Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Something for Green Wing fans. I've just finished watching the first series of Green Wing, the oddball British hospital sitcom. If you're not familiar with the show, it's like Scrubs in that the hospital staff are rarely troubled by actual patients and the humour comes from their own interactions. The two series also share the use of slapstick and surreal elements, but Green Wing never dismisses any of its visual and verbal nonsequiturs as dream sequences. Also, its dialogue is more naturalistic than Scrubs's rapid-fire approach.

Anyway, in the inevitable Wikipedia orgy that follows my obsessive viewing of a cult TV series (see also: Terminator: The Sarah Chronnor Conicles, Freaks And Geeks, Carnivale), I discovered that the two male leads in Green Wing – Stephen Mangan (half-Swiss anaesthetist Guillaume 'Guy' Secretan) and Julian Rhind-Tutt ("fraise-blond" surgeon 'Mac' McCartney) – co-starred in a series of commercials for Barclaycard in which they echo their characters' relationship from the show.

While these ads are mildly amusing, there's a stiffness, a corniness, to them that really shows how much better the Green Wing writing was – the series had eight regular writers – and how much better the actors were when they had an entire cast to interact with.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

On the affect of re-enactment. On Wednesday night I went to a screening at the Jam Factory. For some reason, film distributors always want to stage their screenings there, which is very inconvenient for me but it's given me a chance to refamiliarise myself with a space that I hadn't regularly visited since the '90s.

It's a bizzarely ahistorical space because it is tasteless by any era's standards, although it was opened as a shopping mall in 1979. The lurid colours, all purple, aqua, mustard and salmon-pink; the absurd colonnade; the piazza that reminds me vaguely of the World Expo '88 piazza; bizarre rococo touches of the Village cinema corridors themselves, with gold trim and squiggly patterned carpets.

Does anyone remember when it had those slightly wrong-looking, life-sized statues of Hollywood characters? Marilyn Monroe gamely holding down her white gauzy skirts in the entrance (I remember her white knickers); the Mask and Catwoman swinging from the rafters. There were probably more, but I can't think what they were.

So I left the cinema and got to the tram stop, where I realised it was about 15 minutes until the next tram. On the corner is this insane '50s-themed American diner called Soda Rock. I decided to go in there for a bite to eat (I hadn't had dinner and it was getting on for 9pm).

Soda Rock used to be a Johnny Rockets, but they don't operate in Australia any more. I went for a job interview there in the summer of 1996. They asked me why I wanted to work at Johnny Rockets and I said, "I want to be a singing, dancing waitress!" (Serenading the customers used to be one of the job requirements, sort of like flair bartending at TGI Friday's or dancing about on the giant keyboard at FAO Schwartz.) This did not appear to impress them and I did not get the job.

When I walked in, it felt almost hallucinatory, like a scene from a David Lynch movie, or perhaps the famous Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks. This wasn't just because it was night-time, or because the place was brightly lit yet almost deserted (a couple were sitting quietly in a booth at the end of the restaurant and I couldn't immediately see any staff). And it wasn't just the life-size Elvis statue that could've been transplanted from the Jam Factory:

It was also because it seemed to emit a melancholy air of time and place being suspended. I felt as if I'd entered a weird cultural capsule. Popular songs from the '50s were softly playing in a way that made me recall dream sequences from films and TV shows, especially the ones in Carnivale that are soundtracked by Ruth Etting's 'Love Me Or Leave Me'.

Because the walls are mirrored, the floor tiled and the ceiling panelled in some laminated substance, the room seems much larger than it is. There's also an odd contrast between this mood and the restaurant's calculatedly jaunty fitout, all glinting chrome and red-and-blue vinyl booths.

I slid into a booth and ordered a sloppy joe combo ("hot" – and they weren't kidding, the chilli was very spicy). Funnily enough, I happen to be reading Fast Food Nation at the moment. As I ate, and read about the history of the great American fast-food chains, I wondered about the anachronism and anatopism of what I was doing.

I felt as though I was re-enacting some imagined notion of a specifically American youth culture. I haven't made a comparative study that maps culinary history on social life, but it's my impression that we never had the jolly diner/malt shop culture of mid-century America – the sort you see on Happy Days and Back To The Future where diners are hangouts for kids.

Instead, I imagine that until those Eye-ties came along after WWII to teach us how to enjoy espresso, we had dingy "tea rooms" and "coffee lounges" that were more like British-style greasy-spoon caffs. These were the sorts of places where lonely workers or itinerants would wander in to eat in silence and solitude, and as that link celebrates, there's an affective aesthetic to these places:

Tea Rooms lovers will not readily forget the lingering air of inertia and lost souls: the murmur of the long, atrophied afternoons, dolour condensing on the windows...

It seems to me that Britain has its own cultural traditions around these places, but the British caff falls into traditions of shabby, working-class stoicism in the face of relentless, bureaucratic social decay. I was also thinking in particular of William Trevor's short story 'Lovers Of Their Time', which appears in the anthology My Mistress' Sparrow Is Dead and details a doomed affair that plays out over lunch breaks in London's dingy pubs and cafes.

The other day I was reading Daniel Neville's thoughts about a discussion of Australian modernism he went to, associated with the Modern Times exhibition at Heide (which I still haven't seen because without a car it's near-impossible to get there. I feel very aggrieved that Connex is an event sponsor, because you can't even get to Heide on the train). Ultimately the discussion revealed a disconnect between modernism-as-aesthetic and modernism-as-socio-political-project.

I have thought about nostalgia a fair bit, mainly in emails to Ben, for whom it's an academic project. He has done the reading, you see. But at the moment I'm writing an article for The Age about why people love Mad Men themed parties, and so I'm interested in nostalgia in terms of historical re-enactment rituals: the ways that we insert ourselves into an imaginary but nonetheless corporeal and hence affective past. I know that Laura has thought about these issues before.

Perhaps Mad Men parties display the same kind of disconnect as the designers who love modernism – we focus on the era's glossy look and don't consider the politics. That's part of the ambivalence of the series itself. But nonetheless I think Mad Men appeals to people in an affective way. Dressing like this, and being in these stylised environments, has visual and tactile pleasures.

This is what I was thinking about as I sat in my booth at Soda Rock – the ways that being physically present in these environments sharpens your view of the relationship between past and present.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Rosie Fantail origin story. You know how superheroes always need an origin story? Yesterday my mother reminded me of mine.

Apparently I had turned four, and for my birthday my mother took me to a panto at the Oxford Children's Theatre in Box Hill. At one point they invited everyone who'd had a birthday in the last week to come up onto the stage. I complied and then they went around asking all the assembled birthday children their name and how old they were.

When they asked me my name, I replied, "Rosie Fantail." This was news to my parents.

I was quite tickled to hear this story because I remember campaigning at that age to be known as Rosie Fantail, but I didn't remember declaring it publicly, on stage and everything. Awesome.

Anyway, I have had the last laugh because Rosie Fantail has now taken on a life of her own. She is even one half of award-winning DJ duo Plump'n'Rosie (available for weddings and parties).

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Guilty confession: sometimes I think I'm pretty hilarious. It is deeply unfashionable to admit that you find yourself funny. It smacks of being self-absorbed and stuck-up. But I think it's equally awful to disavow things about yourself that you like, merely for the sake of appearing modest.

Put it this way. If you're going to make a joke, it's comforting to know that at least one person will always laugh – you. Rather than feel depressed because 'nobody understands me', I might as well enjoy my own sense of humour.

With this in mind, I'd like to say that I find my stupid themes for Is Not Magazine's YouTube Tuesday events very amusing indeed. Nobody ever told me they had to be themed, but I always try to invent some kind of theme for each month's edition – mainly for my own entertainment. Some of them are more plausible and other more desperate. Here are some of them – for posterity as much as anything else, as they're rather ephemeral.

September 11, 2007
YouTube Tuesday
Where the cream of the internet is improved with friends and beer.
"Yes, it is time for another YouTube Tuesday, where we scour the internet for the most hilarious and outrageous videos, then play them on the big screen in a bar. Don't worry, we're not going to screen Twin Towers footage with the Benny Hill Show theme behind it. (Oh, too soon?)"

November 13, 2007
YouTube Tuesday
An event that preceded Channel 10's "The Friday Night Download" by some 14 months.

January 8, 2008
YouTube Tuesday - Summer Edition
Ease your way back into the working year by watching amusing online videos!
"If you've never been to YouTube Tuesday before, make it your New Year's Resolution; and if you have, resolve to come again, and also to attend YouTube Tuesday."

February 12, 2008
YouTube Tuesday - Love Edition
Bring your crush, canoodle in the dark, reveal your awful laugh
"Yeah, so it's the February YouTube Tuesday and hence the obligatory Love Edition. We thought about strewing red roses all through the back room at Loop, but that is pretty expensive. Still, it's two days before Valentine's Day – you might get lucky! YOUTUBE TUESDAY HOOKUPS HAVE HAPPENED BEFORE."

March 11, 2008
YouTube Tuesday - Mad March Edition
Online video craziness with Is Not Magazine
"Last month you learned surprising new things about Sarah Silverman's sex life and Bert and Ernie's drumming skills. Now, being March, we are making like Ken Bruce and going COMPLETELY MAD! Or perhaps like that dude who advertises MASSIVE SALES of BRAAAAS, BRIEFFFFS AND G-STRINGS! at the Exhibition Centre. As Jeremy likes to say, "GET YOUR TITS IN 'EM!""

April 8, 2008
YouTube Tuesday - April Follies Edition
All manner of April Foolishness, brought to you by your friend the internet
"April Fool's Day may technically be over, but at Is Not Magazine we are no strangers to foolishness (or indeed, foolywangness) of all sorts – and now we showcase it once more in our monthly screening of the best in internet video."

May 13, 2008
YouTube Tuesday – Mayonnaise Edition
The (salad) cream of online video, tossed liberally with drinks and LOLs.
"Now the Simpsons were keen to teach us that you don't win friends with salad, but Is Not Magazine would beg to differ, because it is May and another opportunity to meet lovely new people awaits! "

June 10, 2008
YouTube Tuesday - June-O Edition
Pregnant with internet videos! Honest to blog, homeskillet!
"It started with a chair. You sat in this comfortable chair at Loop some time between 6:30pm and 7pm, after donating $5 to Is Not Magazine. Jeremy played some funny videos and you laughed, and then maybe went to get some dumplings or Italian food for dinner. Thus you eased yourself back into the working week after the long weekend. Then you put on your finest leopard-print gown and won an Oscar The End."

July 8, 2008
YouTube Tuesday - Julyke To Watch Edition
The perfect dose of mid-winter scopophilia
"Julyke to watch funny internet videos, right? Then jubetter get jurass to YouTube Tuesday. Juwon't know what will happen, but juwill definitely laugh."

August 12, 2008
YouTube Tuesday - Second Birthday Edition
Now officially a toddler
"In celebration, we will screen some especially mental videos off the internet and there will be a cake - we are tossing up between a Dramatic Chipmunk Cake or a Chocolate Rain Cake (*move away from the cake to breathe in)."

October 14, 2008
YouTube Tuesday - Nightlight Saving Edition
Get back that hour you lost by watching funny internet videos
"Where did that hour of the day go? (I ask, still wearing my pyjamas.) Well, we at Is Not Magazine have thought of a fine way to give it back to you: the October edition of YouTube Tuesday, incorporating a special encore screening of the best bits of the Pork Chop Edition!"

November 11, 2008
YouTube Tuesday - Remembrance Day Edition
With the downloading of the files, and with a mouse click, we shall remember them...
"Being Remembrance Day, we are going to screen some of our all-time favourites as well as new funny, astounding and memey videos."

January 13, 2009
YouTube Tuesday – Not Happy January Edition
Boo hoo, back at work... so ease the pain with some funny internet videos!
"Bummer, eh? You've had a lovely little break over the end of 2008 and start of 2009, and then you have to go back to work just as the nice weather finally kicks in. We know now why you cry, but it's something we can never do."

February 10, 2009
YouTube Tuesday – Febrouhaha Edition
The shortest month! The shortest amount of notice!
"Holy crap you guys, we forgot it is YouTube Tuesday this coming Tuesday! There was some Christian Bale-style shouting when we figured this out! It's a total Febrouhaha!"

March 10, 2009
YouTube Tuesday – Lousy Smarch Weather Edition
In these turbulent times, the hilarity of online video is our only certainty
"Is it raining outside? Is there a gale-force wind? Is it horribly hot? Did your boss send you home early in case the trains all got cancelled? Did you get that text message from the cops? Lousy Smarch weather!"

June 9, 2009
YouTube Tuesday – Chk-Chk JUNE!!! Edition
Call on your fully sick boys and watch some funny internet videos!
"So you and your friends came into Loop and there were these two videos screening. And the funnier video said to the sillier video, "Oi bro, you slept with my cousin eh," and the other one said, "Nah man, I didn't for shit eh" and the other one goes, "I will call on my fully sick boys eh," and then pulled out a remote and went chk-chk JUNE!!!"

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