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Annabel Crabb’s Back in Time for Dinner best served drunk

The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of ladies struggling to Lean In. This narrow principle informs the ABC’s newest “factual” blockbuster, Back In Time For Dinner, just as it has come to inform all entertainment aimed at the female viewer white and/or wealthy enough not to have noticed that the West has otherwise turned to shit. I do not recommend this show as a pleasure to anyone who is not (a) firmly of the view that history’s greatest lack is that of Sassy Women or (b) drunk.

As I am firmly of the view that history’s greatest lack is that of the liberation of the masses from servitude to a few, I watched the second episode of Ms Annabel Crabb’s reality program with a bottle of prosecco in fist. This is a delightful drink and one that impairs my critical faculty to the point I can read an article by Clementine Ford about the travails of Clementine Ford, weep and say, “This is so true for all women!” Three standard sparkling wines separate me from the sort of servile liberal feminist universalism that has me believing that it was important for Hillary Clinton to become US President to inspire my daughter.

Of course, at some point I sober up, remember that I have no children, that liberalism of any kind seeks to retain unequal power relations and that there is a prominent warning sign on my antidepressant medication that alcohol may worsen my Condition. Then again, Back in Time For Dinner is cause for despair with or without prosecco.

With prosecco, this “experiment” which takes a single family through a simulation of Australian life throughout the post-war decades, can be enjoyed purely for its set-design. I have never seen such exquisite period dressing on Australian TV before our exquisitely dressed hostess revealed it. Each week, the Ferrone family home is redecorated in gorgeous, if idealised, style and the Ferrone family itself redecorated in period clothing. There is no dodgy wig, slapdash makeup or jarring settee, such as we have seen even on big TV dramas like Paper Giants or Molly. The thing is a great visual pleasure.

As a genuine record of history, however, it is an abhorrence. And, yes, well may you say: this is only entertainment, Helen, and I like you better when you’re drunk. But, hey. You’re drunk. Have you missed the frequent claims, both implicit and explicit, that this imported format seeks to take us all on a legitimate journey to the past?

Yes. It is true that many Australians had ice-boxes in their 1950s homes. It is also true that many migrant workers fleeing post-war Europe faced alienation of a sort I cannot imagine. As I cannot imagine this significant chapter in our history—nor do I have the emotional means to think of life as it’s endured by the world’s 65 million asylum seekers—I’d rather hoped the ABC might “re-imagine” it for me. And, no, I’m not performing some politically correct “inclusion” petit-point here. Father Ferrone is actually figured in the show as an Italian migrant, reflecting the history of his own father.

Yes. Sexism is a problem, but the most urgent problem is the persistence of the liberal, very often white lens of history as something that just gets better and will eventually include all.

There is brief tribute to the Italian migrant experience paid in episode one, but it is of a sentimental and cursory sort. We all simply agree that it must have been very hard to leave everything you knew—we skip over the horror of life in poverty, at war and under fascism—and that’s it for Our ABC’s diversity commitment. Again, not nit-picking. But if you’re going to tell me some bloke just got off a boat and arrived in a nation whose primary language he did not speak, then don’t tell me he has a fucking desk job.

An overwhelming majority of full-time Australian workers in the 1950s had blue-collar jobs. Of the twenty percent or so of persons employed in white-collar positions, an estimated none percent of these had recently survived the hardship of war in Europe. There may be exceptions. You are welcome to seek them out in the National Archive and tell me if the Ferrones are as “everyday” as represented.

It is, of course, entirely true that the gendered division of labour did, and does, place great physical and emotional strain on women. But in Crabb’s eagerness only to tell the story of women and their lack of access to Hillary-level success, we lose the story of migrants, and of men. By the accounts of my parents, aunts, uncles and grandmothers, both of my grandfathers spent the 1950s in toil and silent misery. They did not enjoy food, love, their children or their work and they were haunted by the experience of war. And these were white guys.

It’s all very nice for a very small group of women to celebrate what appears as advancement to them. It is, of course, arresting to see Mother Ferrone, who is described as having a “high-flying career” in episode one, subject to the feminine labour of the 1950s. Certainly, a life spent with Microsoft Excel might be preferable to many than one in service to the maintenance of a family. But this is always explained as the product of “bad ideas about gender” when, surely, a person with Crabb’s political nous knows that the Keynesian policy of male full-employment coerced persons into these roles. Yes, we have, and retain, some silly ideas about gender. But to say that these ideas alone turned men to the service of paid production and women to the work of social reproduction is to ignore a whole lot of shit written down in books.

Yes. Blah. The whole thing is a delight. And people mean very well when they talk about the very few opportunities women had to be excellent etc. But the fact that very few people in history have ever had the opportunity to flourish and that there are socially imposed identity categories—including the “New Australian” of the 1950s—other than “woman” that result in a crap life is just something ignored in this breezy docu-diva jaunt, as it is ignored routinely in this nation.

I have had it with affluent white women complaining about their hurdles to professional success. No one much is enjoying professional success any more and, FFS, there never ever was an explosion of satisfying labour. Yes, for a brief time, Australia grew a white middle-class and mass production permitted mass luxury hitherto unimaginable. But, it has long since turned to shit and the persistent reminder that things are so much better for everybody (read: women of a particular and diminishing class) in 2018 is horseshit I am unable to tolerate without alcohol.

We no longer make things here in Australia. The finance sector produces money which it turns into more money, and aside from that, we seem to be making horseshit. Horseshit that says that feminism is one glorious story of things getting better and better for women, who all have great opportunities, just like all the men.

Who honestly believes this? Who cannot see that the Ferrones, pleasant as they are, are not an “everyday” Australian family, but people lucky enough to live as most people should.

And who cannot see that this blancmange liberal feminist romance novel with the self must end?

Yes. Sexism is a problem. But, the most urgent problem is the persistence of the liberal, very often white lens of history as something that just gets better and will eventually include all. This sentimentalised depiction of white women as brave leaders whose defiance of men—apparently a unified group who attend secret meetings to keep us all down—has got to stop. They have their Business Chicks meetings and networking lunches. They can keep this ahistoric shit off the telly.

50 responses to “Annabel Crabb’s Back in Time for Dinner best served drunk

  1. Love the way you kick the hornets’ nest Helen. Annabel Crabb certainly has made an artform out of her retro wardrobe but as the other Marx said: there ain’t Sanity Clause same applies to Reality TV – it has never been for real. I watched the first course of Back in Time for Dinner and decided not to waste my time on another serving. It’s pure flummery. Indigestible.

  2. Can’t (won’t) wait for The Blunt Razer’s take on Wednesday’s entertainment with Julia Zemiro and Professor Greer.

    Anything else to add to your “Mother’s not crooss, dear, just terribly, terribly hurt” act? I enjoy speculation replacing research

    Wish Helen had been around to critique last century maybe she’d be over her petulance by now… or not, who cares…

  3. The anti-white comments on this blog are just plain racist, and yet you all sound so superior and self-satisfied, pretty much like Crabbe herself.

  4. I’m an English migrant (long naturalised Ozzie) a child in fifties Tasmania. We (4 children 2 adults) lived in a shack, three rooms, no bathroom, toilet outside, a roof that lifted in the wind so you could see the stars while lying in bed, while our father ( a pommie brickie) built our house out of car crates and cement sheeting. We saw ourselves as pioneers, and we loved it! And loads of families did this, because of the post-war housing shortage, and shortage of building materials, all over Australia. In our street (a rough bush track) there were other shacks and a bus, again families (mostly migrant – Dutch, Polish and English) living in them as they built their houses. That was fifties Australia! Nothing like this show, you’re so right, Helen.

  5. Annabelle does do a good frock, but apart from that omission I agree wholeheartedly, Ms Razor. ABC coverage of history is twee and there is fuck all analysis in its news and political reporting. Rehashed Israeli press releases masquerading as middle eastern news, no historical context around the Singapore summit (NK a rogue state while the long suffering Yanks have been doing their best for decades to establish world peace – WTF? Really?) and a knee jerk soft-left response to every “issue” except the main one: the ruling class redistribution of wealth away from us and towards them. But then again, a class analysis of economics is so boring 1970’s loser-Marxist isn’t it.

  6. Your criticism resonated with me, Helen. Not only did the majority of newly arrived workers have blue collar jobs, many had more than one, quite often working an extra night shift at a factory or driving taxis. And that was just the men. Quite often our mums also worked in addition to household work. There could be a lot of conflict at home due to the stress of a new culture, long working hours and also due to the ongoing trauma of the life left behind. And the kids had immense freedom to get into trouble and enjoy life with their friends whilst two parents were working. I am not sure what the show is trying to achieve in any case.

  7. really?! i think you’re expecting a little too much here. how on earth do you expect to cover all the nuances of a decade in a 55 minute program in the light entertainment genre?!?! it’s not targeted at serious history for god’s sake, it’s an interesting glimpse at some of the cultural differences that we have experienced in family life in the past 5 decades. funnily enough, the main focus is on food (hence the title: BACK IN TIME FOR DINNER!!!) it may not represent everyone’s reality, but helen has the advantage of living through most of these times (as do i)- which not all viewers do, so it is great to be able to provide a random sample for them. i’m loving a little trip back down memory lane and the main thing it made me realise is how bloody great our food is now compared to the crap we used to eat and how grateful i am that we got rid of the white australia policy and improved our cuisine as a side benefit! i’m so sick of hearing whiny complaints- give the show some credit for what it does do and if you want to see a factual historical series about life in australia through the decades, then stop bashing the abc, put down the prosecco and write a script for one- it would be far more useful than the bile you just served up!

  8. Not a bad depiction of lower middle-class Anglo aesthetics, altho I never actually met anybody like that. Odd that the protagonists were played by an Italian heritage family who would never have eaten crap like that in their lives. There was never “one Australia” ever. Australia was divided into two kinds of people in the 70s , those who liked orange plastic, and the rest of us who despised people who liked orange plastic. The former voted Liberal, had miserable lives, and only survived work by drinking themselves into a daily stupor at long liquid govt-subsidized business lunches. The rest of us were a diverse mob. So I demand that the ABC live up to its charter, and roll out a Gadigal People of the Eora Nation BIT4D, a Reffo BIT4D, a Women’s Lib BIT4D, a Holocaust Survivor BIT4D, an Inner City neo-Marxist Collective BIT4D, a Northern Rivers Commune BIT4D. a Depressives BIT4D, a Yuppie BIT4D, etc etc. The 70s were an amazing time for experimentation and innovation,

  9. Thank you for setting the record straight. I was born in the 1940s and I remember no one in our town even having a dining room in the 50s and 60s. We ate at the lamo table in the kitchen. Dad turned up after the 6 o’clock swill and ate with us. We kids had to help around the place every day. Entertaining was having Auntie Dot and Uncle Wally over for a beer. There were probably some families who lived like the Ferronis, but they were in another part of town, they were a minority, and their kids didn’t play in the street with us. Jesus, Annabel, you really need to talk with the rest of us before you embark on the next project. Love the clothes and the retro stuff, but what a bloody unforgivable waste of money.

  10. Don’t you love Razer when she is in one of those alcohol fuelled rants. She has figured out that feminism has not delivered the goods to women. Wow!! The brighter males and females of the species have been saying this for years.

    Some of the blokes are now watching women dying to take on all the shite they themselves have had to cop in earlier times….poorer paid jobs with lousy hours……getting shot at in foreign wars….copping lots of lung cancer from smoking……prematurely ageing from too much grog without the male capacity to metabolise alcohol…it goes on and on.

    Just think girls what your Germaine-led revolution has given you: In the fifties and sixties, women had age pensions at 60, men at 65. Women had civilian widows pensions with extras to take care of children because they were not expected to work. Women had war widows pensions at a higher rate than civilian widows. Men stood up and gave seats to women on public transport, tipped their hats on the street. Men wore speedos on the beach and women wore swimsuits (and bikinis) in public, and in beauty competitions. Men and women could bathe in the same public pools and on beaches. Kids walked and rode bikes to school and when they got home there was usually a mother who did not work to keep an eye on them.

    I never had much of a problem with the culture of that era….I do have a problem with segregated public pools with screens for women, banning swimsuits from beauty competitions while allowing women to kick each other in the head in cage fighting bouts in front of 53000 screaming fans in Melbourne.

  11. There is little of the era that is dealt with in depth in Belle’s fluff piece. Women were sacked when they got married and their wages were lower. They still are and always have been which is an injustice but nothing which is unusual or peculiar to the ’50s. Women “left’ their jobs when they married because in a funny sort of way, they left to have and rear children. It is a fact that the birth rate post-WWI declined and the 1920s and 30s were very hard times socially and economically. Children cost money which was in short supply in this time due to the Depression and persistent high unemployment even in the roaring 20s where it rarely dropped below 8% till it reached the high 20% + mark during the 30s. The post war (2 that is) boom provided males with a full time job – something that wasn’t known about much except pre-WWI (a distant memory). The 1930s was a time when employers had the upper hand and exploited their employees massively. This explained the militancy of the 50s-early 80s of trade unionism till it was mollified by Hawke and his branch of class traitors. It was Payback time for the unions from the late 1940s to the early 1980s which we sorely need now. Everyone – women included – wanted to have children. They were denied this during the war and were afraid prior to that of bringing them up in poverty and want. It is simplistic to say that women were mere passive objects and aren’t we so bloody enlightened today. Women now are the fastest growing category for homelessness, for imprisonment, for unemployment, for poverty and handouts at charities and for destitution in retirement. Tell me how things are better now just because you don’t have to or don’t want children?
    Women wanted childcare which is fantastic but I will wager that they want even more some economic security and the opportunity to spend a lot more time at home raising their children and being there for them while they mature. This is the main reason why women left their jobs when they married. To have and raise kids. Men worked because for the first time they were able to make money, change jobs and take out a mortgage and pay it off a lot quicker.
    Helen is right. So-called Hilary brand liberalism needs a thorough critique and to hell with the privileged elitist contributors. They are a very small minority of women, they are not typical pf women’s experiences and they should be very thankful they live in a country which the people of the 1950s, who they so deridingly sneer at, have built for them.

  12. I think the kid’s reactions and comments are refreshing and delightful – they’re not fussed about Keynesian economics ….
    Plus I am a child of the 1950s (having been born in 1950) and whilst much was horrid, much was OK, and our parents did the best they could. I am finding this show hilarious!
    Please note I am a committed feminist and have been for decageds. Lighten up Helen!

  13. So much to identify with, but in my family father certainly did n’t sit alone for dinner, but children – in the fifties were not great contributes to the conversation either ” seen but not heard”!…. Manners were paramount…- no elbows on the table…and NO ONE ATE FROM THEIR KNIFE!!!

  14. Hilarious. Great stuff. The natural heiress to Mungo Maccallum and Bob Ellis before they got boring and gave up the piss.

  15. Hundred percent in agreement Helen. The Ferrones are not real or typical of people in the ‘50s and the program is not typical of life in the ’50s or even the ’70s. They are just too fake. Descendants of immigrants themselves they were not representative of 1950s Australia but a pathetic attempt to recreate the era. And most people of that era and for a long time afterwards, Australian born and immigrant, worked with their hands. Manual workers. A burgeoning manufacturing industry courtesy of high tariffs and government support of various kinds. Where are the market gardens in the show? European immigrants brought them here everywhere they went – from the coast to the bush. No sign of a vegetable garden either. No olive trees, no grapevines.
    The show is a pile of shite and Helen is absolutely right in her critique of liberalism. Not only are the Ferrones not representative of ’50s Australia anywhere, they are not even representative of Australia today as they are inner-city/north Melbournians with high paid white collar jobs who reside in a shit box worth several million bucks. They are not struggling in any sense of the word. 1950s Australia was an era of struggle and progress and ultimate triumph – for everyone. For feminism. For workers. For students. Things were just improving. Now they are going to shit with everything we used to make imported and I don’t a f*** what some of the dildos here write, it is a disgusting show. I nor Helen need to take a chill pill or get drunk. The dickhead producers at Aunty need to take a good hard look at themselves and have the brains and the finance (which I certainly don’t have in sufficient quantity of either) to come up with something a lot better!!No real sociological analysis. No looking for better jobs. No evening news over the wireless and no newspapers relevant to the era with accompanying discussion. NO Suez crisis. No Korean War. No Eisenhower. How can such a show be a portrayal? If this is something that halitosis ridden historians have collaborated on it is no wonder history as a subject is going backwards in schools.

  16. The boy getting all weepy about the possibility of his mates getting conscripted was plain silly. His information was clearly exaggerated. But I did like the girl trying to figure out the workings of the rotary phone, that was surprisingly believable.

  17. Helen I hate to be the one to tell you this, but I think your ideologies are slowly moving rightwards. Welcome to the dark side.

  18. I was born in 1945…so I know this period. Not every family lived like this. They would have appeared upper class, people of means to a lot of people, I can tell you. How happy I am to read your articles. I graze over Review to find your name. Thank you.

  19. As I was born in the late 1940’s, the period referred to in this program is very familiar to me. Watching the first episode caused me much annoyance to the point of having to forgo the ‘pleasure’ of watching the ABC -AGAIN!!!I am not sure who did the research for the program but it was way off base.
    Thank you Helen Razor for pointing out what I was already thinking- very poor production in many ways.

    1. Also born in 40s, I could not watch any more – kept shouting ‘My father made the porridge, and most of the school lunches! and we always ate dinner together, not children separately. Washing was hard work of course, and lavatories were often outside- we were sewered, but many places in Australia were not. You would not want the dunny man coming inside

  20. Having also l.ived through the period being covered I too am thoroughly enjoying this show. So sorry that you do not seem to be able to get joy out of much in life Helen. Have another wine.

  21. Having lived through the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s there is a lot I recognise in the program but there are many errors too. Family dinner in this period were mandatory, I have never heard of a father eating alone. Also, as far a girls leaving should at 15 to do
    secretarial work (?), most of my school friends either went to Teachers’ College,Uni or trained as nurses. ‘Secretarial’ work required training at Business College where a pass in typing, shorthand, book keeping, office procedures and deportment was required.
    Tapping out ‘the quick brown fox…’ really didn’t cut it.

  22. Superb piece of angst drive invective for our totally deserving ABC. The current circus in Singapore is further proof that public discourse has deteriorated to the the extent that the spectacle in and of itself is the sum total of the event. No history and no consequences just endless blather from talking heads and the infinite number of pundits that slither across the slick media surface. It struck me that we are today experiencing a genuine existential crisis (I mean that in Satre’s terms not the pathetic ic misinterpretation that seems to have spread like a brain cancer). The greatest threat to human life experienced by the largest number of people in recent times, WW2, was as fear inducing as one can possibly imagine and yet there was hope through the possibility of positive action backed by an overwhelming sense of moral justification. Today we are faced by any number of fearful and hopeless possibilities, from climate change to global refugee movement and the feckless leaders who created these things and refuse to acknowledge responsibility. There is no hope in the face of this ethereal onslaught, the public is shut out of the debate, not even able to enlist and take up arms against what we suspect is a gigantically atavistic ecstatic power orgy with no purpose, conscience or future.

  23. And were we really supposed to feel sorry for Ms Ferrone as she wept after ONE DAY in servitude to her family in a simulated environment with cameras and production crew swirling around her? Credibility was stretched as much as this program’s view of history…

  24. Oh Helen lighten up! It never purported to be an absolute documentary of the various eras. It’s a bit of fluff. Not a political statement. Get some fun back into your life.
    My parents were refugees, Jewish refugees from Europe. They were grateful to be here Had they been alive now, they would have enjoyed the programme. My mother worked all her life, but that doesn’t make me shriek at how unrepresentative this programme is of our lives. The fifties and sixties were fun,much more fun, dare I say than the pc stitched up life these kids have now. Can anyone not just have a laugh?

  25. Ah, Helen, thank heavens for you, you, the antidote to the poisonous bile served up to us by the powers that be, that are, and that we imbibe sans cerebral movement, deadened, numbed as we are by the flood of ‘Western shit’, and our own inertia, unknowing and comfortable.

  26. I was born on 1931, and yes I’m still independent. So I have lived through observations of my own mother’s life. The struggle of migrants and my own ( even without an ice chest) I’ve watched daughter as a feminist! and attitudes of grand daughters. I’m a living example of- if you don’t join the chosen few!

  27. It’s a good thing there are several branches of feminism…I’ll sign up for the razor sharp Helen’s…with the complimentary prosecco.

  28. I was nauseated within 2 minutes and had to switch back to Netflix. Hard to feel for the ABC when they waste money on this rubbish. Over Crabbe, altogether too twee for me.

  29. I haven’t even watched this silly program, but entirely agree with you Helen. ABC – going to hell in a hand basket. Probably this type of nonsense is all they can afford to produce these days.

  30. Wow. I wish there was an English (or any) word for: “I totally agree, you’re ace, and If you didn’t write life would be a tad duller and the internet would cause me more heartburn than it does already”. Liberalism, whether feminist or otherwise, is desperately in need of public critique and, in many cases, ridicule. Cheers Comrade!

  31. Dear Helen
    Instead of wasting time on Crab and back in time and all that fluff.

    You could , no should ,spend sometime listening to Shostakovichs 13 th symphony … ” I am Anne Frank” .
    We all die, life is too short for BS.

    1. While the twee white neoliberalism of Crabbe is irritating, it is equally irritating to have a time period you lived through explained by someone who didn’t. Frankly in 1961 it was ALL MEN or at least all but a smaller minority than middle class migrants. Yes it was ALL WOMEN apart from the same tiny minority. So what you are doing is applying assumptions about the period which ignore the historical reality ( we’re talking about a time when women got sacked when they married & their wages were lower by legislation) – just what you criticize Crabb for doing. Pot meet kettle.

      1. Yes, it is twee, and even my kids think it is unlikely to be quite like that – they reckon the kids would definitely have had chores! However suggesting it is poor quality viewing means you have not flicked to Nine recently – OMG, I would prefer a “reality” show trying out living in a different era to any of those reality shows that are all matchmaking schmaltz – that is even less realistic! It is a nice show to watch with the kids.

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