Australia is a wretched sunbed maintained by debt and founded in unspeakable acts of racist brutality. Even so, sometimes the old girl does us proud. One day, I’m all “this is a culturally inert toilet remarkable only for its willingness to be shat upon by empire”. And then the next? Well. There are few among us who could not be thrilled by the sense of nationhood delivered so intensely by the ABC Netflix co-production, Pine Gap.
Oh, lordy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not any good. No. The thing reeks. Don’t believe a thing you read in The Guardian or the Herald about the usefulness of this Sexy Spy Drama as a tool in our understanding of global power. I’ve endured three, possibly four, of its episodes and as a guide to international relations they were together slightly less useful than a Chicken Parmies of the World pub menu. (Hawaiian is unnervingly good.)
If I were inclined to “binge”, per the suggestion of ABC TV and Netflix, on this show, I would almost certainly throw something at the telly.
If you have genuine wish to learn about the goings-on at Pine Gap, don’t watch Pine Gap on ABC TV. Listen instead to this top-drawer ABC Radio report, co-authored with The Intercept and based on documents liberated by Edward Snowden. And, sh, don’t let it get around that RN’s Background Briefing continues to deliver actual journalism. They’ll cancel the thing. I’ll have nothing to listen to on Sunday mornings but for secular songs of praise to the US State Department. Maybe another cooking program by Annabel Crabb.
Anyhow. This is the accidental genius of Pine Gap: it’s a stinking turd laid in a tepid bath by a toddler. It’s just such a childish attempt at manufacturing consent, I feel almost affectionate toward it.
Compared to, say, Homeland or to NCIS or any other US TV program that seeks to romanticise state power, it’s a wreck. Laborious exposition about the ANZUS treaty in episode one sounds like it was written as a Wikipedia entry and it really is so bad, I think even Noam Chomsky would laugh. I did, and not unkindly. I was just so happy to know that Australians are somehow stubbornly incapable of writing good propaganda.
And, this is propaganda. Perhaps the authors of this series don’t know it to be propaganda. Certainly in interview, Greg Haddrick, the sine qua non of middle-brow Australian TV writing, seems to believe that Pine Gap is a genuine equivocation on the future of world power. It is, however, a very clear restatement of the state-approved sentiment we see on ABC TV news constantly: China is “inscrutable”; the US is imperfect but basically decent; Muslim terrorists are the very worst kind of terrorist. Oh, and this old favourite: Aboriginal people are deeply spiritual.
If you have genuine wish to learn about the goings-on at Pine Gap, don’t watch Pine Gap on ABC TV.
There’s a fucking parfait of a subplot in Pine Gap in which an Arrernte father and daughter talk about being an Arrernte father and daughter all the time. I imagine the nation’s most compassionate Caroline Chisolms will eat this up with a spoon. Any person gifted of any insight beyond the white unconscious, however, will wish to barf on this depiction of Black life only as a discussion of Black life and nothing else, ever.
I mean, shit. It doesn’t take a whiz in race studies to see that this is fucking insulting. These “minority” characters talk about nothing but their minority status. They function within Pine Gap as “Our First Australians”. You know the sort of thing: mystic and timeless nobles who can See Through the petty games of White Man etc. If I were Aboriginal, I would perhaps be quite aggrieved by this nth shackling of my identity category into the service of supremacist narratives. If I were inclined to “binge”, per the suggestion of ABC TV and Netflix, on this show, I would almost certainly throw something at the telly. It’s just so tedious to see this lazy racialised plot device activated again.
Much of the other laziness in Pine Gap, though, is sort of fun. The dialogue in which characters “argue” about the legitimacy of the US hegemon is just such a poor simulation of debate, I kind of love it. About every 15 minutes, you get some twit or another say something clunky about, “Well, you know, if you are going to call China bad, you better call the US bad as well!” The entitlement of the US to commit its mass murders and mass surveillance is not questioned at all and the “questions” that are posed are just so fabulously hollow.
The “minority” characters in Pine Gap talk about nothing but their minority status.
The question offered in ABC TV promotions for the thing also contains its own answer. “Are your secrets safe?” it asks, as though any person with a faculty for thought would not very much prefer to consider a problem like “does the bear shit in the woods?” No. Of course my secrets aren’t safe. My metadata is mandatorily held for two years and can be accessed by a range of government agencies and my private details are exchanged by the oligarchs of Silicon Valley. The extent of the moral and real-world atrocities of these state and private data thieves are not yet known, although it is known that any person who attempts to reveal even a bit lives the life of Edward Snowden or Julian Assange. Whatever the case, Pine Gap will tell you dick all about how safe your secrets are not.
Pine Gap will tell you only to love the USA like your racist uncle: for all its flaws!
But, you won’t buy it, because our local screenwriters and producers have not yet learned how to sell it. For which we can be glad.
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Pine Gap will premiere on Sunday October 14 at 8.30pm with a double episode on ABC TV and with all episodes available after on ABC iview.