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Return of the Ocker Bastard Yob

That time of decade again!


I must be afflicted with some degree of obsessive compulsive disorder.

Apart from the desire to own various editions of the same albums or books, a need to organise all knowledge of comedy into a working body (which I like to refer to as a ‘unified field theory’ of comedy; relax, it doesn’t actually mean anything beyond being an intellectual-sounding metaphor) and becoming irrationally annoyed that we in Australia have given in and now spell the word ‘gaol’ as ‘jail’, I also get the irrits when we treat the wrong year as the end of a decade or millennium.

The new millennium didn’t begin in 2000, it began in 2001.

The new decade doesn’t really begin in 2010, it begins in 2011.

But I guess if we started counting the new millennium in 2000, this is the end of that decade. (And even Arthur C. Clarke made the error; after correctly selecting ‘2001’ as the important year in 2001: A Space Odyssey, he followed the story up with 2010: Odyssey Two.)

So here we are, December 2009 about to begin, and journalists are compiling their ‘round-up of the decade that was the “noughties”’. A year early, if you ask me. But nobody seems to be asking me if their timing is right.

No, it’s nearly the end of the first decade of the current millennium, and what journalists are asking me – and you, and anyone else who appears to be listening – is to do the news-gathering for them. Here’s a question I was asked earlier. I can’t help but have an answer for that.



A journalist’s tweeted reply to my comment is as follows:

Could say the same 4 comedians. As ppl whose job it is to comment on society we HAVE to rely on getting input from the masses

I disagree.

In the first place, the comedian’s job is to entertain. News has only taken on that mentle in recent years in order to keep turning a profit – having to entertain audiences that would prefer sugar walls and happy endings.

Good comedians are the ones that have their own world view, and reveal it more-or-less by stealth: ‘you think the world is like that, but have a look at what I can see from where I’m standing – actually it’s like this’. Their degree of skill at revealing to you what you know, but didn’t realise you know, is a mark of how good they are. The art is to conceal the art.

News, on the other hand, used to be about reporting the facts. Uncoloured. No agenda. (Of course, everyone has an agenda.) And professionals were paid to gather those stories. To use all their skills. Now, they depend more and more on stories coming to them. And people love their brief moments of fleeting fame, so love to step forward with their stories. Maybe they should try to perfect the art of concealing the art also: be well read, be ‘metropolitan critics’ who get around and hear all the opinions and sniff out those leads…

Back to the ‘decade in review’, however.

A news service ought to know what the big stories of the past decade were. They just spent the past decade presenting the stories. It’s not supposed to be a live concert by your favourite old rocker. You might feel ripped off if you see David Bowie live and he doesn’t do ‘Changes’ or ‘Fashion’. You shouldn’t – he was, up until his last world tour, still making brilliant new music and I’m happy to not hear ‘Space Oddity’ if it means I do hear ‘The Heart’s Filthy Lesson’ or ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’. Bowie is canny enough to poll his online fanbase for a list of songs they want to hear live, if he wanted. I’d much rather he presented the show he chose, but will accept that he may actually ask the people that keep him in nice designer suits what exactly they want to hear.

But the news is the news. Don't ask me whether I want to hear about September 11 or Weapons of Mass Destruction or the first black president over the deaths of Belinda Emmett or George Harrison, the end of John Howard’s term as Prime Minister (and the erosion of our rights as citizens that coninued beyond his  leadership) or our first female Governor General. I’m not gonna switch the channel in disgust because you failed to remind me of Paris Hilton’s sex tape, the bizarre media fixation on Maddi McCann, Tanya Zaetta ‘entertaining the troops’ or the story of Chantelle Steadman and little Alfie Patten. Particularly when we perhaps ought to be reminded of Schapelle Corby and the Bali Nine, the Cronulla Riots and talkback radio’s role in inciting them, East Timor’s independence and Australia’s assistance in that struggle (only maybe this time point out there was oil involved, and lots of it, and also add the reminder that much of it is currently spilling into the ocean, bad for both our energy needs and our ocean resources…).

See, when you specifically skew the news to the audience, it stops being news. It starts being entertainment. And then comedians do start having to do your job for you: reminding the audience how the world is, and in particular, reminding them that it’s not necessarily the way people who sell airtime and audiences to advertisers would necessarily have you believe.

So, news outlets. Tell me. What do your beancounters want you to tell us the big stories of the last decade were, exactly? How does that differ from the way you believe you ought to placate your audience with the big stories? And going through your archives, what actually were they at the time?

If, after all that, the likes of Juanita Phillips, Samantha Armytage and Chris Bath feel the need to pepper their bulletins with dick jokes in order to keep the viewers’ attention, it may well prove more entertaining, but it’ll still be a case of the news not doing its job properly anymore, not proof that journalists and comedians are essentially the same thing. (Although, we can afford to lose ‘Kochie’; doppelganger James O’Loghlin is a fine comedian who does ‘serious’ much better than Kochie does ‘funny’; there’s no need to have them both loose on the airwaves!)

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