Saturday, February 25, 2006

Last Week's Lost Weekend Posts (II)
My Saturday, By Gummo Trotsky, Age Whatever

Note: I wrote this on Saturday, 18 February. In today's Age, Ray Cassin pays out on all the TV critics who have been sucked in by The Biggest Loser. Ross Warneke isn't mentioned by name, but the "typical review" of the show that Cassin pays out on sounds a lot like Warneke's.

Zeppo Bakunin is of the opinion that I should give up reading - or at least restrict myself to fiction in future. He's got a point - reading blogs, blog comments and the papers hasn't doing much for my mood today - and he's had to put up with the consequences.

The trouble started this afternoon, when I looked in on a comments thread into which I'd dropped a little jocule, to discover that my comment had been bloody nit-picked. To make matters worse, I was pretty sure that the comment was nit free - but all I had to go on was vague memories of what I'd read in the PSSC Physics text back in the late sixties and a couple of somewhat dated books of the "complicated science stuff made more or less intelligible to the lay reader" genre. Neither of which I was able to find, naturally.

While Comrade Bakunin took himself off to the gracious City of Stonnington for a performance of Opera in the Park - which, he reported to me later, turned out as more of a Sixties style spontaneous audience participation "happening", with the singing and orchestral performance enhanced with improvisational percussion using found instruments such as wine bottles and bins, groups of amateur players performing improvised Theatre of the Banal dialogues on picnic rugs and a few solo performers on mobile phones - I took myself to the supermarket, to pick up some provender for a little ragu I decided to whip up by way of comfort food. Got home in time for MIIB on Channel Ten.

In the ad breaks I slipped out to the kitchen, sliced some celery very finely, started in on the onion, finely sliced to match the celery. I got half the onion neatly sliced before I realised I wanted the bloody thing minced and it was too late to do that little trick where you make parallel cuts down the onion, almost to the root, and then slice it and voila! Minced onion. Instead I had to do that holding the knife at both ends and chopping up the slices thing, which looks nowhere as neat in the mise en place.

Obviously, once I had the ragu cooking and the pasta on to boil (that came later) and the mushrooms had been sliced and tussed in as a last minute finisher, I started to run out of excuses to nick out of the room during the ad-breaks. Which included a fair few promos for Ten's latest foray into inspirational television, a home grown version of The Biggest Loser. The voice-over artist for the ad promised us an elimination. The ad also featured a scene where a guy was crying while a woman in a somewhat confrontational posture said something I couldn't quite make out.

After Zeppo got back from Stonnington, and reported on the avant-garde doings in Stonnington, we both sat back and watched Eric Bana play that troubled guy with serious anger management issues in The Hulk. The promo came on again and I remembered that The Biggest Loser had been reviewed in The Age Green Guide, somewhere. Somewhere turned out to be page 7 and the reviewer turned out to be Ross Warneke in his Rewind column. Whatever generation he is, he does it little credit in this article:

IT'S confession time. After more than 20 years of writing and talking about television, there are some shows that I know I will not like, even before I see them. Lately it has been reality shows built around exploitation and humiliation. Not the team game formats of Survivor or The Amazing Race, but the shows that are constructed solely around the belittling and shaming of contestants.

So when Channel Ten announced it was planning an Australian clone of the American fat-farm reality show The Biggest Loser, I knew I would hate it.


But I confess: I am hooked on this show. And I am not alone.

How did Ross get hooked, despite his belief that it was going to be voyeuristic, degrading. pathetic and tacky? Well we'll come to that later. First we have to disarm any potential critics:

... the politically correct will claim, as they were doing even before the series began, that it is no more than an exercise in humiliation aimed at serving the voyeuristic demands of the masses - and making money for a commercial TV network.

And now that's out of the way, Ross feels it's safe to tell us why he likes the show:

I was one of those who assumed much the same thing - until Monday. What changed my mind was that the producers have been smart enough to select 12 contestants with whom we can feel some affinity and some compassion.

I'm buggered if I can think of a way to satirise this blindingly stupid paragraph. All it amounts to is that the producers got Ross's number: they were clever enough to pick a group of contestants whose exploitation would give the audience a nice warm inner glow of meretricious fellow-feeling. It may be exploitation but it's decent exploitation, which makes all the difference.

It's at this point in the review that the top of my head blew off. I handed the Green Guide over to Comrade Bakunin and he actually read on from there, to the finish of the article:

These people are not being exploited. They have volunteered to appear on the show. They know from watching the American series of The Biggest Loser screened by Ten last year what they will have to endure. Some will be humiliated.

They know that lots of us will be following their progress, laughing at them sometimes, crying for them at others. And it might hurt. But is that any worse than having to live an entire life in which you know that you are seen, rightly or wrongly, as a loser?

Then he came up with that friendly suggestion that I lay off the reading for a while, or at the very least, stick to fiction. Right now that sounds very sensible, although it's going to make topical blogging a bit difficult. I'll have to consider other possible projects - a complete fisking of A la Recherche de Temps Perdu perhaps. That ought to provide a fair bit of material to be going on with.

Before we turned off the TV, I caught that biggest loser promo one more time - and finally made out the words that the female trainer was saying to that bloke who was in tears: Why do you feel you're such a piece of crap?

1 comment:

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