Representation within the media is often subject to dominant ideology that reinforces values that may empower or disempower some sections of society.
While I am studying to become a media practitioner, it’s important to analyse how I have been positioned as a media consumer to accept a particular version of reality. An important part of becoming a media practitioner is to understand how to represent reality in a way that people will not only understand but also be mindful of what values I might be unwittingly reinforcing in the process of media production. Media analysis intends to discover the choices that have been made during media production, the presentation of that version of reality and how constant repetition, may very well construct what we, as media consumers, regard as ‘normal’.
For the purpose of this presentation, I’m going to focus on the important role that comedy has played, both in TV and in film to highlight how Australians represent themselves. In this process of representation, particular discourses reinforce perceptions of particular groups of people. Through comedic devices such as parody and satire, the dominant ideologies are revealed and brought to the attention of the viewing public for ‘value added’ discussion and further analysis. To this end, I’d like to draw a connection to how Australia has represented itself through our unique brand of laconic and quirky humour and this has found its way into popular music videos.
During the 1990s Prime Minister, John Howard was asked to describe what type of Australian society he wanted to create; remember his response? Australians should feel: “relaxed and comfortable“. Kath and Kim is a great example where Australian TV audiences were given an unflinching look at Australia’s shallow, materialist urban lifestyle, post 20th century.
Well known Brisbane rock band, Powderfinger, responded to Howard’s ‘relaxed and comfortable statement, in one of the more successful songs from their acclaimed CD: Odessy Number Five. The song in particular is: Treat Me Like A Dog. At the 1:40min of the official video (refer to the you tube link below), lyricist and singer Bernard Fanning is heard singing:
I you treat me like a dog
And keep me locked in a cage
I’m not relaxed or comfortable
I’m aggravation and shame
But it’s a fine time for the people in the lucky land
The official video for the song, features Australia’s very own Anthony Mundine.
Before Kath and Kim hit Australian TV screens and re-wrote how we saw our suburban dream, Australia seemed to be representing ourselves in ways that drew attention to a particular selfishness and obsession with material success. This was effectively portrayed in Muriel’s Wedding (1994) where, one woman’s obsession with becoming married.
Muriel’s wedding was interesting because despite the sunny weather and beachside lifestyle, a dark side to the ‘lucky country’ was introduced to us. Corrupt local councillors, popularity for it’s own sake and friendships devoid of meaningful value. The wedding that is referred to in the film’s title, is revealed as false, devoid of any meaningful union and designed only to allow an elite foreign athlete, access to Australian citizenship. While this notion of the sanctity of marriage is challenged by the film, one of the most powerful scenes in it, takes place when the emotionally abused mother, married to a corrupt local councillor and disrespected by her children, finally torches the backyard that remained overgrown, despite repeated requests for someone to mow it. She burns the overgrown grass and washing on the iconic hills hoist in the process.
“The backyard again becomes the manifestation of what is wrong with both this family, and society in general when before committing suicide, Muriel’s mother sets fire to the overgrown grass, and it leaves both the family and the audience with not just an aesthetic message, but a metaphorical one as well. “This is her last act of vengeance and aggression against her suburban lifestyle and her uncaring and uncommitted husband and children. Instead of gardening in the backyard, and hence altering and improving the environment in which the family resides, a common suburban per-occupation, Betty destroys it and with it, symbolically, the Australian dream”
The Australian suburban dream, and Howard’s relaxed and comfortable Australia, is further explored by local Brisbane band: Violent Soho. In the film clip for one of their popular songs: Covered In Chrome, the band is seen playing in one room after another in typical suburban settings which, includes setting fire to washing that has been left on the iconic Hills Hoist, at the 3:00 min mark. I think this is a powerful representation of Australian suburbia that is further tweaked by the protagonist with the flaming brand, wearing a t-shirt that very clearly states, that he loves ‘weed’.
Representation through satire on our TV screens and in our films, explores a dark side to the notion of the Australian suburban dream. In Kath and Kim, we see the homewares saleswomen deriding their customers while smug in the satisfaction that culturally and socially they are somehow superior, despite their own shallowness being exposed. In Muriel’s Wedding, the Australian way of life is explored and found wanting of any meaningful depth. Lastly, I would like to suggest that in current rock videos, the Australian suburban dream is also explored with a suggestion that one method of dealing with the drudgery often associated with Australian suburban lifestyle is best dealt with by releasing shared frustrations through throwing into a performance in various everyday suburban settings which includes setting fire to washing on the iconic Australian hills hoist.