THE ADVENTURES OF CHARLOTTE DAWSON: Attack Of The Lost Grasp On Reality


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Charlotte Dawson’s “Twitter hell” lead to “a brush with suicide”, apparently…

I have to say it – I’m almost shocked. I almost can’t believe it. All the media space this garbage with Charlotte Dawson and the online trolls has gotten over the past week or so is just too much.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: what a load of old shit!

Charlotte Dawson. A New Zealand woman whose biggest claim to fame is being the plain-speaking (read: bitch) judge on Foxtel’s Australia’s Next Top Model, a program which even at its peak is watched by just 112,000 people.

One hundred and twelve thousand.

The poor thing had such a time of it with cyber-bullies and so-called online “trolls” a few days back that she actually did what they told her to do in all of their highly educated, eloquently expressed Twitter tweets – she caved in, gave up and apparently popped some pills. Just to prove she was serious, she apparently also tweeted that she had indeed caved in and given up and even posted a photo of a hand holding a bottle of pills. Top marks for the melodrama. Well played Charlotte Dawson.

Because it was well-played. One minute poor, downtrodden, abused and vilified Charlotte Dawson is being whisked off to Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, presumably in response to some kind of so-called overdose; the next, she and her pumped stomach are up and off their death bed for an exclusive interview with 60 Minutes! How wonderfully unplanned. And all this media coverage too – how marvellously fortuitous. She’s so very lucky that she felt so much better – and so quickly too! – that she was able to record an interview with a program which, even on a bad night, attracts an audience ten times bigger than the program she’s most ‘well known’ for. Again, well played Charlotte Dawson.

Notwithstanding the fact that Charlotte Dawson sees fit to call it how she sees it as a judge on Australia’s Next Top Model – and in saying this I mean to suggest only that she would seem to have been instrumental in the development of whatever reputation she has – this ridiculous situation has done one thing and one thing only: it’s proven that both Charlotte Dawson and the majority of the Australian media are as brain-dead as the “online trolls” accused of Dawson’s “cyber-bullying” in the first place.

The fact that the situation received so much airtime and press space says more about the local media’s reliance on social media as a catalyst for news creation than it does of the situation itself, which was little more than a bunch of faceless online entities engaged in a bit of dummy spitting, bitch slapping and name calling. To be fair, it also says quite a lot about Charlotte Dawson, her own head space and her relationship with what used to be referred to as “the virtual world”. Frankly, it’s a relationship that she needs to reassess.

Because Charlotte Dawson, it seems, is as obsessed with the so-called Twitterverse as the rest of the mindless pond life who inhabit it and who subsequently use it to air their mostly pointless one line thoughts any number of times per day. By all accounts, she’s not shy of tweeting and re-tweeting controversial comments at all hours of the day and night. She’s apparently quite happy to tell others when to get a grip, but in a classic case of not practicing what one preaches, it seems Charlotte Dawson doesn’t know how to disassociate real life from Twitterlife.

Charlotte Dawson didn’t know who these people were. She probably didn’t know them at all. It’s likely she’d never met a single one of them in her life, nor had the remotest chance of ever doing so. And so they start posting comments like “please kill yourself”, “please put your head in an oven”, “please hang yourself”, all extremely well thought-out, eloquent comments I’m sure you’ll agree. All the product of some finely attuned, rational, educated adult minds, there’s no denying it.

Is it just me, or does anyone else just want to grab Charlotte Dawson by the shoulders and shake the crap out of her while screaming “IT’S ONLY TWITTER CHARLOTTE DAWSON, FOR FUCK’S SAKE, IT’S NOT REAL LIFE, GET THE FUCK OVER IT!”. Seriously – anyone? Or just me?

Coz it’s not real, is it? It can’t be. There’s no genuine, interpersonal relationship. There’s no direct line of sight between one user and another. Sometimes there isn’t even a real picture or a username based on life from which to associate an actual face with an actual name. It’s all just a bunch of words. Stupid, pointless, meaningless words constructed – usually it’s atrociously poorly constructed – by brainless morons who believe that telling complete strangers – celebrity or no, online or no – to kill themselves if OK.

Seriously – WTF? It’s not that I’m struggling to comprehend how this whole situation could’ve even happened. The world is full of stupid people and stupid people often have very big, stupid opinions about things that they get all loud and shouty about. A lot of the time this happens online. Would any of these people have been even slightly likely to see Charlotte Dawson in the flesh and say these nasty, hateful things to her? Absolutely not. We’re talking about a generation of people who hide behind the antisocial barrier created by the interweb and social media as a means of growing the backbone they could never develop in real life to make pointless, hurtful comments to people they’ll never meet, about things and issues which, by and large, don’t matter in the overall scheme of things. Then they log off and don’t think about it again. Several hundred similarly stupid people then do the same thing and before you know it, thousands of stupid people have all done the same thing. One tiny, probably insignificant moment in time for each of them to compose – again, mostly poorly – their hateful diatribe, post it and go away. It’s not as if they all got together and planned it, like some covert attack under cover of darkness. It was nothing more than ‘monkey see, monkey do’, like most of the claptrap on social media and interweb chat rooms, forums and message boards going right back to the beginnings of the interweb itself. Stupid is as stupid does, it’s always been the same. And this was stupid.

What I’m actually struggling to comprehend is how any of this has been taken seriously! An almost 50-year-old woman – a ‘celebrity’, if you will – who openly and frequently utilises social media to broadcast her own (sometimes ‘controversial’) thoughts is brought to her knees by a bunch of fellow users who essentially tell her, in a variety of colourful ways, to go to hell, then pops up a few days later to be interviewed about the whole sordid affair by a program that will provide her, when the interview airs, with by far the biggest single viewing audience she’s ever had. Anywhere. Ever.

Gimme a break! Yeah maybe I’m a tad cynical as a general rule, but I tried not to be with this. I tried to assess it from every angle, objectively. But it’s a case of recursive occlusion I’m afraid – whatever path I took just kept bringing me back to the same place: it’s all an over-dramatised, melodramatic sham!

Here’s a thought, Charlotte Dawson. Next time it’s all getting a bit too much, why not consider stopping your tweets, logging out of your account (or even deactivating it), repeating to yourself “this isn’t real, this isn’t real, this isn’t real” (or “there’s no place like home”, or “what is it you can’t face Maria?” or frankly anything that makes you feel better), go have a real conversation with a real person who you actually know and forget all about social media forever. Won’t make for nearly as interesting an interview and 60 Minutes likely won’t be interested, but surely you’ll feel better as a human being which I’m sure is all you genuinely want.

But well played Charlotte Dawson. Deftly executed. Bravo madam, bravo. Topping performance, what!? And what a jolly effective set-piece those pills turned out to be too.

Of course, nobody needs to know they were only Vitamin C tabs – don’t worry, you’re secret’s safe with me.

DANCING TO A DIFFERENT BEAT: the changing fate of reality TV


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Sarah Murdoch, Kelly Rowland and Jason Derülo: everybody dance now… or not.

This week Network Ten axed Everybody Dance Now, only nine days after its début. How about that for giving a new show legs to grow its audience and develop its format? Even the pre-launch advertising blitz lasted longer.

When Everybody Dance Now was axed on 21 August, media commentator Michael Idato observed, “the reason they’ve cancelled it is because obviously its ratings have become unsustainable”… after nine days and four episodes on air? They never even had a chance to become sustainable, let alone the opposite. Presumably Network Ten spent a whole heap of money on pulling the show together, drafting glamour gal Sarah Murdoch in as host and securing US pop starlets Kelly Rowland and Jason Derülo as “dance coaches”, then forked out some more on a (presumably) pricey re-jig of the formula that lasted just one episode before the axe fell two days later.

Huh?

Now I’m no accountant or TV industry executive but to me at least, something about that whole scenario just doesn’t add up.

The press cited everything from Everybody Dance Now premiering amongst some pretty stiff competition to the fact that it came hot on the heels of the London Olympics’ closing ceremony. In fact the delayed telecast of the closing ceremony was in direct competition with Everybody Dance Now – elementary mistake #1 by Network Ten. A less-than-ideal situation, granted, but not an unsalvagable one – if the product’s right. And therein lies the problem.

Before Everybody Dance Now, in Australia alone there’d already been a veritable cavalcade of locally made reality dance-offs, to say nothing of the vast array of same-same overseas programs that’ve been rolled out with monotonous regularity by free-to-air networks or scheduled all over pay TV.

The BBC’s Come Dancing started it all, way back in 1949. A ballroom dancing competition created specifically for TV, it was on air for nearly fifty years and was the notional predecessor of Strictly Come Dancing, the title of the latter being an allusion to the former as well as to 1992’s hugely successful Strictly Ballroom, despite Strictly Come Dancing having no direct connection with either.

Strictly Come Dancing proved a ratings bonanza for the BBC and was exported to the four corners of the earth as Dancing With The Stars, with the Australian version consistently a ratings juggernaut over twelve seasons since its Seven Network début in 2004.

“When you’re on a good thing, stick to it” – or in this case, steal it. That was clearly the ABC’s approach when they launched Strictly Dancing in 2004. It lasted three seasons until 2005. That same year the Nine Network also shimmied onto the dancing bandwagon with the very awful Skating On Thin Ice, a celebrity iceskate-a-thon that was essentially the local variant of the UK Dancing On Ice format. Mercifully the pin was pulled while the ice was still thin enough for the b-grade celebrity contingent to fall through. Never ones to embrace the ‘once bitten’ sentiment Nine revived the concept in mid-2006. After eight episodes they also euthanased Torvill And Dean’s Dancing On Ice, having spent several million dollars bringing it together.

So You Think You Can Dance appeared to much fanfare on Ten in early 2008 but had disappeared again by April 2010 after only three seasons, its ratings having gradually fallen away from a début peak of 2.15 million to an average of 900k during the final season.

Elsewhere, practically all overseas variants have popped up somewhere on Australian TV at some point too: US and UK versions of So You Think You Can Dance, US Dancing With The Stars, UK Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing On RealityTV_SCDIce and Got To Dance (originally known as Just Dance), as well as India’s short-lived version of Just Dance. Australia’s own Andrew Günsberg – the so-called Andrew G – exported himself to the US to host Live To Dance in January 2011. While the contestants were certainly alive and did indeed dance, the show itself didn’t live very long at all and after just seven episodes it was voted off to the great reality dance hall in the sky. In a slightly ironic twist, Andrew G was to return to Australia this year as host of a local version of Just Dance on Foxtel’s FOX8 network – they pulled the plug due to a scheduling clash with Ten’s Everybody Dance Now. If only they’d known.

If you feel slightly bombarded by the bewildering assortment of dancing concepts of the past seven or eight years, it’s understandable – they’re all just a subset of what are no more than variations on a theme. Whether it’s dancing, cooking, singing, weight loss, renovating, modelling, ‘talent’ as a generic concept, fly-on-the-wall, trek-around-the-world or stuck-in-a-remote-location, the one common thread is that each concept is almost identical to the last.

2012 looked like being the start of Australia’s reality TV renaissance. Everybody Dance Now was apparently to be the game-changer in reality dance shows (we’ll never know) and Network Ten seemingly had a stockpile of game-changers ready to roll out: the fly-on-the-wall reality with a twist The Shire (the twist obviously being that it’s almost unwatchable); the reality wedding show with a twist Don’t Tell The Bride; and the reality singing competition with a twist I Will Survive. Add to this the standard fare of MasterChef and The Biggest Loser, along with the increasingly unlikely prospect of The Renovators ever returning for a second season, and that’s more-or-less Ten’s entire schedule wrapped up for the rest of the year. If the axe doesn’t fall first.

Unexpectedly, after four years off air the Nine Network decided 2012 was the year to breathe new life into Big Brother, the one that really kick-started the fly-on-the-wall reality concept in a big way back in 2001. By the time its eighth and final season on Network Ten rolled around, the public’s significantly decreased interest in the concept was reflected in Big Brother’s significantly decreased ratings and the plug was pulled. As with apparently all reality series this year, Nine promoted its new season of Big Brother as ‘different’ and ‘full of surprises’; the only truly surprising thing is that it’s so un-different from the original, it’s so short on actual surprises and Sonia Krueger is so painfully annoying as a host.

Nine has also ridden on the coat-tails of The Block’s massive ratings. It seemed such a hugely successful concept to revive and felt like it had only been gone a short while, but the original series only lasted two seasons and had been off air for six years before its 2010 revival. The network also found new success in 2012 with The Voice.

Now in its eighth season, Nine also manages to ride an annual wave of success with The Farmer Wants A Wife, one of the most contrived reality dating games ever to have a production budget allocated to it. Still, its ratings suggest that Mr & Mrs Average clearly love a story of anti-archetypal country boys – impossibly good-looking and suspiciously eloquent – being presented with groups of city-based ladies from which farm-boy is to choose a spouse. How wonderfully Neanderthal.

Along the way, Nine’s done a couple of one-off local variations of Survivor. Meawhile the Seven Network has thrown in a couple of locally made seasons of The Amazing Race for good measure, presumably to balance out the staple of their reality menu – look-alike singing and talent contests like The X-Factor and Australia’s Got Talent.

And if it’s look-alike you’re after, then you can’t do better than that timeless brainchild of Tyra Banks, the Next Top Model franchise – famous for its ‘cycles’ rather than series or seasons, if not its stream of next top models propelled into the public consciousness and onto the catwalks of Paris and Milan. Australia’s Next Top Model has been through seven of these so-called cycles on Foxtel’s FOX8 network. Almost ironically (again) the program is on hiatus for 2012, with producers allegedly having quite a time of finding a replacement for host Sarah Murdoch – the dear departed Everybody Dance Now strikes again. In between cycles of Australia’s Next Top Model we’ve been treated to America’s Next Top Model, Canada’s Next Top Model, Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model and the always entertaining-for-all-the-wrong-reasons New Zealand’s Next Top Model.

It’s all so formulaic and the formula itself is so simple: take a group of random, unconnected people and keep them more-or-less trapped within the confines of the program for a set period of time; along the way make them perform stuff (songs, tasks, challenges, competitions, whatever); engage one or more hosts and some good post-production to build an air of wholly contrived suspense; increase the viewing public’s perception of themselves as an entire nation of key stakeholders in the drawn-out proceedings by repeatedly describing contestants as “your” (“your Top 10”, “your final three”, “your housemates”, “your favourite dancer”, “your MasterChef”) and the entire viewership as “Australia”; gradually vote people off one by one, by means of a combination of public voting (rake in the dollars via use of ‘premium’ SMS services) and a panel of ‘celebrity’ judges; build up towards a massive finale; name the winner and award underwhelming prize money; allow the winners to (mostly) wander off back to obscurity… et voilà!

But there’s only so many ways you can put a spin on any formula before the law of diminishing returns kicks in. Exhibit A: Everybody Dance Now. An ex-model as host, two popular and attractive American co-hosts, flashy production values and a huge budget will collectively achieve nothing if the format generally is either a bit crap, a bit old, or a bit of both. So is it really any wonder when more of them fail than fire?

The reality TV genre is past its prime. It’s had its day. The time for being enormously entertained by watching groups of deluded fools who think they’re more talented than they actually are, or watching a bunch of people sit around doing nothing or going about their day-to-day lives is long gone. It’s old hat. Passé. It’s time to evict this reality TV drivel from the house.

Ironically (yet again) while I bang on about taking reality TV to the tribal council one last time, I can only channel Gretel Killeen from her days as host of Big Brother for the best way to do it. Gretel would know how to get rid of reality TV once and for all and she’d do it with just four simple words:

‘IT’S TIME TO GO!”