DROP THE SEEBOHM: learning the lesson of social media hype


(Drop The) Seebohm: #totesdevo

Emily Seebohm. Oh the poor thing. With a name like that, it’s open season without even trying. She even calls herself emcbomb on the Twitter – her “handle”, so I’m told that’s called.

I don’t know about a handle, but her reaction to winning the Silver medal in last night’s 100m backstroke final certainly sounded like she was yanking someone’s chain!

So what do we have here? We have a 20-year-old professional swimmer, already attending her second Olympic Games, having previously swum on the Gold medal-winning 4x100m Medley Relay team at Beijing in 2008. She’s been winning Gold medals since she was 14 years old, she’s been both Australian and World Record holder in several strokes at various times over the past five years and was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia at the tender age of 17.

Cut to July 2012 and she gets to London, gets into the backstroke final – in 2008 she placed ninth and missed the final altogether – and comes second, winning the Silver medal. Then she promptly dissolves into an inconsolable mass of tears.

Talk about first world problems.

In her first out-of-the-water interview, with former Australian Olympic swimming great and Nine Network Olympic Commentator Grant Hackett, a positively distraught Seebohm conceded she really was happy about the whole thing, but that she felt she’d let down her family and her country.

It wasn’t until later that the truth really came out. Emily Seebohm was a victim of Social Media Karma – that is, believing her own social media hype. Which is to say, the hype generated via social media about her and about her chances of winning Gold, as posted by tens of thousands of adoring fans who know absolutely nothing about her. Or if they do, at best they’ll know little more than the most casual observer of Olympic swimming would know. Important stuff like… her name is Emily Seebohm… she’s a swimmer… she’s totes gonna win some kind of medal thingy tonight… stuff like that.

And yet, in that curious way that today’s teens and twenty-somethings do, Emily Seebohm casually waved aside the fact that the vast majority of all this online love was based on approximately no actual knowledge of what she was capable of and probably even less of her competitors’ abilities.


(Drop The) Seebohm: #stilltotesdevo, #firstworldproblems, #icametolondontwentytwelveandalligtwasthisrancidsilvermedal

This, to one commentator’s mind, was clearly a question worth asking of Seebohm. Quite shockingly, Seebohm agreed. “I don’t know, I just felt like I didn’t really get off [social media] and get into my own mind. I obviously need to sign out of Twitter and log out of Facebook a lot sooner than I did”. I could say something about the poorly constructed and loosely connected statements she made, but really, the girl deserves an award for having been able to say anything at all through all the blubbing and tears and snot flying about everywhere. Given her somewhat unexpected ‘coming out’ as a social media whore / addict, I should probably cut her some slack.

The lesson that Emily Seebohm learned last night was a valuable one. She’s learnt it in the most publicly humiliating way too. In the old days, support came in a few fairly limited, reasonably restrained forms. Love and phone calls from the family and friends, maybe some texts in more recent years, a bit of press time, an trackside interview with the Games-sponsoring Australian TV network and that was more or less that. Back then, I imagine that support was a way to balance out what must be enormous pressures associated with competing professionally at Olympic level. Today I can only imagine that support has gone toxic. As if social networking and the online universe of instantly available information isn’t already too much for the average man in the street, our youngest and most impressionable Olympians have “support” streaming into their mobile device of choice constantly, endlessly, 24 hours a day. Most of it will be from people who they’ve never met before, nor are they ever likely to.

How many 20-year-olds would truly be savvy enough, mature enough, not to get sucked into all the hype surrounding themselves and their own ability, the weight of a nation’s hopes on their shoulders and an endless stream of drivel feeding through to them on the Twitter or the Facebook or even on the email.

Poor Emily Seebohm. It was such a sad performance, on so many levels. Like a car crash, I couldn’t stop watching. I felt for the girl on the one hand, I lamented her awful first world problems on the other hand while on the other hand I saw her as perfectly representing all that is bad and wrong and silly about the Gen Y addiction to social media and their inability to separate tweet from reality. I know that’s more hands than I actually have, but what-the-hey. I bet Emily Seebohm wished she’d had three hands last night – she might’ve won that race if she had!

If I were her, I probably would’ve just dropped the c-bomb and moved on. But I guess you only roll like that if you haven’t spent your entire existence in a pool and actually have some understanding of what life in the real world is really like.




Ted: highly recommended… but only if you’re not put off by a whole shitload of potty mouth!

I went to the movies last week. Not the biggest news story of the week for most people, but then most people don’t only go to the movies once every four years.

Until last Wednesday night, I hadn’t set foot inside a cinema since July 2008. The X-Files: I Want To Believe was the movie. Vaguely recall it being a bit of a geek-fest, but pretty sure I enjoyed it anyway. It was a small independent cinema in Randwick, lovingly restored to its former old-school glory, the popcorn and massively oversized drink were only relatively (as opposed to excessively, exorbitantly or criminally) over-priced, reasonably comfortable seats and good company. Who could ask for anything more?

The time before that, I went to see… what was it? The Day After Tomorrow? Or Napoleon Dynamite maybe? Maybe neither, I can’t remember. It was sometime in 2004 when I was living in the UK.

Who knows what or when the one before that was. Let’s just say I don’t spend a great deal of time in cinemas.

So last week I went to see Ted. I’m a huge fan of Seth McFarlane’s stuff – American Dad in particular – and I had it on good authority that I’d love Ted, if only because of how atrociously filthy this innocent-looking teddy bear is. Talk about potty mouth! The fucking filthy shit that rolled off his little CGI material tongue was enough to make even me blush! There’s a lot to be said for a good belly laugh.

Anyway, so the ticket said 7:15 – 9:15. We rocked up at 7:05, met up with two friends who’d wisely pre-purchased our tickets and headed up to Cinema 6. We took our allocated seats and waited. And waited. And waited.

The movie itself didn’t actually start until 7:45. The ads had gone on for so long that I’d already emptied my bag of Twisties – little crumby bits at the bottom and all – by the time the opening scene finally appeared.

Half an hour of ads! Seriously, what’s with that? And more to the point, what’s happened to them? Where was the classic Pearl & Dean cinema advertising? It was always like watching someone you didn’t know flicking through their holiday slides, with some tacky lift music and a really bad adult-contemporary radio voiceover for a soundtrack. The places they plugged were always within a one block radius of the cinema and nobody ever wanted to go to any of them – but I loved them anyway! Was it just the cinema I was in, or have P&D gone to the great cinema-advertising screen in the sky? And what about those 3 minute ‘extended remixes’ of our favourite ads from the tele – they were always one of my cinema-going highlights. Where was the crackly soundtrack and scratchy picture? When did everything change?


Pearl & Dean Cinema Advertising… life didn’t get much better

Now it’s all slick, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, reasonable background music, crisp clear digital images and the exact same ads you see on TV. No extended club mixes, no film dust or crackle, no romantic clatter of the film projector from above and behind. And to top it all off, after twenty-five sodding minutes of crap ads, even the last five minutes of film previews was disappointing – three movies that I couldn’t possibly ever consider watching, solely because even their previews were too dull to get me interested. What on earth has happened to going to the movies?

It was all so disappointing. I remember I always used to think I could arrive fifteen minutes late and just about miss all the ads and previews – but half an hour of it!? And then to find that the whole cinema-going experience has had all the character and romance sucked out of it, thanks to the wonders of the digital age… dear me. It was all just a little bit too much to take in.

Lucky the movie was totally hilarious! Who’d have thought an animated talking teddy bear who admits to sexing a supermarket checkout chick with a phallic vegetable that he later sold on to an impoverished family of four could be so funny?

If you’re not put off by shitloads of swearies, a healthy dose of racist jokes and so many potentially offensive undertones that they become one great long overtone, I highly recommend it.

RSA: responsible for what, exactly?

Alcohol-Violence-1In my massively hung-over Saturday morning funk yesterday, I was flicking through The Daily Telegraph – as one does when devoid of any desire to actually think about anything – and came across yet another article about alcohol-fueled violence, crack-downs on pubs and new strategies for dealing with anti-social behaviour in trouble spots like Sydney’s Kings Cross.

Having openly acknowledged the legacy of my own over-indulgence the previous night, I totally get how me banging out a blog post about the problems of alcohol-related violent behaviour mightn’t seem the most ingenuous thing to do. But crucial to my soap-boxing on this particular topic is that I’ve never been physically violent towards anyone, not once in my entire life, whether sober or drunk – and in the case of the latter, it’s certainly not for lack of opportunity. I drink regularly, at times too regularly. And I tend not to stop at one or two. While I’m not exactly a candidate for AA, I certainly enjoy more than the occasional tipple. Suffice it to say that, for me, the whole concept of ‘Dry July’ is an absolute No Fly Zone and there’ve been many occasions on which I’ve been heavily intoxicated. Last Friday night was clearly one of them.

At the same time I’ve never understood physical violence, not in any scenario or for any reason. There’ve only been two or three times when I’ve felt so angry that I was on the verge of physically lashing out… at least I think I was. Having never actually crossed that line I can only guess how it would feel. At any rate I don’t get it. I don’t understand what drives one human being to physically assault another, particularly in the absence of provocation. What makes someone lose self-control to such an extent that the outcome is permanent damage or even loss of life?

If you believe the adage that “a drunk man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts”, what does that make a drunk man’s actions? Does he actually change when he drinks, or is he always angry, disturbed, unhinged? Is the need to lash out bubbling away under the surface all the time, just waiting for a trigger? Is he always prone to outbursts of anger and rage, even when sober? It paints a pretty scary picture. All I know is that whenever I’ve reached that ‘verge’ I’ve never been drunk, just exceedingly cranky. It frightens me beyond belief to think of what could’ve happened if I’d actually been drunk at those moments – would I have discovered what crossing that line feels like?

However uncontrolled they might become and however reprehensible their actions might be, the fact remains that everyone who gets drunk has an ‘enabler’ of some description. That so much of the current trouble involves people who’ve been drinking on licensed premises before going out into the streets of Sydney kicking, hitting, punching, maiming, stabbing and sometimes killing is especially disturbing, given that everyone who works behind any Australian bar is supposed to’ve gone through Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) accreditation. Come the moment we decide more alcohol isn’t just a good idea but a necessity, their RSA training is supposed to help them decide that it’s clearly neither and that they really oughtn’t to serve us.

According to Wikipedia, my source of truth for practically everything, “…RSA training is generally founded on the concept of Duty of care and requires managers and staff to take all reasonable precautions to protect patrons and staff by preventing patrons from becoming disorderly and/or suffering alcohol intoxication. Other topics covered include blood alcohol content, the effects of alcohol on human health, a standard drink, how to serve responsibly and how to refuse service.” All very nice in theory I guess, but in practice it’s generally a very different story.

So how exactly is RSA responsible then?

At an ’emergency forum’ on the violence issue, held at Sydney Town Hall on 17 July, Paul Nicolaou of the Australian Hotels Association (NSW) said, “You cannot enter our premises if you’re drunk or under the influence of drugs”. I’m not sure Mr Nicolaou knew how much he was saying about accountability there.

To my mind, RSA’s all a bit of a toothless tiger. While the actual delivery of the theoretical and statistical content of the training is probably worth a shout-out, the accreditation itself seems to serve little purpose other than to allow licensed purveyors of all things alcoholic to tick boxes. Bar staff may be RSA accredited, but seeing it invoked is rare.

Granted every now and again a punter gets a good talking to, but it only ever seems to happen once they’re so far beyond the point of no return that they can barely function, let alone understand the dressing down being dished out to them. I’m not really sure what the point of that is? If nobody’s been bothered enough to intervene up to that point, what other outcome can possibly be on the cards? Are punters somehow expected to drink themselves sober?

And herein lies the crux of the problem: the relative difficulty of effectively policing what RSA sets out to achieve. Unless punters are all served one-on-one and on a one-drink-at-a-time basis, it’s nye on impossible.

Alcohol-Violence-2Consider this: a group of eight friends at a typical Sydney pub. For each round, someone different goes to the bar. Not everyone drinks the same thing. Some drink more quickly or slowly than others and end up going to the bar for themselves ‘out of cycle’. Members of the group are different shapes and sizes, with varying tolerances to alcohol. Some are also far more capable of playing it straight long after they’ve strayed from the technical definition of sobriety. At the same time the bar staff not only changes shifts while the group is there, but none of them are especially attentive anyway – they can’t even keep track of who was waiting at the bar for service first or remember who they’ve seen before, let alone recognise when to invoke the principles of RSA. After almost six hours, some of our little group have managed to down ten 615ml glasses of full strength beer and they’re having a lovely time! They’re no louder than anyone else, they’ve not become abusive or aggressive, they’re not being sick or unable to walk or urinating into planter boxes. After more than six litres of beer over a six-hour period they’re probably quite drunk, but they’re happy and still relatively functional and soon they’ll wander off into the night to head home, causing no one anywhere any problems at all.

The reality is that it’s very easy to go to a pub, legitimately purchase alcohol and get extremely drunk without anybody particularly noticing. Unless you get very loud or start vomiting, falling down or peeing on indoor plants, it’s fair to suggest you’re probably like the majority of Australians whose drunkenness will not only go unnoticed, but is also unlikely to cause your behaviour to degenerate further – i.e. it’s highly improbable that you’ll go outside and randomly attack the nearest passer-by.

Which is great… but what about the one in however-many who will walk outside and commit atrocious acts of violence? You never know who they are and, clearly, you never know when they’re going to snap. The bigger questions are how they were even allowed to get to that point and who’s really responsible for that outcome? So I ask again: how exactly is RSA ‘responsible’ for anything? And is it even realistic to expect the outcomes RSA seeks to achieve when, in pubs all over the country, people are able to consume more than six litres of alcohol without question?

Of all the questions being asked about how to fix the problem of alcohol-related violence, there’ve been lots of references to better policing, installation of CCTV, license restrictions and reduced trading hours – what about making licensees 100% accountable for enforcement of RSA practices and for their breaches? Because to my mind, it all comes back to that one key thing: every drunk person had to get their booze from somewhere. It’s one thing for door staff at AHA-affiliated venues to refuse entry because they believe someone’s “drunk or under the influence of drugs”, but the same responsibility must be proactively applied to punters already on premises. Whether they’ve just come in or they’ve been there all along shouldn’t matter. But if the earliest anyone’s ever going to say anything is by the time you’re utterly paralytic it’s too late and if the practice continues to go unchecked, a key contributor to alcohol-fueled violence is being completely ignored.

The one-drink/one-at-a-time approach would doubtless be more restrictive than the average punter or publican would care for, but I suspect the family of Thomas Kelly – the 18-year-old who died after being ‘king-hit’ in an unprovoked attack in Kings Cross on 7 July – would insist it shouldn’t be any other way.

Maybe its time for the AHA to put more focus on who they let out and ask themselves why it’s even a problem in the first place.

A CHANGING OF THE GUARD: The last rego sticker…


Sayonara, stickers…

My last rego sticker arrived in the mail this week. I haven’t decided quite how I feel about this yet.

I still have the first registration sticker from the first car I ever owned. Or what’s left of it, anyway. They weren’t quite as easy to peel off in those days. Apparently my Mazda – Maude, she was called – was due to be re-registered on 7 July 1995. That sticker holds bittersweet memories of my beautiful Maude, written off after 110,000 trouble-free kilometres one balmy summer’s eve in February 2001, after a 1964 Holden made entirely of reinforced steel approached from behind at full speed and decided its brakes didn’t want to work. It was a sad night. The whiplash and the paranoia of anyone driving behind me, the latter enduring far beyond that fateful night, were pretty unpleasant too.

I kept the first one from the second car I owned too, even though it was a hoary old bomb that I was never particularly enamored of. I guess I’m a bit of a hoarder. Strike that: I know I am.

Rego1937The humble registration label – ‘rego sticker’ in the vernacular. A bit like a UK tax disc or those little stickers in the corners of American license plates. Everyone has one, though few people ever give them much thought. They just sit there quietly, inoffensively, in the corner of the window. They’ve been with us since my dear old Grandma was far younger than I am now, maybe longer.

Rego2006Each state always had its own design, though all have cycled through the same nifty colour-coded sequence – blue one year, red the next, then purple, brown, green and orange and the cycle goes ’round again. Some states’ designs make a focal point of the month rego is due, others the year. Either way, every year (in the dark times before the world-wide interweb) it meant trudging along to your nearest Roads & Traffic Authority (or local equivalent), taking a number, sitting in an ugly grey plastic chair in front of some tattered 80s vertical drapes and commencing the interminable wait for an unhappy little person behind a perspex window to eventually call you up, take your payment and chuck your rego papers through a clattery old dot matrix printer. This would add an imprint of the critical sequence of letters and/or numbers that affirmed, in -2 point font for all the world (not) to see, that the roads were now officially a safe place to be for another year – this was a kosher rego sticker.

Rego1989New South Wales recently became the third Australian state to sound the death knell for the humble registration label. New number plate-recognition technology means it’s now just as easy for police to extract all relevant details about us, our car and its registration status through a process that’s little more complex than taking a photo. From 1 January we’ll never have to affix another rego sticker to our windscreens again. What a relief.

Rego1990But I think I’m actually going to miss them.

Sure, back in the olden days they were a pain in the proverbial and it was all too easy to make a dog’s breakfast of it. There was backing paper to remove, trying to prevent the thing from rolling up into itself as you went. Then it had to be dampened with a sponge before you could start gingerly applying it to the windscreen (to clean glass only, they alway hastened to add), all the while slavishly smoothing out lumps in a valiant attempt to avoid that fatal air bubble – exactly what we thought might happen in the event of one, I was never entirely sure. Applying a sticky label that was, all at once, both brittle and slippery to the inside of a sheet of glass sloping downwards and away from you from the confines of the front passenger seat was no mean feat, but it didn’t end there. In fact, it didn’t even start there.

Anyone old enough to’ve attempted it and survived will also remember how much more of a dog’s breakfast could be made of getting the old one off! A razor blade, a paint scraper or sometimes even a chisel were the required tools of trade. Several hours of elbow grease later and, with a generous application of eucalyptus oil and shitloads of Windex, you might just have gotten your windscreen back to near-original condition. Just. After stepping out of the car to snatch a lungfull or two of fresh air – the heady aroma of eucalyptus and window cleaner making it impossible to breathe normally inside it – you’d then be ready to make a start on getting the new one into place. What fun it was.

Rego1974Actually now I think about it, no it wasn’t. It was tiresome, tedious and a legal necessity. Thanks for the memories, rego stickers – on further reflection, I don’t think I will miss you after all. But the colours were nice.

Vive le progrès!


SorryAustralia is a nation of infuriatingly sorry people. You know it and I know it. We’re all a party to this constant aching sorrow. You and I probably contribute to it as much as anyone else.

We all know the drill. You open some random door with the intention of walking through it and find, quite coincidentally, that someone else is on the other side with the obvious intention of doing exactly the same thing in the opposite direction. Who would’ve thought it – two people wanting to pass under the same doorway at the same moment? It’s almost too fantastic a tale to imagine!

Doing the ‘Two In A Doorway’ jig in the finest Riverdance tradition, the two of you dance around the door and each other for some seconds, before you avert your eyes shoewards muttering “sorry, thanks, sorry…”, feeling horribly shamed by the whole sordid affair. As you half skip, half jump through the door you don’t even consciously register your opposite number also apologising profusely, “Yeah, no… sorry mate… you’re right… sorry”, in that very Australian way.

It’s not as if any of us actively seeks out opportunities to block others as they innocently traverse the doorways of everyday life. We don’t loiter about ignobly, with the sole intention of disrupting the next person to attempt entry or egress of the nearest door. Most of the time we can’t even tell if there’s anyone on the other side or not. Yet whenever we find there is, our first reaction is to apologise. What are we sorry about? Just for being there? For unwittingly attempting do undertake the same commonplace action at the same time as someone else? For some misplaced sense of having gotten in the way?

It’s part of our collective psyche. Australians are sorry for everything, even when there’s no question of fault. We’ll bust out an apology for just about anything.

We say sorry when someone else bumps into us. They clearly weren’t watching where they were going and you’re sorry? Walk in to someone in New York or London and you’re lucky if all you cop is an earful.

We say sorry when we want to reach across, over or around someone – typically in the supermarket, or in one of those deceptively small airport newsagent’s that looks like it has oodles of room to move about in but where you actually find that the aisles are prohibitively narrow and there’s invariably someone standing right in front of the one thing you want.

We say sorry when we have to squeeze ourselves into restrictive spaces. This one’s big on public transport; where the only available choices are either to squeeze in or to stay behind and you choose to squeeze in because you actually don’t have a choice, you’re only doing what everyone else onboard has already done. You’re not really pushing anyone out of the way, because everyone else has already done that – you’re simply exerting an equal and opposite force on those around you with the sole intention of creating a space just as confined as everyone else’s for yourself to inhabit for the rest of the journey. These are not callous actions, heartlessly executed with malice aforethought. Unless you’ve stepped on someone’s foot or stabbed someone with the pointy end of your absurdly oversized umbrella, rarely is there any call for you to be sorry about anything.

We say sorry when someone asks us for some random object and we hand it over. “Sorry, here you go”. Sorry? For what? Because your powers of ESP failed you and you couldn’t accurately predict what you were about to be asked for?

And we always say sorry before we ask a question – “sorry, can I just ask something…”, “sorry, just a quick question…”, “sorry, just need to clarify something…” – what exactly are we apologising for?

Whatever happened to “excuse me”, anyway? Coz it occurs to me that when Australians say sorry, what they most often mean to do is excuse themselves. Excusing ourselves and being sorry for something are two entirely different things. So why are we clearly so reluctant to excuse ourselves, yet we’re always happy enough to be sorry about things that neither require, nor result in, any degree of sorrow whatsoever?

If I was walking around King’s Cross and found myself, without provocation, being king-hit, stabbed or shot at, I might expect the perpetrator to say sorry (or not). When an old man who shouldn’t have been driving anymore blindly drove into the side of my car last year, I might’ve expected him to say sorry (he didn’t). When my first love took up with someone else and broke my heart into a million pieces at the tender age of 21, I might’ve expected him to say sorry (he should’ve been). When a friend suffers a death in the family, we say sorry – no admission of guilt, it wasn’t our fault, but we’re sorry for our friend’s sadness. These are, indeed, all sorry-worthy things.

It’s almost ironic, then, that it’s such a big deal for anyone to say sorry about really important stuff. The so-called ‘stolen generation’ is an obvious example. But, without making light of the 150 years of atrocious human rights breaches that lead up to it, could there possibly be a more appropriate day for a nation of sorry people than 26 May each year – “National Sorry Day”. Without meaning to offend, it’s impossible for me to avoid how very apt a day dedicated to saying “sorry” really is for Australians, on so many levels.

Sorry… it just is!

TRANSITORY IDOLS: the ever-evolving world of the TV talent quest

TalentQuestBack in 2003 it all seemed so exciting. Like everything in the then-fledgling competition / reality / fly on the wall genre, it was such a vibrant new way to watch TV. You could follow an entire ‘journey’ to potential super-stardom, from the moment a complete unknown who’d braved the world’s longest queue walked into their first (and so often also their last) audition, then the whole emotional ordeal of getting into the top 100 and then, for the really lucky ones, the great struggle to emerge triumphant from ‘The Final 12’. All you had to do was tune in once or twice a week and send the odd SMS vote to help your favourites reach the finish line.

The contrived suspense surrounding the announcement of each week’s results was truly edge-of-your-seat thrilling; the not infrequent tear-fests and dummy-spits were as hilarious as they were tedious and predictable; the endless parade of sob stories – typically about eating disorders – only added to the light-entertainment value; and trying to decide which of the soundalike 1-900 numbers to send your premium-priced SMS votes to each week was often an exercise in futility, particularly for anyone in the habit of celebrating ‘Elimination Night’ with a healthy supply of liquid refreshment to hand. Best of all, you could actually play a real-time role in determining the outcome of the show, right there from the comfort of your own private sprawling space. It was all so convenient – and so terribly interactive!

Queue my sad addiction.

For at least half a decade, I didn’t consider my TV year complete without my annual fix of Australian Idol. Of course by the time Idol and later variations came along – all buying in to UK or American franchises – regardless of how much the format had been tweaked, they were always more evolutionary than revolutionary. Popstars kicked off the current crop back in early 2000, but TV talent quests had already been an Aussie ratings bonanza for decades. The always cheesy Young Talent Time had been every Australian kid’s guilty pleasure for seventeen years – though its 2012 revival clearly didn’t strike the same chord with today’s tweens. Grown-ups had the equally cheesy New Faces for twenty-two years, then two more short-lived revivals until it was killed off for good in the early 90s. And there was a handful of slightly ‘hipper’ variations on the New Faces model, including Star Search – initially only two seasons, followed by a blink-and-you’ll-miss it revival four years later – and even the infamous Red Faces segment of the Nine Network’s Hey! Hey! It’s Saturday! which, for many viewers, became one of the main reasons to tune in to Hey! Hey! for two hours each week and was one of the stronger drawcards of Hey Hey’s own ill-fated 2010 revival.

In case you hadn’t picked it yet, there’s a theme developing here: revival. Every new show that comes along is just another in a long line, part of the ever-evolving TV talent quest world. Even before the new ones materialised, all the old ones had died a natural death and been revived more times than anyone could keep count of. But although it was a very different time, the old shows really only differed from the current ones in four (albeit fairly significant) ways:

  • In the old days the judges were just judges. Most weren’t celebrities per se and their involvement with contestants rarely strayed beyond feedback specific to a performance, the issuing of points and determination of the winner. Other than the possibility of a handshake or gentle tussling of the hair during the closing credits, contestants and judges rarely had any other interaction.
  • Most of the current shows – with the possible exception of Australia’s Got Talent – pull no punches about being predominantly, if not entirely, music-based. While some of the old shows had a certain bias towards musical acts, contestants generally weren’t restricted to musical performance and a non-musical act often had as much or more chance of actually winning as a musical one did.
  • Prior to Popstars the technology to support the immediate, or even slightly delayed, receipt and collation of home audience voting hadn’t existed. With the advent of the SMS and online options, voting lines could be opened at the start of a show and closed off again before the end and it would still be possible to incorporate actual viewer’s votes into deciding winners, rather than relying solely on a handful of in-studio judges to have the final say.
  • Winning, in and of itself, was the greatest glory to come from winning one of the old shows. While some of them offered cash or physical prizes, it wasn’t a given. The 21st century varieties usually offer cash prizes too, but the biggest point of difference is the likelihood of a recording contract for the winner. As exciting as winning $500 cash or a JVC VCR was in its day, the sheer scope of winning a recording contract – not just for its monetary value, but also the scale of exposure it represents – is on a whole other level to the old shows’ most generous offerings.

Virgin idols…

While Australian Idol may not have been the first of the modern iteration of TV talent quests, big winners and potentially long-term fame didn’t really come into the equation until Idol started spitting out its annual duo of Runner-Up and Winner. It was fairly restrictive to begin with too, pandering as it did to record industry executives and a very specific target audience – an age restriction was imposed on participants and they weren’t allowed to sing original material or play their own instruments. Almost in spite of this, since 2003 the six top two place-getters of the first three seasons of Idol have collectively amassed eighteen Top 10 albums (including 4 #1s) and twenty-nine Top 10 singles (including 12 #1s), in the process receiving an astonishing 74 Gold and 65 Platinum accreditations, recognising their Australian sales – to say nothing of sales in the overseas territories that some of them also successfully broke into.

But as the seasons went on, the relative success of the participants began to wane, as did the ratings. To keep up with more recent competitors Idol also changed its rules to allow older participants, original material and instrumental performances. But it was too little, too late.

By the time Idol ended in 2009, the format had fallen out of favour with almost everyone who’d made it such a success to begin with. Tellingly, even I wasn’t especially bothered by its demise. I’d long since lost interest in the same-same machinations of reality TV. By then it seemed that everything that could’ve been turned into a contest or a race had been – singing, dancing, modelling, cooking, losing weight, building, renovating, designing clothes that no right-minded person would ever wear, backpacking around the world, surviving in faux-remote locations, being a ‘celebrity’ – every conceivable thing had become a made-for-TV competition, with all the moving parts strung together using only slight variations on the same colour-by-numbers format: auditions; crying; sob stories about eating disorders, bullying or terminal loved-ones; blubbering justifications of why winning would be the fulfilment of a lifelong dream; the whittling down of a large group into a much smaller one, before picking them off one-by-one; confinement of said smaller group to close quarters and isolating them from the outside world, whereby manufacturing the greatest potential for interpersonal tension and drama; more evictions and eliminations than you could poke a stick at; more tears; friendships and alliances turning to bitchy double-crossing and backstabbing; voting lines opening and closing more often than a problem gambler’s wallet; even more tears; more blubbering justifications of said fulfilment of said lifelong dreams; and all the way through, a whole bunch of tricky edits resulting in ever-more contrived suspense, until finally someone would be crowned top dog for that year.


Go the fro…

In all likelihood, this year’s champion of champions looks like being The Voice, an enormously stylised production that’s done more for the popularity of high-backed swivel chairs and giant red buttons than anything that’s gone before; where the antics of the celebrity element – in this case, four ‘vocal coaches’ – became more unnecessarily theatrical than ever; and where three of the four celebrity coaches and at least three of their (arguably less successful and less famous) celebrity assistants – the ‘mentors’ – just happened to have a single, album or tour in the offing at some point during the course of the show’s massively high-rating ten week run. What wonderfully coincidental timing.

Let me be completely upfront about this: I didn’t watch a single episode of The Voice. Nor have I ever intentionally listened to – or even knowingly heard – a single sound made by a single one of its contestants. But without having the luxury of being able to close my eyes and not see anything or go anywhere for months on end, it was impossible not to be aware of the Nine Network’s incessant advertising campaign – buses, billboards, newspapers, magazines, online, on taxis, at airports, The Voice was everywhere. Mercifully, what little I did see of the TV advertising was entirely from the safety of my treadmill at the gym, where Channel 9 isn’t afforded any volume whatsoever. But thanks to my love of all things music (except, it would seem, talent quests!), my regular review of the Top 50 music charts meant there was one thing I definitely couldn’t avoid – the constant stream of The Voice-related releases making their fleeting presence felt on the charts.


Queue the theatrics and crocodile tears…

The Voice’s assault on the charts was unprecedented; even with their cover versions of almost every song ever recorded, not even the Glee cast managed to trample the garden of Australian music sales as destructively as The Voice did. Between 16 April and 16 July, The Voice was either directly or indirectly responsible for fifty-eight singles and eight albums entering the Top 50, including tracks by the contestants themselves, releases by the show’s celebrity contingent and reinvigorated sales of artists’ original tracks following their performance by a contestant on The Voice – I draw your attention to Exhibit A: the re-entry of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights to the chart for the first time since 1978 a week after it was performed by Laura Bunting on The Voice. Coincidence? I think not!

In the week of the grand final alone, the Top 50 singles list saw a staggering seventeen entries – one of them by Keith Urban, another twelve by The Voice contestants, with six of them entering the chart within the Top 11. It was like nothing ARIA – or avid chart followers – had ever seen. Nor, for that matter, was the following week’s chart, where all bar three of The Voice contestants’ singles had been prematurely ejaculated from the list, including Karise Eden’s #1 debuting Stay With Me Baby which made a truly spectacular exit by slipping all the way back to #56, in the process smashing a fourteen year record for biggest drop from #1 by about 20 places – and that record was set back in the days of exclusively physical sales and was entirely due to a supply problem! I suspect no such issue plagued any of Ms Eden’s product as, one after another, each spectacular chart entry was immediately eclipsed by an even more spectacular exit.

So how is everyone not over this by now? In an age of short attention spans and our brains being constantly bombarded by more information than we’ve the capacity to process, hasn’t the continual worship of these transitory idols all gotten a bit tedious? Used to be that teens were the loudest – and generally the only – proponents of the latest pop music fads, most of whom would disappear almost as quickly as anyone’s ability to recall anything about them. Over the past ten years, these shows – and their equivalents in the other competition ‘sectors’ – have commanded enormous audiences. We’ve connected our dial-up internet to go online and vote, we’ve spent more money than any of us would care to admit on sending SMSs, we’ve Facebooked and Twittered our likes and dislikes for the world to see, we’ve spent time in studio audiences and on the steps of the Opera House watching it all unfold live before our very eyes, we’ve gushed about the depth and breadth of incredible talent before us, over and over, year after year… and yet, regardless of preferred genre, most of us can’t remember who won last year’s competition.

Go on, test yourself:

Who won Masterchef 2010? Who won The Block in 2005? Who won Big Brother in 2002? Who won The X Factor in 2010? Who won Australia’s Got Talent in 2008? Who won Australian Idol in 2004? Who won Dancing With The Stars in 2009? Who was Australia’s Next Top Model for 2007 – and did she, in fact, ever become Australia’s actual current ‘top model’?

Or is that not the point? Is that not really what it’s all about? As a society, have we become so used to the transitory that longevity no longer really matters? Or did it never matter at all? As a nation of sports lovers, is it more about the thrill of the chase, the love of the competition, than remembering who ultimately wins?

I can think of plenty of sports-loving friends and family who’d heartily challenge that theory.

ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: Is ‘The Harbour City’ really as good as she thinks she is?


The EIU’s 2011 most and least expensive cities to live in…

In February this year, the Economist Intelligence Unit published the results of its 2011 Cost of Living survey, ranking Sydney the 7th most expensive city in the world to live in. When smh.com.au ran an online poll about the results, 76% of respondents believed Sydney was “overpriced for what you get”. Only a month earlier another research organisation, US-based Demographia, had claimed Sydney was the 3rd most expensive city in the world.

Meanwhile cities like London and New York clearly aren’t as expensive as they’re perceived to be, coz apparently neither of them even cracked the EIU’s top 20.

One commentator made numerous very great assumptions when he observed that if people wanted to live in such a fabulous city, they must expect to pay for the privilege. He obviously assumed that all 5 million residents of Greater Sydney define fabulousness in the same way; that all think Sydney is as fabulous as Team Sydney would have everyone believe it is; that the fabulousness is evenly distributed and accessible to all; and that all 5 million residents actually choose to live in fabulous Sydney in preference to other less fabulous places. There’s nothing quite like the sparing application of sweeping generalisations.

So having been told, for about the third or fourth time, that she was one of the most hideously expensive places in the world, Sydney then copped a double whammy by missing out on the most prestigious political event Australia could ever hope to witness! Watching the very Sydney-centric fallout from last week’s announcement that the 2014 G20 Summit would be hosted by Brisbane has been quite hilarious! Questions were asked, objections raised and the same pointless wankers who un-friended the EIU on Facebook in February once again jumped to the defence of poor down-trodden, overlooked, unloved and undervalued Sydney… and all I could do was wonder why.

Because all that breast-beating and navel-gazing, that’s just how Sydney rolls. According to Sydney and her loudest supporters, she is the central pivot on which Australia turns. Not only is she the capital city of the great state of New South Wales and our nation’s first city, she’s also a global city and the main reason overseas tourists flock to Australia in droves – never mind any of our other capitals and regional centres and all the wonderful stuff they have to offer, beaches and hinterlands, world-renowned wine regions, the beauty of the West, that big rock in the middle, the tropical wonderland at the top and all the history that comes with that little island off the bottom… it’s all about the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, Manly and Bondi Beach. And, of course, the lingering memory of the greatest Olympics in the history of the modern Olympiad, which nobody on Team Sydney will ever let anyone forget. That’s why the tourist dollar comes to Australia. That’s why Australia’s popular. That’s why Sydney’s top dog. And besides, who’s even heard of Canberra anyway? Everyone overseas already thinks Sydney is the capital of Australia so there’s no point confusing the issue – and that’s the end of that!

And that may well be the end of that… if only Sydney and her vocal supporters weren’t so consistently arrogant in their presumption of Sydney’s greatness. Sure, from the perspective of the average overseas tourist it’s perfectly obvious why Sydney would figure so highly as a holiday destination of choice – who wouldn’t wanna come here? Iconic structures, endless blue sky and sunshine, kangaroos and koalas running up and down George St all day and night, even mains electricity and running water in some places… the tourist set are always so well-versed before they arrive! I jest, of course…

But what about for those of us who actually live here? Undeniably there are beautiful things all around us – as there are practically everywhere – but most of us don’t have the opportunity to spend our days leisurely admiring the breathtaking views, or wandering around sumptuous parks & gardens, or contemplating the unique architectural splendour of the Opera House.

Apparently there were two key reasons for Sydney not getting the Group of 20 gig. Firstly the small issue that there won’t be a big enough local venue available in 2014, thanks to the impending demolition and rebuilding of the Darling Harbour Convention Centre; secondly, as explained by Prime Minister JGill with her usual air of monotone serenity, Sydney only has one major airport so there wouldn’t be enough room to park all the G20 planes. Unsurprisingly, throughout yet another eloquent – aka extremely carefully worded – passage of discourse, the PM dedicated approximately zero seconds to debating exactly why such a fabulous global city should still only have one major airport. She also welcomed approximately no questions about why 30-40 years of bickering about where to put the second one has thus far resulted in nothing.


Image credit: housingstressed.org.au

And that’s a convenient place to start looking at what it’s like for Sydney’s residents: why is it so endlessly difficult to get anything done? The city’s been sorely let down by one State Government after another that promises the earth, but delivers very little so, however you frame it, there’s no getting away from one harsh reality: however enticing it might look from the outside looking in, sometimes Sydney can be a very difficult place to live.

For one thing there’s the airport situation, as we’ve already established. Forty years of debating the pros and cons of where to put a second airport, yet we still only have the one. It’s been altered, added to, redesigned, rebuilt, bits of Botany Bay have been reclaimed for extra runways, new railway lines have been built underneath it and what’s the biggest impact on Sydney’s residents to date? Flightpaths have been changed so that previously unaffected areas now find themselves directly beneath several departing 747s each hour. Awesome!

Then there’s Sydney’s public transport. Our trains stop working when it’s too wet and when it’s too hot, neither of which are exactly ‘unexpected weather events’ in Sydney. Innumerable rail network enhancement projects have been downgraded, de-scoped, reversed or cancelled altogether time and again. Our buses are just as stuck in the quagmire of traffic jams as everyone else – so what did they do to help the situation a few years back? They put even more buses on the roads. And as for our ferrys, when they’re not running aground or crashing into other maritime craft, they’re knocked out every time a bit of fog rolls in over the harbour!

Our roads are so congested that even the shortest and simplest of journeys can take hours of stop-start frustration. As fabulous global cities go, our freeways and motorways are also sadly lacking – they’re too narrow, too expensive and there are too few of them. There’s a shameful over-emphasis on speeding and an over-reliance on speed cameras to control Sydney’s roads, when what’s really needed is for someone to take action to avoid the sheer volume of vehicles becoming completely unmanageable.


The M5 – a fine example of Sydney’s wide, smooth flowing motorway network…
Image credit: The Daily Telegraph

And even once you finally manage to get moving on one of our less-than-fabulous networks of arterial roads, freeways or motorways, it’s still highly likely that you’re a long, long way from anywhere even remotely fabulous because, in case you didn’t already know, Greater Sydney covers an area of more than 12,000km²!

You can’t even walk anywhere with ease these days! There was a time when, by and large, people used footpaths as they would use the road, but nobody seems to know how to keep left any more. Try getting anywhere in Sydney’s CBD on foot and in a more-or-less straight line, be it on the way to work, from work, when running errands at lunchtime, whenever… it’s more like riding a dodgem car than walking a footpath! Watch how often you see two pedestrians doing the hot shoe shuffle, as they both struggle to outmaneuver each other and step around their pavement-pounding nemesis instead of walking into them! It’s hilariously silly. All it would take is a bit of common sense on the part of footpath users… yeah, I’ve heard the old saying about common sense too!

And then there’s the expense! Well that was clearly shown by the #7 ranking on the expensive cities list! A friend summed this one up for me just perfectly a few weeks ago, when spruiking of a fabulous loaf of bread he’d just found… for $6! $6 for a slab of dough?? “But it’s organic”, says he… hmmm, I’m not even close to being convinced. Sure, some things are expensive everywhere but, at least to an extent, some of the expense of Sydney has been imposed on all of us by the creation of this global city monster. It’s supply and demand and the outcome is inevitable – the more fabulous Sydney makes itself, the more people who want a piece of the action will come out to play, the more competition will increase, the more prices will rise, the more we’ll pay and so the cycle goes on.

Somewhat unavoidably though, some of our current expense is probably down to the strength of our dollar against the greenback; I truly feel for unsuspecting Americans who come to Sydney expecting that everywhere they go they’ll find an enormous meal and a smiling server for the equivalent of US$10 inclusive of tip. I can only imagine their abject horror when, after polishing off two average-quality lattes and a couple of baby friands, the ‘check’ for A$25 arrives on one of those silly silver plates, served upon the unsuspecting vacationers more like a court summons than a coffee bill, and without so much as a word let alone a smile. It’s that wonderful air of utter disinterest, bordering on disdain, that makes the service proposition in Sydney such a questionable one. I know, poor waitperson, I feel dreadfully sorry for you and yes I know we don’t have a tipping culture here, but then I also know you’re not being paid $3.25 an hour!


The Grand Old Dame herself…
Image credit: Flickr

Yes she’s a grand old town, it’s undeniable – a truly beautiful city, full of hidden charms, a colourful (if brief) history, a personality all her own. If you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself bobbing about on the harbour, blue sky and sunshine above, glass of something lubricating in hand, it’s quite easy to wonder how anyone could ever possibly choose to live anywhere else. But then, that’s just it, isn’t it? For some, there is no choice and no likely means of making one any time soon – it’s ‘like it or lump it’ stuff. Meanwhile Old Lady Sydney has become lazy. She’s resting on her laurels, basking in the glory of self-professed fabulousness, idle in both her justification and her maintenance of that reputation. She doffs her oversized Kate Middleton-inspired hat to the wealthy and famous. She cordially invites tourists from all over the world to come to Sydney and spend their hard-earned money on the over-inflated prices she charges for practically everything. And all the while, what of her most loyal subjects – her residents, who can only sit back and watch it all happen? Or maybe they could just leave. I wonder what she’d think of that, Her Royal Highness the Princess Sydney? How would she feel if her subjects began deserting her? What happens when her people become so despondent that they actually start drifting away?

It’s one thing to bring in the tourist dollar and to welcome the rich and famous. It’s another to do those things on little more than a smug assumption of fabulousness, without even working for it. And it’s entirely another to do it all while the day-to-day problems of a city and the people who actually live and work in it, day in and day out, 365 days a year, continue to play second fiddle.

So when’s someone gonna jump to the defence of poor down-trodden, overlooked, unloved and undervalued Sydneysiders?

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT NEW. Matt’s Old Man Rant about the ways of the modern world: The art of buzz-speak


How do I love thee, buzz words? Let me count the ways!

As the world around us becomes more homogenised every day, so too is the endless stream of buzz-speak used by corporate folk becoming more standardised, more repetitive and more tedious. The more often we hear it, the more diluted it becomes and the less impact it has. To paraphrase the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, dearest buzz-speak, how do I love thee? Let me counts the ways.

No, really – I’m going to count the ways!

To start with, let’s be brutally honest: it’s only so many times we can hear someone extolling the virtues of becoming engaged in the journey of discovery in the product space to ensure alignment with corporate values, brand and strategy without laughing. Or falling asleep. Sometimes they rattle off whole sentences, entire paragraphs of words that more-or-less, at the end of the day, essentially say nothing. And as the listener, as a member of their intended audience, by the time we’ve identified, linked and followed all the hidden meanings, analogies and clichés that make up the lion’s share of each statement, we have about as much idea of what they’re talking about as Christopher Columbus had of when his boat would topple off the edge of the horizon. Which is probably no great loss in the end since they usually never say very much anyway; and even if you asked a clarifying question, they’d probably only respond using the same language so you’d still be none the wiser.

Some words, as engaged by corporate folk, have actually morphed into different words over time, to the point where the original word becomes all-but forgotten. A prime example of this is the word ‘about’: exactly when did it become around? We’ve taken away some learnings around the governance space and synergies will be achieved if we think outside the box and exploit the low-hanging fruit. Really? I’d sure like to take away some learnings around what the words you just said actually mean! I’m convinced that most corporate folk don’t know how to use the word ‘about’ any more. Why can’t we go straight to the heart of it and talk about the topic at hand, rather than skirting the matter by going around it? Doesn’t make much sense to me. Surely it’s far more efficient to just show the crux of the issue and get on with it? Maybe we should take this offline?

And speaking of efficient, it seems everyone’s trying to grow efficiencies these days. At a high level, from a forecast perspective, we need to grow efficiencies in the resource space aligned to shrinkage projections. …no, I’m not quite getting that one… so you need to increase the number of staff that you don’t have? Is that it? Or you need to decrease the number of staff you will need over time? Or you’re trying to… nup, sorry, you’ve totally lost me. Even the meaning of the most basic statement can be completely lost in translation from buzz-speak back to plain-speak. With all this efficiency-growing and fruit-picking, you’d think we were working in some kind of market garden. I don’t know about you, but for me the organic concept of growing has no connection whatsoever with the business-centric concept of efficiency and the term low-hanging fruit only conjures images of me wandering through the Garden of Eden wearing nowt but a leaf over my nether-regions, lazily reaching for whatever exotic, brightly coloured fruit is within my reach.

Have you noticed how we don’t receive emails anymore either – our inboxes are apparently populated by communications. Marketing will send a communication to the analyst community and business stakeholders around leveraging the learnings and insights taken from key market segment data. So what you really mean is that someone’s gonna send an email to a bunch of people to talk about how to make the most out of what you found out about your customers, right?

And, apparently, communications don’t go to ‘staff’ anymore either – they go to the analyst community, the management community, or the project community. WTF? Irrespective of how much I like the people I work with or that some of them are my actual friends, I most certainly do not go to work to belong to a community – the dictionary definition of which, incidentally, is “A group of people living together in one place, esp. one practicing common ownership: “a community of nuns”; All the people living in a particular area or place: “local communities”. Right… so nuns and local communities. Well aside from anything else, I don’t actually live at work! I know I’ve done some long hours in my time and people have provided tenths of seconds of amusement by asking me “have you actually been home yet?” when arriving at work in the morning, but I never actually lived there. So that’s cleared up then – we don’t live there, so we’re not a community. Enough said.

Or is it? Coz the flip side of this argument is that, despite the fact that corporate folk would have us believe we all ‘live’ in a office-bound community, people within those communities have increasingly had their status as living, breathing human beings removed. Yes, maybe the time has long-since passed since we were last considered little more than numbers on our employer’s payroll – that just wouldn’t do in the age of political correctness. But people still aren’t people any more. They’re rarely even ’employees’ or ‘staff’, terms that were once both in wide use to describe a collective of people who work somewhere. These days, animate being-status of people who work in the corporate world tends to be further reduced by use of inanimate descriptors, like resources and stakeholders.

Every office-dweller loves a good PowerPoint presentation. You can always tell that someone – generally not the presenter – has put a huge amount of time into them when they’re chock-a-block full of tables and animation. But when did we start talking to a slide. As if to cement the sad and sorry end of the word ‘about’, for some reason corporate folk now talk to slides, rather than ‘about’ them. The next slide covers resource requirements in the training space and our Head Trainer will talk to that. Ummm… excuse me, I’m your audience and I’m sitting right here. Shouldn’t the Head Trainer talk to me about the slide? …or is it around the slide?? At any rate, it’s a commonly avoided fact that most corporate folk actually detest doing PowerPoint presentations with a passion. They generally do so on pain of death and they’re typically too under-prepared or under-informed to do anything but talk to the slide – literally – such is their inability to ad-lib its content.

There are so many others that I could mention – too many, in fact – but the discussion wouldn’t be complete without at least tipping my hat to these:

Insights. Suggestions, recommendations or outcomes of analysing or investigating something.

Time-poor. A term typically over-used by anyone who’s bigging themselves up, busy for non-critical reasons, disorganised, irresponsible, bad at their job, scatty, ditzy or otherwise generally inefficient.

High-level. A term that allows corporate folk who don’t actually know a lot about stuff to get away with not knowing a lot about stuff by presenting statements and summaries that are pitched from a high-level viewpoint. Also referred to as the 60,000ft view by those most accomplished in the art of buzz-speak.

Transparent. A word used to describe what a company should do or say or promise to achieve when, in fact, what it really does, says or actually achieves is either the opposite or completely different.

Blue-sky thinking. A non-committal way for corporate folk to speak of how the company might achieve the heretofore unachieved goals and outcomes that were revealed while being transparent.

…we could go on and on and, although it could be endlessly fun, we’d only arrive at the same conclusion: that buzz-speak is just a load of old corporate bollocks. It doesn’t mean much, nor say much and is generally spoken by those who don’t mean much by what they say and who don’t really have much to say anyway – certainly nothing of any real value to the people they’re saying it to. Buzz-speak is all about saying a lot to say very little. It creates confusion, sends mixed messages and generally wastes the time of both those saying it and anyone unfortunate enough to hear it.

It’s just lucky that it’s also enormously entertaining!

TV TIMES: Here’s the story… of a lovely, endless love affair


The Brady Bunch (1972-73)

In September 1969, a cheesy and ultimately kitsch sitcom that would go on to become an institution had its première on America’s ABC network. Only four months later, on 25 January 1970, The Brady Bunch had its Australian début on Channel 10 Sydney in the absolute primetime slot of 7:30 Sunday nights. Despite its then progressive premise of the blended marriage, The Brady Bunch was firmly rooted – at least to begin with – in traditional 60s American family values and, already seen as outdated, it never rated especially well on its first run in the US. Indeed, the Sydney Morning Herald TV critic’s review of the first episode, published the week before it aired, said simply, “Three cute kids plus three adds up to six, and about five more than I can take. Goodbye”. Despite all of this, or maybe even because of it, by 1973 it was consistently one of the highest rating programs on Australian television. It regularly pulled enough viewers to make the list of Top 10 highest-rated shows for the week, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne and even going on to the dizzying heights of becoming the second-highest rated program in Perth during 1976, two years after production ended.

Throughout the 70s and 80s The Brady Bunch was a mainstay of the afternoon and early evening schedules of stations all over the country, with at least one episode of the series (or one of its spin-offs) screened somewhere in Australia every year from 1970 until 1990. By then, the tattered old film copies of each episode had been transferred ‘as is’ to video and you could rarely get through the famous opening titles without the picture and audio skipping ahead multiple times. It was definitely time to put them out to pasture.

With the release of The Brady Bunch Movie in 1995 and the aptly named A Very Brady Sequel the following year, Network Ten saw an opportunity to capitalise on the revived popularity of the series and wheeled it back out – cleaned-up and remastered – for another two prime-time runs. Fast-forward to January 2011 and the launch of the network’s digital station, Channel 11 – and just as I’d suspected, there was The Brady Bunch nestled proudly among the program line-up at 5:30pm just like it had been for so many years before, only this time it was Monday to Sunday – seven days a week! And in that curious way of digital and pay TV scheduling, it wasn’t just on once but multiple times a day… you know, just in case you hadn’t already seen that particular episode on any of its hundreds of earlier outings over the years. To date, Channel 11 is now halfway through its fifth back-to-back re-run of all 117 episodes of the series – once they reach the end they just go right back to the start! The teenage kids revert to nippers and Mike and Carol have to go through the whole wedding and that nasty Fluffy v. Tiger stoush all over again. With only a season-and-a-half left, I wonder if the end really will be the end this time?


The Brady Bunch (1969-70)

And yet for all the reruns, the DVDs, the movies and the variable-quality spin-offs, I still have the Foxtel box set to record it every single day. The Brady Bunch remains an oddly reassuring presence in my life, a constant in an ever-changing world. 38 years after the last episode and more than 30 years since I sat down to watch the series end-to-end for the first of hundreds of times, how can I still love it this much?

Maybe it’s a ‘time and place’ thing, a warmth generated from memories of what else was going on as eight year old me watched, enthralled, dreaming of becoming a Brady. Or maybe it’s just that, having seen it so many times, I’m intimately acquainted with almost every aspect of it. The volume of obscure trivia I can spout about The Brady Bunch is almost endless – and a bit frightening! For example:

  • The pilot episode (The Honeymoon, 26/09/69) was actually filmed in October 1968, eight months before producers finally got the green light for a series.
  • Mike Brady was written out of the last episode (The Hair-Brained Scheme, 8/03/74) after Robert Reed refused to be involved, arguing that its premise was utterly preposterous and bordered on slapstick.
  • The Brady Bunch had four spin-offs: the animated Brady Kids (1972-74); the cheesy-with-extra-cheese Brady Bunch Variety Hour (1976-77); The Brady Brides (1981); and the brand’s sole attempt at drama, The Bradys (1990). The cartoon had the most of what success there was, lasting 22 episodes over two seasons.
  • For Season 3 producers re-used the opening title ‘grid’ from Season 2, but recorded a new arrangement of the theme song; for Season 5 they recorded a new opening title ‘grid’ but re-used the Season 3 theme arrangement; neither example of recycling was ever explained.
  • There were four Brady Bunch movies: A Very Brady Christmas (1988), a made-for-TV movie featuring the original cast; The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), a highly successful cinematic release featuring a brand new cast; its almost-as-successful sequel featuring the same cast, A Very Brady Sequel (1996); and The Brady Bunch In The White House (2002), a made-for-TV movie featuring another different cast. The first three were ratings or box office successes; the fourth wasn’t.
  • There’s a door at the top of the stairs in the Brady house – nobody ever opened it and whatever was concealed within was never revealed.
  • The girls’ cat Fluffy and Carol’s parents were never seen again after the wedding episode.
  • Other than the position of the front door being more or less accurate, nothing about the internal layout of the house matched its external view.
  • In pop culture it was long-held that the Bradys were nine people in a large house with only one bathroom and no toilet; the laws of American TV land in the late 60s meant that they weren’t allowed to show toilets, which explains that one; but there was clearly another bathroom in the Bradys house – Mike & Carol’s ensuite in that strange and always unseen void space behind their bed. Alice must’ve used a bed pan. Or maybe the laundry tub.
  • After the show ended, almost anyone asked to describe Carol Brady would’ve said she had a blonde flip. Florence Henderson only sported the famous flip for two of the show’s five seasons and it was only truly blonde for one of them.

… and I could go on and on. But I won’t. Like I said, obscure trivia. Almost endless.


The Brady Bunch (1970-72)

The 80s truly was the golden age of 60s US sitcom reruns. Australian TV had them all on an endless loop – I Dream Of Jeannie, Hogan’s Heroes, Bewitched, Here’s Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, Get Smart – but for me none of them ever measured up to The Brady Bunch. They were the antithesis of my tiny nuclear family – and I loved them for it! Certainly none of the others got into my subconscious the way The Bradys did. I lost count of how many dreams I had about finding myself in ‘my room’ in that enormous house, playing with the kids on the Astroturf lawn, squeezing a tenth person around that little kitchen table to have pancakes for breakfast, or getting scolded in that distinctly less-than-harsh way that Mike and Carol always scolded the kids.

Other sitcoms have sucked people in, just like The Brady Bunch sucked me in all those years ago. M*A*S*H, Happy Days, Family Ties, Cheers, The Golden Girls, Roseanne, Seinfeld, Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, and not forgetting the current darling of the sitcom rerun set, Modern Family. Oddly enough, most of them have been endlessly repeated by Channel Ten too! But wherever they’ve been screened, all will have diehard long-term fans who find themselves sitting around twenty or more years after the show ends, knowing implicitly what’s about to happen, exactly what someone’s about to say, how many episodes there were and where episode <x> sits within the overall run of the show, when they first aired, who wrote and directed them… somebody will know. Somebody always knows.


The Brady Bunch (1973-74)

In the meantime, I’ll lament the demise of the old-school sitcom and its old-fashioned values, from a time when there was no sex, no swearing, no internet porn. And never mind comfort – people still dressed in their Sunday best when going anywhere by air. Nobody was ever pregnant out-of-wedlock, or into drugs, or did anything illegal ever (except maybe that time Greg Brady smoked, but that was clearly more a health concern than criminal behaviour!). There was no struggle for equality – women clearly knew their place was in the home or, if working, they accepted that they were tea ladies or secretaries who typed letters. Being gay was still just about being very happy; I suspect Mr Brady knew all about that. Nobody was ever any more naked than they had to be, kids got excited about finding $2 and parents never struggled for money. Aside from brief one-off admissions that teenage sons might need “privacy” because they’re getting older, there’d be no specific detail about exactly what that was supposed to mean and Dads never had to trouble themselves with ‘birds and bees’ chats with their boys. Moms were more likely to be concerned with their girls’ reactions to braces, glasses and lost dolls than they would be about training bras and first periods. Dad could go off to work while Mom and Housekeeper juggled the day’s chores – going to the grocery store, washing, ironing, vacuuming, sweeping the patio and, ever so occasionally, heading downtown for an extremely restrained shopping spree – and somehow Dad and his single salary still managed to afford two cars, a caravan, a trip to the Grand Canyon, three phones, pocket-money for six kids, all the bills and a salary for a live-in housekeeper who went on all their vacations with them but still managed to have her own vacations without them as well. Things would happen and they’d never be spoken of again – and that was perfectly normal. Relatives would come and go and it wouldn’t matter that they’d never been mentioned before, nor ever again. That was, apparently, quite normal too. Pets would be there one minute and gone the next, but kids were never upset by their mysterious disappearance. It was all just normal. Very calm, very happy and very normal.

If only real life was that simple. Then again, I’m not sure it ever really was.

SPIN CYCLE: The 20 Year Itch?


What’s not to love about 70s-wear?

I absolutely can’t wait for my genuine 90s 70s-style flared jeans to come back into fashion! It’s not wishful thinking either, it’s inevitable.

The 70s has always been my favourite decade. At one time or another, everyone’s proclaimed – mostly with tongue firmly planted in cheek – the superior nature of their own decade of birth, solely because they were born in it. That aside, the little I actually recall of the 70s I recall with great fondness, if only vaguely. It’s what I subsequently learnt about that fabulous decade that’s always left me wishing I’d been born ten or fifteen years earlier, just so I could’ve been old enough to truly embrace a world of impossibly flared trouser legs, platform shoes, wing-like collars, jumpsuits and strange new fabrics that probably didn’t breathe particularly well.

Sadly I was only five years old by the time New Year’s Eve revellers were ushering in the bold new world of the 1980s. I’d tried more than once to create my own home disco – a stylish mustard-coloured barrel vacuum cleaner was my stage, its nozzle was my microphone and flicking the light switches on and off was about as hi-tech as it was ever gonna get! But I can only lament that I was never old enough to fully immerse myself in the musical and fashion debauchery of that time. Anyone who had the good fortune of escaping the 80s was able to look back on it as an entire decade of fashion delinquency that should’ve never been allowed to happen! So it’s mildly ironic that some commentators of the day – the same ones who were probably looking at their electric typewriters through glasses half the size of their face, with enormous hair, wearing grey acid-wash high-waisted jeans and weighed down by the world’s biggest shoulder pads – should’ve so often delighted in describing the 70s as “the decade that fashion forgot”! Even as a kid I never got it, I always loved everything about the 70s – the music, the funky houses, the shag-pile carpet, Chiko Rolls, the peculiarly Australian fascination with Fondue, the giant Australian-made cars constructed entirely of reinforced steel with their scalding vinyl seats and molten-metal seatbelt buckles. But above all else, I adored the unique clothing! So when it all came back into vogue in the early 90s, well… you probably can’t even begin to imagine how very often I creamed myself with delight!

I was watching the wonderful Myf Warhurst’s Nice on ABC1 the other night and she was looking at fashion fads from down the years. One of her guests commented that the fashion cycle typically means it’s 20 years between fads and styles going out of fashion and coming back ’round again. Even with fashions being recycled on an every-other-decade basis, some become such a hybrid of the original as to be almost unrelated to it. But with the speed of the digital world and our youngest generations apparently possessing the attention span of fleas, has the ‘chronic hysteresis’ of the fashion cycle actually contracted?

In the last hundred-or-so years we’ve seen it happen time and again. While the 1920s was arguably the decade where fashion truly became more twentieth century than nineteenth, the late 1930s, the 40s and at least half of the 50s were all about flare, width and excess for both men’s and women’s fashions – wide collars and lapels, wide-legged pants, wide ties.

By the end of the 1950s everything had narrowed right down. Today, ask anyone what they’d wear as 60s-themed fancy dress and they’d almost always go as some weird crossbreed of styles from the late 60s through to the late 70s – the 1969 hippie / Woodstock look, the Jimmy Hendrix-style striped flares, the stringy suede vests, the over-sized pink or orange-tinted round sunglasses, probably a perm, lots of flowing floral or paisley material; in fact, 60s mainstream fashion was dominated by relatively conservative designs with tiny collars, narrow-lapelled suits, stove-pipe trouser legs and pencil-thin ties, a look which carried on into the early 70s.


Big enough to house the population of a small European nation

Seams and cuffs soon started moving outward again and by 1974 the world was awash with any kind of design that was higher, wider, floppier and generally larger than it needed to be: culottes and bellbottom trousers were so wide as to give the allusion of perpetual motion, with small children walking along the street sucked into a vacuum of excess material, never to be seen again! Suit lapels were equally wide, presumably for no other reason than to counterbalance the absurd width of the trouser legs; if you’ve ever looked at a modern suit breast pocket and thought how pointless it was, imagine how pointless they were in the 70s when they were completely hidden behind the lapel! Open-necked shirts sported collars so wide that sufficient rapid movement of both could quite easily propel the average man on the street skyward, such were their wing-like proportions. Dangerously high platform shoes were worn by women and men alike and big hair abounded – ridiculously over-sized perms, unisex shoulder-length dos, inconceivably large Afros big enough to house the entire population of a small European nation; it really was all about having as much hair as possible for most of the 1970s.

In the early 70s there’d been a 1940s influence on women’s fashion; towards the end of the decade came the first 50s revival, perhaps inspired by Grease, though who can really say which was the chicken and which was the egg. After years of disco and flared everything, by 1979 disco was dead and everything that’d been wider than wide for most of the decade was once again narrow. By 1984, what had already shrunken down to a 60s-inspired narrow had been reduced even further to impossibly tiny proportions. Collars were so small that they almost weren’t there – eventually the fad of ‘grandpa shirts’ would ensure that they were, indeed, no longer there at all! Ties reduced to such an extent that they became no more than a small belt buckle supporting two shoe-laces. Skinny jeans made their first appearance, which was no doubt a wonderful thing for anyone with an eating disorder or no body shape whatsoever, but for the rest of us – to paraphrase Gran from Absolutely Fabulous – it was rather like squeezing toothpaste back into the tube.

By 1986, musically the 60s revival was in full swing, but fashion-wise it was a slightly different story. As if to offset the reduced proportions of almost everything, select items were getting much, much bigger. While the thin mainstays of collars, lapels, ties and pants remained, almost everything else went completely the other way, not least of which were hair, shoulder pads, jackets, jumpers, belt buckles and shoes; all of these spent the latter part of the 80s and the first years of the 90s as big as they could possibly get. In fact, if the late 80s in Australian fashion is remembered for anything at all – aside from how very hideous most of it actually was – it would be three defining unisex atrocities: Ken Done and Jenny Kee over-sized over-coloured jumpers, hugely oversized hair (including massive mullets) and enormously oversized shoulder pads large enough to form the foundations of a twenty-storey building.

Then, just when it looked like ladies’ eyebrows and spectacles couldn’t get any larger or geekier-looking, everything that had been big started to downsize, while everything that had remained narrow started to flare out again. By the end of 1992, the 70s influence was clear almost everywhere and within twelve months the full-on 70s revival had arrived. ABBA, Priscilla, Muriel’s Wedding, anything disco – if it wasn’t genuinely 70s, it was made to look or sound like it. Much of it was 100% copycat – flares, platforms, florals, paisley, brogue – though, thankfully, some of the more questionable designs and styles of the 70s – gabardine, crimplene, rayon – have remained the exclusive domain of costume hirers and senior citizens’ wardrobes.

The prominence of flares and platform shoes somehow managed to wane and revitalise three or four times throughout the 90s and into the early 2000s. But by 2003, as was inevitable, the 20 year itch kicked in again and the 80s were back – in a big way. Flares were gone, everything wide was narrow again. Skinny jeans made a reappearance and, as if they hadn’t looked bad enough the first time, by 2005 the young folk were well into the swing of wearing them with the waistline somehow supported below their butt cheeks. This was a carry-over from a fad that had started years earlier and involving much more capacious jean-wear; it had seemed obvious then that when the size and style of those jeans changed, so too would this slightly oddball style of wearing them half way down their butts with the underwear exposed and the crotch somewhere around their knees – but no, it wasn’t to be. In fact, a handful of styles have remained for longer than they were fashionable the first time… it’s been a decade-long 80s revival. Not as 80s was though, but more as 80s is, or as 80s might’ve been; hip-hop with a bit more hip, new romantic with a touch less romance and even less new.

Almost ten years on and it seems there’s a developing preference for greater width emerging from European fashion houses – it’s the 20 year itch happening all over again! But this time around, when we all jump back into our flares, pop the giant collars over the lapels of our velvet jackets and teeter about on our six-inch platforms, trying desperately not to fall off and break our ankles all Baby Spice-style, what’s it actually going to be? What exactly do you call it when you’re copying the style of a decade that very obviously copied the style of two decades earlier which, in turn, also copied two other earlier decades over the course of its own ten years?


And what’s wrong with men in heels?

Call it a 90s revival. Call it nouveau pastiche. Call it what you want! It’s all a bit confusing but, in the end, it doesn’t really matter – I’m always just on the look-out for the next 70s revival, so I know exactly what I’m gonna call it.

Now, back to those genuine 90s 70s-style flares… all I need to do is work out how to make my waist three sizes smaller and we’re sorted!