mass hope that it can’t be true, that he’s not really gone, is played out in this grainy, almost haunted relic now almost 50 years old. Read more »

21EMMYJP6-master675

Killings Columnists Pick Their Best of 2015

As 2015 concludes, we also farewell our fabulous 2015 Killings columnists. They’ve entertained and delighted us all year with fortnightly columns on culture, politics and society, and now they offer us a wrap up of their highlights for 2015 across their respective fields. Read more »

18-gilmore-girls.w1200.h630

Tim McGuire

Progressive to a Point: Homophobia and Gilmore Girls

You can’t watch a TV show over and over again without picking up on a couple of its flaws, much as you might prefer not to see them. In the case of Gilmore Girls, the hamartia I didn’t want to find was a troubling and weirdly homophobic one, layered over with pithy dialogue, pop culture nods, and the small town charm that made the show’s seven seasons such a success. Read more »

PLM

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Family Matters: Please Like Me and the Aussie TV family

In a recent episode of Josh Thomas’s Please Like Me, the bouncy titles run over three little scenarios: Josh cooks dinner for his mate Tom and his boyfriend Arnold; his Mum cooks for her new housemate Hannah; and his Dad cooks for his wife, Mae. The three of them stir, sip wine and dance daggily around their kitchens in a neat metaphor for this season’s fantastic, cohesive new trajectory. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Tom Conroy and Colin Friels in Mortido. Photo credit: Shane Reid

Jane Howard

A Shining Nightmare: Mortido‘s Sydney

Sydney is a city of shine and reflective surfaces. The glint of the harbour follows through to city high-rises clad in polished glass, bouncing off the wide windows of the mansions hugging the undulating land before it gives way to the impossibly deep and wide water. But this beauty that can betray the darkness of the city and its people. Read more »

_85072354_hamlet3-pa

Angela Meyer

Outrageous Fortune: Seeing Hamlet as a Cumberbitch

Jazz swells, hushing the audience, and the solid black gate of the theatre curtain opens. It reveals the lounging figure of Hamlet, playing a record, sniffing his father’s old jumper. But what I see first is not Hamlet: it is Benedict Cumberbatch. Read more »

kiss copy

Jane Howard

Great Aspirations: In the shadow of Patrick White

The text of The Aspirations of Daise Morrow is lifted directly from Patrick White’s short story ‘Down at the Dump’. It’s a wonderful thing to hear White’s judicious use of language; to understand the eyes through which he saw Australia; and to see an entire world of his creation brought to life in the theatre. Read more »