Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tim Minchin's "Woody Allen Jesus" song axed from Christmas show

One thing that has long fascinated me about the denizens of Artsville is how they put so much effort into provoking Christians, then get all upset when they actually succeed.

The latest example of this strange phenomenon involves Tim Minchin. The Aussie entertainer penned a song mocking Christianity and recorded it for Jonathon Ross's Christmas show. But the performance has been pulled, ostensibly because it didn't fit editorially. But it's pretty clear that's been done out of fear of offending God botherers.

Sure, it must be extremely annoying to be asked to create and perform something specifically for a show only to see it removed from the final broadcast. But what did he expect? And why did ITV commission it in the first place? Hell, it was for a Christmas special, fergawdsake! Surely they knew that if they got Minchin to do a song it wouldn't be your usual Chrissy goo about "chestnuts roasting on open fires" and "folks dressed up like Eskimos".

Of course, arty types all over the Western world will be arcing up over this act of censorship. But when it comes to far worse acts by members of another religion, the silence is deafening. If you provoke members of the Religion of Peace, people die. Surely that's more disturbing and sinister, isn't it? 

Minchin has never mocked Mohammed in the way that he did Jesus in this song. And with good reason. If he had, he could be looking over his shoulder for years to come.

It's one thing to have some TV producer wuss out of televising your spot so you have to whop it on Youtube instead. But that's much less unpleasant than being attacked in your own home by an axe-wielding zealot, isn't it? Because that's what happened to Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who had the temerity to draw a cartoon of Mohammed

And still on the subject of thin-skinned religious types: Tom Cruise was also a guest on the show. Imagine if Minchin had done a song taking the piss out of Scientology? I doubt that would have even been considered in the first place, let alone commissioned. 

Still, at least Scientologists just sue you. They don't try to kill you ...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Spicks and Speck-tacular success shows power of the ABC

You are probably aware of the light entertainment "comedy" show Spicks and Specks. I have only watched the music trivia program a couple of times myself. It was just so lame, so puerile, so ABC I couldn't last more than a couple of minutes. Like so many of that organization's projects, it had a touch of Play School about it. You know, "there are people with games and stories to tell ...".

Amazingly, it's been one of their ABC's most popular shows for yonks. It's finally come to a close after several years and the cast are touring a live version of it as a kind of long, loving goodbye to all the fans.

I noticed a huge billboard for this production in Northbridge recently and that's what prompted this post. See, I was gobsmacked that there would be such a big, live production resulting from that TV show. Apart from the content being so excruciatingly piss-weak the format itself seems so anti-theatrical.

I mean, it's amazing that people would happily watch smug, witless knobs (badly) performing stupid music-themed parlour games on television, and for free. But how retarded must they be to actually pay to see this kind of crap live?

Answer: very. There seem to be an awful lot of people like this out there, too, if this quote from the show's official website is any guide:

Back in 2007 Adam, Alan and Myf promised Australia that they would tour the greatest ever stage show loosely based on a music trivia show. The Spicks and Speck-tacular was born, and played to more than 200,000 fans…

This tour has only just started, so it's hard to know how well it's been selling. But it's reasonable to assume it's been getting full houses.

And what does this say about our culture -- apart from the obvious fact that a depressingly high number of adult Australians are actually mental infants? Well, it reveals the vast power and reach of the national broadcaster.

ABC management gave this silly project the green light in the first place, which is astonishing itself. (This couldn't have been the best project in its category to choose from, surely?) But not only did they choose it, they stayed with it until it attracted a small but loyal audience.

Therefore deemed a "success" by the higher-ups it just kept going on and on. Over the years it appears to have got the attention, and won the affection, of every pop music obsessed simpleton in the country. That demographic constitutes the nichiest of niche markets, of course. But in a country of 22 million, it still adds up to a helluva lot of people -- people who are happy to hand over real money to see their slightly less cretinous idols make fools of themselves right there in front of them.

Basically, free of commercial constraints, and with lots of taxpayers' money keeping it afloat, the show got a leg up into the marketplace. And now it has become what seems very likely to be a profitable venture in its own right. Which just goes to show that crap subsidized by the state can actually become commercially successful crap as a result.

Sure, we knew that already ... Still, wouldn't it be great if the ABC got behind stuff that's original, creative and, you know, good instead? Just think how much more interesting our popular culture would be then.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Queen, punk rock and New Musical Express

Watching ABC2 earlier in the week I saw the first part of a fascinating two-part documentary series about the rock band Queen called Queen: Days of Our Lives.

Being in my late forties now, of course I recognized all their hits. Way back when they were at the height of their fame I certainly liked their songs, as so many people did. But I didn't see them as anything special. I thought they were much like all other rock bands -- a bunch of overrated, preening egomaniacs, basically. Freddie Mercury in particular struck me as a bit of a tool.

I'm a lot older now, and -- I hope -- a bit wiser. So as I watched the doco I saw the band completely afresh. I have no musical ability, and very little knowledge of it, but I could finally understand just how brilliant these guys really were. They were truly unique and way ahead of everyone else in the field.

They were all exceptionally talented in their own way. But Freddie Mercury was particularly gifted. Not only did he have an incredible voice -- one now widely viewed as being one of the finest rock voices ever -- he also penned many of their best songs.

The doco was full of interesting anecdotes and reminiscences. One of the things that came through strongly was how the British music press of the day really detested the band. One well known illustration of this loathing was when NME interviewed Freddie Mercury and ran it with the headline: "Is this man a prat?" The band became so sick and tired of the constant sneering from vicious rock hacks that they gave up trying to please them entirely.

I think it's fair to say that the music press in Britain at the time -- like the local arts commentariat of today -- were a pretty bolshie bunch. So it's not surprising that they were deeply hostile to the flashy, witty quartet that was Queen.

It also makes sense that the music press gave a lot of positive coverage to punk music, and clearly had much to do with its rise. (NME in particular was closely associated with it, apparently.) After all, punk was clearly more an expression of inchoate political rage than an actual musical genre in its own right. Just listen to that crap and you'll know what I mean. (In a way it was a bit like today's stupid Occupy Movement, just a lot louder and snarlier -- albeit undeniably more creative as well.)

As is so often the case, the critics of the day were completely and utterly wrong. Not only did Queen sell squillions of records all over the globe at the time, many of today's musical pundits now rightly see them as a truly great rock band who made a huge and enduring contribution to popular culture.

The second part of Queen: Days of Our Lives is on Wednesday night next week. Definitely worth watching, IMO.