Archive for May 28, 2008

I look forward to Wednesday night on the ABC – in fact, it’s the only night I plan on watching actual broadcast content. The Young Inventors, Spicks and Specks, The IT Crowd and The Armstrong and Miller Show are all great fun, and given the premise of going backstage with advertising experts, The Gruen Transfer seemed like a promising addition to the line-up.

In hindsight, Will Anderson should have set alarm bells ringing. As much as I loved The Glass House, Dave Hughes and a series of witty guests carried that show, because Young Master Billy, as his abysmal performance at this year’s Melbourne Comedy Festival made apparent, is ratshit without an autocue and some interesting sidekicks.

Which leads us to the advertising representatives who, it seems, will make up the weekly panel. It’s worth noting the apparent effort at diversity in their ranks: Dee, the sole woman, comes off as creative-by-nature, cynical-by-necessity, and easily the most intelligent and well-adjusted participant. Granted, however, this is not tricky when compared to her fellow marketeers. Russell has the self-contradicting, overly-enthusiastic sheen of a man suddenly forced to rationalise ethical issues he hasn’t actually thought about. Todd appeared genuinely interested in the psychology and studies behind why advertising works, but took a credibility hit from being paired with Dan, the vile, sleazy epitome of corporate selling, whose cringeworthy humour left the audience wincing and Will Anderson with a glazed, almost manic desperation to change topic.

The humour of The Gruen Transfer  was hard to pinpoint: watching advertising high-flyers hold forth on how to market beer (or, at one point, whale meat) held an awful fascination, because none of the panel seemed to realise that their willingness to do so, rather than any jokes they might make, was what people had shown up to laugh at. Anderson himself was uncertain of which side to take, alternately egging on the advertisers and asking sharp questions of them. But this only achieved awkwardness: laughing with the panel alienated the audience, while laughing at them provoked unease. Having tuned in to watch marketing practices exposed as immoral wank and their practitioners called scum, I maintain the latter tactic is the most viable means of success, but it’s undoubtably difficult to make four professionals show up for a weekly ridiculing of their chosen industry.

Ultimately, The Gruen Transfer seems like an insupportable concept. As long as it remains unable to strike a working balance between self-pity, mockery and flagellation, it will act as a discomforting metaphor for society’s relationship with advertising: hate-love, with lashings of smug immorality, ignorance and guilt.   

Equality Cuts Like A Knife

Posted: May 28, 2008 in Fly-By-Night
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The Onion says it all, really.

Tee-hee!

Wikid Cool

Posted: May 28, 2008 in Good News Week
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There’s a tiny, thrilling tingle of vindication in reading that the NSW Board of Studies has given the go-ahead to an HSC English course that studies Wikipedia. Called Global Village, the elective looks at international communication in the age of digital information, and represents exactly where modern English courses should be headed. The road has been rocky and full of murk – my own experiences with HSC English were, shall we say, markedly unhappy – but such commonsense gleams like a light at the end of the tunnel.

The problem with English lessons in the modern era has become one of direction – or rather, lack thereof. Some decades ago, both teachers and administrators began to question the conventional wisdom of teaching Shakespeare because he was, well, Shakespeare, and ever since then, the old lynchpins of English study have been strewn asunder. Despite being a devotee of the Bard, I acknowledge the sense in this: at the same time, uncertainy has undeniably arisen as to what should replace tradition, and (more importantly) why. The loss of grammatical education was the most grevious blow, while boons included the broadening of curricula to encompass film, music, TV, the internet and other such viable media. Much of the confusion, however, seems to have resulted from the question of post-modernism, viz: if anything can be legitimately studied for any reason, then how can the scope be narrowed?

Like an optometrist twirling the dials on some giant eye-checker, the NSW Board of Studies has been fiddling for a correct fit. The Global Village unit makes sense on two levels: it implies a reasonable area of focus, and tackles the problem of students trusting Wikipedia as a primary source. More than anything else, my hope is that the Board will start to require genuinely individual answers of its students, rather than prescribing the direction of their essays. This was the source of my own disappointment: in a course whose outcomes strove for independent research and multiple perspectives, there was precious little room for personal opinion. Ironically, the very breadth of potential study was at fault: the only way to process so many essays using such varied sources was to restrict the conclusions they might draw, and, as a consequence, dilute any prospect of genuinely thoughtful or detailed analysis.  

Ultimately, the goal of highschool English should be threefold: to impart a functional comprehension of the fundaments of language; to foster an appreciation for intelligent media; and to encourage critical thinking. The NSW Board of Studies isn’t quite there, but if courses like Global Village are anything to go by, they’re finally on the right track.