Assumptions of Australian Film and Television

Admittedly I spend a lot of time watching film and television…. probably way more than is considered ‘healthy’, but its what I really enjoy!. I’m a subscriber to both Stan and Netflix and whilst I do watch more American content than Australian content overall, I have recently really enjoyed Australian television shows like Cleverman which aired on the ABC, The Kettering Incident on Foxtel, Matt Okines The Other Guy on Stan and Josh Thompson’s Please Like Me also on the ABC. Whilst watching all of these shows, in none of them did I have the feeling of the show trying to be overtly Australian or too culturally specific yet all of them tell an Australian story. Whilst Cleverman is clearly reflective of how Indigenous Australians are treated in Australia and so undoubtedly Australian content, it could easily be reflective of how any minority group is discriminated against.

ketteringPleaseLikeMe_headerp14107240_b_v8_ab

This is why I was really surprised when I sat down in my first summer session class and my peers described their assumptions of Australian film and television like this…

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 11.26.23 am

What my class came up with when asked what their assumptions are of Australian content…

Whilst these things aren’t the first words that come to mind when I think of Australian film and tv, once we started listing iconic Australian film and television, this mind map seems completely accurate and made me think twice of my initial understanding. Think, Crocodile Dundee (1986), Neighbours (1985-), Home and Away (1988-), McLeods Daughters (2001-2009) and The Castle (1997). Whilst these are a select few that fit a specific idea of Australian content, there are many perspectives on Australian film and a frequent complaint was summed up by Louis Nowra who wrote in 2009 that “Australian films are so dispiriting that they make Leonard Cohen seem positively cheery”. Another is that they are full of outmoded ocker stereotypes. So what is Australian creative content supposed to do?, well in actual fact it is supposed to have cultural benefits for Australia and in many ways is based on the understanding  “… that film serves the identification and refinement of essential Australianness”(Dermody and Jacka, 1987, 35) and yet I don’t feel any of these iconic films and tv series listed above are insightful into my day to day life as an Australian.

So what is considered an Australian Screen Production? 

Screen Australia determines whether a project has significant Australian content with regard to:

  • The subject matter of the film
  • The place where the film was made
  • The nationalities and places of residence of the persons who took part in the making of the film
  • The details of the production expenditure incurred in respect of the film, and
  • any other matters that we consider to be relevant.

But this also means that a film like The Great Gatsby (2013), a great American novella by a great US Author F. Scott Fitzgerald can be considered an Australian film even if it is not an Australian story. This is because it was directed by Baz Luhrmann, was filmed in Australia with an Australian crew and mainly Australian actors (even though it stars Leonardo DiCaprio).

But maybe moving away from Australian content having to be identifiably Australian is a good thing and a films merits should be determined not by its cultural appropriateness but the film as a whole. Julius Avery, the director of Australian film Son of a Gun said, “This label ‘Australian film’, I don’t know. I think we need to drop that and just make universal films that connect.” Whilst I think more recent tv shows like the ones mentioned earlier (Please Like Me, The Kettering Incident, and Cleverman etc) are succeeding at this, there seems to be a struggle between the responsibility to tell Australian stories in order to enrich national identity and creating Australian content  that doesn’t have to be identifiably Australian in order to be successful.

The success or failure of the Australian film and Television industry is dependent on multiple issues like the audience, tall poppy syndrome, lack of funding and advertising and policy making. These will all be discussed in future weeks as this topic is explored in depth.

Advertisements

Imparja and NITV as initiatives to combat Inequality in Australian Media

In my previous post I aimed to explain the role television media has in Australia in constructing the cultural understanding of individuals and also political understanding through news and current affairs. There is therefore a relationship between a lack of media representation in television and inequality for Indigenous Australians. In this half of my case study I will explore the role Imparja Television has had in addressing the issue of access as Australias first Indigenous controlled commercial television station broadcasting to remote and sparsely populated regions of Australia. I will also look at the impact NITV (National Indigenous Television) has had on the issue of representation, as a station focused on creating content for and by Aboriginal Australians and the trickle down effect this has had in creating social and institutional change.

Imparja, owned by The Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA), first commenced broadcasting in 1988 and still broadcasts today to over 700,000 people across remote eastern and central Australia. CAAMA was successful in vying for the first ever license to bring commercial television to 30 different remote Australian communities by claiming that “38% of the potential audience were Aborigines”(Molloy, 1993), and so CAAMA was best suited to serve the target audience. Imparja was seen as a huge break through after years of government intervention that neglected to support social and cultural movements which would benefit Indigenous people. In addition to the intervention that Imparja created in addressing an inequality in media access, NITV was launched in 2007 as a way for a diverse group to tell their own stories.

The need for a station like NITV was first recognised in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 when a new section of the Act was pushed through parliament stating:

S 3(1)(n) “To ensure the maintenance and, where possible, the development of diversity, including public, community and indigenous broadcasting, in the Australian broadcasting system”. (Rennie, Ellie and Featherstone, Daniel, 2008, page 57)

This development outlined that there was a clear gap in the diversity of Australia’s television media and that a distinction needed to be made between the community based media model and an Indigenous community media sector. NITV continues to grow as a representative of Indigenous Australians, just last month in July 2017 they launched NITV Radio in partnership with SBS, and in the same month partnered with Choice Magazine to shed light on advertising and sales tactics targeting Indigenous Australians (Kirkland, Choice CEO, 2017).

A more recent initiative than Imparja or NITV is the website ICTV Play. It was launched in early 2016(IRCA, Annual Report, 2016, page 17) and is almost like ABC iView in that it is an extensive data base of recordings of stories, dance, song, hunting, language and bush tucker videos submitted by those living in remote Indigenous communities. It features a segment called ‘Young Way’ which allows students in community to upload their own music videos and stories made by them. ICTV Play is really an incredible device for digitally recording and therefore preserving ancient languages, stories and dance through shared media that is able to be accessed by anyone with internet. The importance of platforms like ICTV Play, NITV and organisations like CAAMA is observed through Michael Meadows when he says;

“Indigenous media produced in remote, regional and urban environments have the capacity not only to offer alternative ideas and assumptions about the world that enable their audiences to make sense of their places within it, but also to offer a critique of mainstream media processes” (Meadows, 2009, pg 121).

ICTV PLAY

In conclusion, initiatives like Imparja, NITV and ICTV Play are imperative to creating a diverse media landscape which represents and gives a voice to those who face every day inequalities in Australia.

P.S check out the hashtag #indigenousdads on Instagram as a response to Bill Leaks cartoon.

Reference List.

Indigenous Remote Communications Association (IRCA), Annual Report 2016, viewed 18 August 2017 http://irca.net.au/sites/default/files/public/documents/IRCA-Annual%20Report%202016-Web-S.pdf

Kirkland, A 2017 ‘A Spotlight on Change for Indigenous Consumers’ Choice magazine, July, viewed 21 August 2017https://www.choice.com.au/about-us/from-our-ceo/2017/a-spotlight-on-change

Meadows, M, May 2009, ‘Walking the Talk: Reflections on Indigenous Media Audience Research Methods’ Participations Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, Vol 6. Issue 1 https://research-repository.griffith.edu.au/bitstream/handle/10072/30199/60693_1.pdf?sequence=1

Molloy, B, 1993 ‘CHANGING CULTURAL CHANNELS: SBS-TV, IMPARJA AND AUSTRALIAN
TELEVISION’, The Electronic Journal of Communication, Vol 3, No. 3 viewed 19 August 2017 http://www.cios.org/EJCPUBLIC/003/3/00334.HTML

Rennie, Ellie and Featherstone, Daniel 2008, ‘The Potential Diversity of Things We Call TV’: Indigenous Community Television, Self-determination and NITV’,  Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, No. 129 52-66  <http://search.informit.com.au.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=909934871951567;res=IELLCC>ISSN: 1329-878X,  viewed 21 Aug 17

SBS Radio, 2017, ‘NITV Radio has Arrived!’ SBS, 3rd July 2017, viewed 21 August 2017 http://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/aboriginal/en/article/2017/07/03/nitv-radio-has-arrived-sbss-flagship-indigenous-radio-program-living-black-radio

Access and Representation of Indigenous Australians in main stream media

Our modern culture is saturated with imagery and how this imagery is presented to us is crucial to the formation of individuals cultural understanding. Stuart Hall (1997) describes representation as how culture interlocks with how things are presented to an audience. He goes further to say that the practices of representation are one of the key processes in the “cultural circuit” (Hall, 1997, pg. 3). The representation of Aboriginal Australians in television has vastly improved both on and off the screen with characters identified as Indigenous Australians at 5 per cent, compared to their proportion of the population (3 per cent) as of 2011. Contrast this with figures in 1992 of no Indigenous actors on screen and only 2 in 1999 (ScreenAustralia, pg 6), this is a major improvement of cultural diversity in Australian television.

However, Indigenous characters were concentrated in fewer programs than characters from European or non-European backgrounds and nearly all programs were aired on SBS or ABC. This is important because it means that although there are more Indigenous actors and characters, they are not widespread throughout main stream media and therefore according to Hall’s theory, effects audience’s cultural understanding of Indigenous Australians.

The problem with a lack of representation is that it can mean misrepresentation, stereotyping and racism. An example of this was published last year in The Australian. The below cartoon by Bill Leak depicts an Aboriginal father with a beer can who can’t remember his son’s name, a hurtful and degrading stereotype that clearly illustrates how main stream media marginalises Indigenous Australians by representing them as incapable of parenthood. This negative sort of representation in main stream media continues to foil Aboriginal advancement. Aboriginal people face shorter life expectancies of up to a decade, make up 50% of all Australian suicides as of 2010 and equate to over a quarter of the adult prison population (2013) despite only making up 2.3% of the adult population.  Negative main stream media representation not only shapes cultural understanding by perpetuating stereotypes but also prolongs inequality.

53a5099c7991c37bb152ddf53f2bc429.jpeg

Bill Leak 2016 The Australian

The issue of representation for Aboriginal Australians can not be overcome without overcoming the issue of access to culturally diverse creative goods. The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity promotes access to culturally diverse creative goods as a basic human right. However, in Australia, as of 2006, 25% of Indigenous people were living in remote areas of Australia compared to only 2% of non-Indigenous people. It can be hard to access media in remote Australia at all, especially media that is reflective of and relatable to those living in remoteness. Indigenous programming on mainstream television accounts for less than 2 hours per week, or around 1.2% of the total airtime (Ausgov 2016), which is arguably a severe under representation of the indigenous people of Australia and hardly culturally diverse. For Australians cultural understanding of Indigenous people to improve, the diversity of Australia’s media landscape must also improve. It is arguable that when there are few relatable and tangible role models, you  ‘can’t be what you can’t see’ and so the “cultural circuit” continues. In the second part of this case study I will explore several organisations and initiatives that have been created to address the under representation of Indigenous Australians in media, as well as access to relatable and relevant media for those living in remote Australia.

Resources

http://www.presscouncil.org.au/uploads/52321/ufiles/Op_Ed_items_in_The_Australian_re_Bill_Leak_cartoon.pdf

https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/getmedia/157b05b4-255a-47b4-bd8b-9f715555fb44/TV-Drama-Diversity.pdf

http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/indigenous-radio-and-television

http://www.australianstogether.org.au/stories/detail/the-gap-indigenous-disadvantage-in-australia

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-20/bill-leak-singled-out-for-racial-discrimination-investigation/7952590

http://www.pc.gov.au/research/ongoing/overcoming-indigenous-disadvantage/2011/key-indicators-2011-factsheet-remote.pdf

Planned Obsolescence and It’s Consequences

Chances are, you’ve heard someone from an older generation once say “things just aren’t made to last anymore!”, and chances are they’re right!. My grandpa had an old Plymouth  for nearly 40 years, these days we upgrade cars after 5-10 years or even less. Is this because in the modern age we all want the best and brightest? Maybe, but whats more likely is that electronics have a much shorter life span. There is actually a term for this policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, its called “planned obsolescence”. It originates as early as the light bulb with General Electric handing out fines if producers light bulbs lasted longer than 1,000 hours. What’s the purpose? – obviously to reduce the period of time between repeat purchases increasing profit. The consequence? – 50 million tons of E-waste every year..

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report, entitled Global e-waste systems – Insights for Australia from other developed countries said “In Japan, consumers do not have to pay a fee when recycling smaller e-waste, as they do for larger items. Meanwhile, in the US state of California, consumers incur an advance recovery fee. This fee is paid when buying devices such as TVs and laptops,”. This is certainly a good way to ensure devices get recycled and consumers are taking responsibility. In Australia the problem of e-waste is still in its infancy, e-waste is growing 3 times as fast as other waste categories (EIU Report), so Australia is going to have to adapt. E-waste not only effects the environment, but people too. Australia’s E-waste is shipped off to countries like Ghana in Africa or Guiyu in China where 80% of children suffer from lead poising (Greenpeace). The electronics are burnt in order to create space which releases toxic fumes into the air, they are then picked apart to find the precious metals like gold and silver, so they can sell them and make a small reward.

Toxics e-waste documentation (China : 2005)

A child sitting amongst cables in Guiyu, China. (Greenpeace)

One computer can contain lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) (The guardian, 2013) which when burnt creates catastrophic pollution that is ingested through the drinking water, air and becomes part of the soil that they grow their crops in. Even more alarming is the majority of people who work on the dump sites are children.

But instead of just looking at how to better recycle electronics, shouldn’t we be looking at how to make them last longer and who’s responsible for that?. Solutions need to be found “upstream” in the way electronics are manufactured and consumed in the first place. A viable solution to this problem has in fact been created, its called the Fairphone.  The Fairphone contains conflict free minerals, is built by employees who are paid fair factory wages, is easily recyclable, durable, repairable and actually costs less than an iPhone. It costs approximately $795 Aus dollars compared to an iPhone 6 which retails for about $930. The Step Initiative is another organisation run by the United Nations set up to tackle the E-waste problem and is releasing annual reports to create awareness. Western countries can not continue to dump their own waste and the problems that go a long with it on poorer countries who have no choice but to live with it.

 

Geisha’s and Godzilla

Orientalism is, in a nutshell, “the way that the West perceives of — and thereby defines — the East” (Edward W. Said). Since colonialism, the West has perpetuated the idea that the eastern world is deeply rooted in tradition, exoticism, and is generally undeveloped. This is in order to create the picture of it being a problematic area that needs taming and therefore justifying colonialism as “the white man’s burden“. Using the word oriental to describe someone could mean they are from several different countries, including  China, Japan, Turkey, India, Greece or Egypt just to name a few. All of which have very little in common culturally  except for their geographical proximity to each other. This is why the term is out dated, inappropriate and possibly even offensive. Early orientalism is seen in European art and photographs like the one below on the cover of “The Thief of Baghdad” depicting two women on a flying carpet in exotic dresses and head scarves reflecting a long history of orientalist fantasies.

7_0

1924 film poster

 

More recently, In 2014, Air France launched a new ad campaign featuring women dressed as different iconic symbols associated with the countries that it flies its aeroplanes to. However, the two cultural appropriations for Beijing and China have been criticised as being racist. As Asian-American feminist and activist Jenn Fang notes on Reappropriate , “If only you hadn’t ended up with an ad campaign that actually features (mostly) White women wearing stereotypical racial and cultural drag to depict all those exotic non-Westernized countries.”(Fang,2014). The ads are perfect caricatures of exactly what the West has made up about these two Asian cultures, both symbols of the geisha and the dragon have very little to do with Modern China or Japan. Further, they are representations of what the West thinks Asian women are or should be, the Geisha expresses the exoticism, sexual decadence, submissiveness and seductiveness in her gaze that Jenn Fang describes as the “white fetishization of Asian women“(Fang,2014).

airfrance-tokyo

Air France, 2014 

air-france-beijing

Air France ad for Beijing, 2014

 

 

The second ad for Beijing has the woman wearing yellow face make up and her eye liner mimics the shape of the Asiatic eye, how they didn’t think that would be offensive? – Who knows. Just like Katy Perry’s 2013 American Music Awards Performance where she performed as a geisha girl, they are just a way of depicting the East exactly how the West wants it to look, continuing the damaging stereotypes which have dated back as far as 1908 from Lord Cromer the consul general of Egypt who wrote, “the main characteristic of the oriental mind is untruthfulness”.

katy-perry-ama-2013-650

Katy Perry’s AMA’s 2013 performance was orientalist and stereotypical

 

Many defendants of orientalism argue that it is a declaration of admiration and love for the oriental, but whether there is truth to this or not it still categorises the East as ‘the others‘ and portrays no sense of the universality of humanity. It is hard to know whether or not had this campaign been constructed by an Asian marketing team for an Asian company, would they still be offensive?, my guess is yes, because they are the symbol of an oppressive and anti-Asian sentiment that believes the West is the norm and the East, the abnormal.

Here are a couple of very funny adaptations made by twitter users of Air France’s advertisements, comparing it to some other stereotypical Asian images.

air-france-dragonballair-france-godzilla

Dog vs Pig

IMG_7485

This is my dog Bart. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am completely and utterly obsessed with him. I am definitely guilty of anthropomorphising him, I constantly call him baby and my best friend, I talk to him regularly and make up scenarios for what he might be thinking whilst he’s doing some strange doggy activity. I am aware this is a projection of my own needs and a process of humanisation for my own pleasure. As Una Chaudhuri puts it “As pets, as performers, as literary symbols, animals are forced to perform us – our fantasies and fears, our questions and quarrels, our hopes and horrors (2003)”. This certainly rings true to my own personal experience with animals. In the same way Desmond Morris said “The age of a child is inversely correlated with the size of the animals it prefers”, reflecting his argument that young children preferred larger animals because it reminded them of a parent and older children preferred smaller animals because it reminded them of a baby, which I can relate to.

But more importantly than this, why am I more inclined to feel this way about dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and other popularly domesticated animals than say a pig?. After all pigs have even been known to out smart dogs, large amounts of research on pigs was conducted in the 1990’s and Professor Stanley Curtis of Penn State University, who discovered that pigs dominate at video games with joy sticks says, “Pigs are able to focus with an intensity I have never seen in a chimp”, so in theory humans should be able to recognise more potential in pigs. However, a prominent argument against this would be because we love to eat them. We label pigs as pork and bacon and cows as beef, making real animals vanish by putting names on them making it easier for us to ignore how these animals are treated in the meat industry. We have even concocted sayings like “I smell like a pig” affiliating pigs with being dirty and unclean when in actual fact pigs don’t even have sweat glands.

It can also be put down to how these animals are represented in the media. Dogs are often featured in advertisements for toilet paper, cars, food and even the super bowl. Dogs are allowed to have their own seats on trains in England and to sit in restaurants and cafes, whilst for Balinese people dogs are believed to be reincarnated thieves and criminals and are generally not kept as pets, so there can also be cultural factors involved too. However, psychologist and anthrozoologist Hal Herzog has recently written a book called ‘Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat’ in which he talks about factors contributing to our like and dislike of certain animals. He puts it down to the way they look and humans affiliation to connect to things that look like them, the closer the match, the more familiar the animal seems. For example, our canine friends, we teach them to sit and shake hands just to be more like us.

Humans have always tried to teach animals how to understand their language, but never tried to understand theirs. It is this primate mentality which allows us to treat some animals as family and others as objects.

pigs

 

 

Let us learn from Anne Boleyn

Through out history, suffering has often been used as a tool by those in a more fortunate position to reassure themselves of their comfortability and stability. The problem with viewing poverty porn is it “produces abjectifying images of the poor through a privileged gaze for privileged gratification.”(The Conversation, 2015). This allows people to think, ‘this could never happen to me’.

Public executions in medieval times were seen as a joyous activity for the whole family to watch. Even the bible is based on suffering as Jesus persecutors “bound his hands so blood burst out of his nails”(Athene Reiss, 2008). These two examples are arguably some of the earliest forms of poverty porn. There are striking similarities between sitting down to watch human beings who are clearly very distressed on an episode of “Struggle Street” and going to the town square to watch a beheading, after all they too called it entertainment.

In the same way Kings and Queens put themselves in the position of thinking these public executions could never happen to them, educated, middle class citizens sit back on upholstered lounges and watch flat screen television with a comfortable living standard and think, “I will never have to live like these people do”. But as the example of Anne Boleyn tells us, we are never exempt from one step in the wrong direction and our lives being turned upside down, or in her case, your neck succumbing to the force of a single sword stroke.

Although the producers may have set out to create an accurate representation of the Mt Druitt community, what especially categorises this show as poverty porn is the entertainment value driven by the underlying class racism. Filming people whilst intoxicated, high and at their worst does not create a sympathetic audience and only helps to point the finger at the individual whilst ignoring figures of rising inequality and high unemployment rates. The photo below reflects this exact cause and effect with a woman being directly incriminated by struggle street filming her smoking illicit drugs whilst pregnant, viewers tweeted their reactions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, there are ways of creating accurate representations of people in crisis. For example, the image which became known as ‘Napalm girl’ picturing a 9 year old Vietnamese child running running in agony because her clothes and skin had been burnt off from the exposure to Napalm during the Vietnam war, a photo which some say hastened the end of the war.

kim-phuc-inline-3-102715_5f1b58e53f930a6c1ac76fe2e7991806.today-inline-large

‘Napalm Girl’ Kim Phuc

A very similar story shook the world much more recently when Aylan Kurdi, a little boy whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach and reminded the world of the cost of denying thousands of refugees refuge from a war torn home land. This photo is arguably even more explicit than ‘Napalm girl’ as Kim Phuc survived these horrific burns where as Aylan sadly did not survive the immigration policies of many democratic countries, including Australia.

So why, after the release of magazines and newspapers featuring this heart wrenching photo on their covers all over the world, when the speed of communication, transport, internet connection and media freedom is stronger than ever before, have there been no dramatic changes to Australia and the worlds immigration policies when we have seen the consequences first hand.