Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Matthew Newton and Mel Gibson still have friends

You've got to feel sorry for Matthew Newton. He's clearly in an awful lot of turmoil, and living in a fishbowl has clearly exacerbated his problems. But he's done a helluva lot of damage, too. The bloke is trouble, let's face it.

If you had any sense at all you'd give him a very wide berth if he were to cross your path -- or even if you knew him already.  But what's surprising is that even though he's not as popular as he used to be, several people have been surprisingly supportive of him over recent months.

Lawyer Chris Murphy has been particularly loyal. He is now engaged in a full-on Twitter war with the actor's countless detractors. He's certainly been going well beyond the call of duty here. He seems genuinely fond of the bloke.

It's interesting what kind of motivations people have for such loyalty. Newton's fame must have something to do with it. And notoriety is another kind of fame, after all.

The potential for increased media exposure by association aside, a lot of people do like a bit of drama, too. Newton has certainly been supplying a lot of that lately.

The troubled actor's story has parallels with that of another famous Aussie who's clearly losing his marbles in the public eye: Mel Gibson.

His latest crazy outburst was caught on audiotape by the son of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. Eszterhas has written an open letter to the star that contains some truly jaw-dropping allegations. If even a quarter of them are true then Gibson has totally lost the plot, theme and subtext!

Which begs the question: Why did Eszterhas hang around the guy and put up with all his ranting for so long? Of course he had professional reasons for this, since he was contracted to write a screenplay for him. But Eszterhas brought his family into Gibson's orbit as well. And he went for a whole two years before finally spitting the dummy.

Amazing what you can get away with if you're rich, powerful, famous and charismatic.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mike Daisey is no master monologist

Still on the subject of fiction being presented as fact: You've probably heard about this Mike Daisey character. For those who haven't he wrote and performed a critically lauded one man show called The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. This purported to be a factual account of his visit to Chinese factories making Apple products, and included some explosive claims about the appalling exploitation of workers.

While promoting the show he was interviewed on a public radio program called This American Life. Its producers originally believed the claims made in his monologue. Subsequently, however, they did some more serious fact-checking and found that many of them just didn't stack up.

Since they had been so supportive of the writer-performer, they felt that it was their duty to correct the record and also ask him why he misled them. The full episode dealing with this issue can be found here (hat-tip to Gregoryno6). I recommend that you listen to the whole thing. It's fascinating stuff.

And not just because of Daisey's answers to the questions put to him, which I'll get to in a minute. The reaction of the journos themselves is also quite revealing. It's greatly to their credit that they chose to correct the record, of course (if only the hypocritical ideologues at Media Watch were so thorough and professional!). But there's also a palpably personal element to this decision that comes through.

Having an ideological prejudice against big business, they desperately wanted to believe the simplistic picture Daisey painted of Apple's eeevil empire. Which is why they endorsed it originally. But when they twigged that he had brazenly fabricated so many details they seemed to have been quite hurt as well as astonished. That's leftists for you. Naive as well as emotional.

When they ask him about why he lied, they never get angry or upset. But their pique at his betrayal comes through loud and clear. As well as their genuine curiosity about his motives, there's an almost plaintive, miffed quality to their questions. It's like they're saying: "You really hurt us, Mike ... Why did you let us down? We supported you, comrade." Conservatives will find this amusing (as well as a little sad) because they just wouldn't have been taken in by the portly blowhard's tall tale in the first place.

Back to Daisey himself: He's also very naive and emotional. All he had to do to avoid this whole mess was make the qualification in the program and interviews that while The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs was based on his real experiences, it took a lot of dramatic license as well. This "all of the truth, none (or at least some) of the facts" defence is still a bit dodgy. But it's an oft-used one and most people right across the political spectrum are happy to accept it. They'll go, "Okay, I know what to expect. I can go with that."

But he didn't think that far ahead. Looks like he didn't think at all, actually. Instead he told them his Apple factory stories met journalistic, not merely theatrical, standards of truth.

The second interview, when the journos confront him, is the most interesting. There are these excruciatingly long pauses when he tries to figure out how to lie again about why he lied initially. He comes up with this lame claim that he "wanted to make people care". Gawd but it makes you cringe. (That's even worse than that other ol' chestnut "I'm making people think". Like they don't care, or think, in the first place!)

Clearly, he said that his story was entirely factual because he wanted to promote the show and himself -- which definitely worked; the initial interview is what garnered him heaps of subsequent MSM exposure. And he thought he could get away with it. (I assume he believed that because he'd had so much good press in the past.)

Aside from his obvious lack of principles, he's hugely overrated as a performer. Watch him in action in the clip below and you'll see what I mean. He just sits there talking with his script before him (presumably because he can't be arsed committing the show entirely to memory). Your average half-way decent standup comedian is not only much better prepared; he also performs his routine with far more verbal, vocal, and physical creativity.

Yet Daisey gets all this effusive praise from the critics (watch for the quotes that punctuate the YouTube clip). One label that's often used is "master monologist". He's definitely not that. He's a coupla notches below ordinary, in my opinion. I wouldn't even call him a master bullshit artist, considering he's been so spectacularly sprung and all.

The secret to his success is obvious. He just says what the overwhelmingly left-wing, anti-capitalist critical establishment want him to say. They're so overjoyed that he does so that they are prepared to completely overlook his obvious lack of imagination, originality and performance skill. And they'll sing his praises until the bloody cows come home -- or he gets caught telling big fat porkies, like just recently.

Just you watch. His reputation's taken a hit because of these Apple-related fabrications. But all will be forgiven eventually (if it hasn't already).

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Germaine Greer on Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Germaine Greer has received a lot of condemnation recently for her comments on Q and A about Julia Gillard's lack of dress sense and big bottom. As many have argued, coming from an iconic feminist like her such sexist comments are not only bizarre but also highly destructive.

Greer took another surprising swipe at women at the start of her spiel about Jeanette Winterson's latest book Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? on the ABC's First Tuesday Book Club.

Go to that link and select the specific segment on the right panel, then fast forward to about 3.20 when host Jennifer Byrne asks the famous feminist for her opinion. It's actually pretty funny because you can see The Germainiac start to arc up and the other panellists vocally express their dread about what she is about to say. She doesn't disappoint, saying that the book "belongs to a strangely female genre which I call the lying autobiography".

Well, I don't know if it is uniquely female at all. There have been many autobiographies -- penned by both women and men -- in which the writer has been highly selective, unfair, malicious, and sometimes flat out dishonest.

In any case I think that Greer makes some excellent points in her ensuing rant. She suspects a lot of what Jeannette Winterson writes about her adoptive mother Constance Winterson isn't actually true, and that it's not fair on this woman because she can't defend herself. She also says that writers should be very careful when writing about real people. I couldn't agree more.

A couple of the other panellists seem to think that her criticisms are a bit harsh. One of them concedes that Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is selective; that it's one "version" of the truth. But he seems to be okay with that.

I think this nonchalance about the possible wild inaccuracy of a portrayal of a real figure is pretty widespread. I'm not sure exactly when and where it all started. (Maybe postmodernism is to blame, with its insistence that everything's contextual; that there's no one objective truth, just different takes on reality.)

Well, whatever the cause, it's pretty corrosive. One vivid example of it is related to the movie JFK. Many experts derided the script for its numerous factual howlers. But the writer-director Oliver Stone wasn't fussed about its inaccuracies. He described his film as a "counter-myth" to the Warren Commission's "fictional myth".

That's all very well, but a lot of people who saw it believed that  it was the definitive, truthful account. His film didn't start the conspiracy theories about JFK's assassination, but it certainly gave them a helluva lot of oxygen.

Basically, if you see everything as a "myth" then you'll end up believing nothing, or anything at all. Either state would be a kind of hell, wouldn't it? Writers in particular should remember that there's truth and BS; non-fiction and fiction. They are separate genres.

As Germaine Greer says about about Winterson's memoir, if it's a "novel" then why is Constance Winterson called "Constance Winterson"? You can't really argue with that, now can you?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Caitlin Rash is a talented and skillful young artist

So much art these days is gimmicky postmodernist trash that requires little or no skill to create. Skivvy-wearing gouda-guzzling earring-tuggers just love the stuff of course, which is why those who produce it are the ones who get all the plaudits. This trend runs through many art forms, but it's particularly prevalent in the visual arts. It's truly depressing.

That's why it's refreshing to see a young artist who clearly does have skill being rewarded for it. Caitlin Rash, a former Applecross Senior High School student, has just won a trip for two to the Art Gallery of South Australia for her impressive painting titled Koi.

It's interesting that the judges of the competition in this case were actually members of the public:

This year, Koi was voted by gallery visitors the most popular of 55 pieces. More than 28,000 people visited the exhibition, which ends on Monday.

Which just goes to show that crowds do have wisdom -- and clearly much more of it than members of the art establishment. I suspect that if any of them were involved in the judging of entrants, the winning piece would be something far less impressive.

I do hope that Caitlin Rash continues to hone and develop her lush visual style. If she does, she may well become a popular and financially successful artist. But then critical success, and all the grant money and awards that follow, will probably elude her ...