Helen Razer misses the Comedy Festival but catches the Frankfurt School

Your reporter is stricken with head-cold, or, as I choose to know it: the unofficial viral partner of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Thus, all reason is heated by fever and all passion drowned by phlegm. I had intended to bring you account of several Festival performances, but can now recall nothing, not even the location of the notebook that contains my praise and mud.

However, one brief but sincere recommendation is retained in my smartphone, and in that of a lady named Nadine. Made Sunday at 01:12AM, it proceeds, “WHERE WERE YOU?! Helen Bidou is teh tits!!!!” I have since read widely of this unique cabaret, written and performed by Melbourne comic Anne Edmonds. I am confident my assessment stands. The Bidou persona may be too vulgar for some tastes, but the gifts of the Bidou creator are too several for the many to ignore.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is not only the nation’s most ticketed arts event, but its most dependably surprising.

Our infomercial diva, one remarkable part of 2017’s remarkable TV comedy Get Krack!n, offers more than mere obscenity. Bidou brings us a map of a particular white Australian identity seen for so long as standard, it went for so long unseen.  But, this is just the sort of pretentious thing I am wont to write, and fail to substantiate, when full of cold and flu meds. Overheated faculties notwithstanding, the show Helen Bidou: Enter the Spinnaker Lounge (pictured above) must be seen.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival must also be seen, and critically assessed. This important arts event is not only the nation’s most ticketed, but its most dependably surprising. It truly was my intention to describe those better surprises. But, achoo. The live comedy of my April is lost.

The lifeless joke of our mass culture, however, cannot be avoided. The miserable work of the fatally thick makes itself known to us all. Bad ideas and terrible conversations are not even lost by a cold and I am now sufficiently medicated to believe that this French guy was not altogether wrong when he claimed that the corporation no longer exists as a physical thing but behaves as a spirit or a gas.

Bad things devised by corporate media seep even through a head-cold, even when we have not sought them out. Where I would prefer to be is some makeshift theatre, waiting for a comic to kill, die or otherwise bring me evidence of life. Where I am is on the couch. This wouldn’t be so bad if the corporation was not, somehow, beside me, emitting its gas into my head.

We consent to attend a live performance, but we never once consented to the present flow of data that enriches corporations and impoverishes our afternoons. The theft of individual privacy by state and private organisations is one colossal horror. The theft of the individual response to the culture is another.

I did not ask for the opinion set forth today by Kevin Donnelly, but it is proffered nonetheless. You could say, as people often do, “nobody forced you”. I’m with Deleuze here. The corporation absolutely did.

The machine on which I work and by which I manage basic needs—banking, shopping, emails to my dad urging him to switch up his passwords—brought me Kevin Donnelly. I didn’t go looking. Algorithms did.

I mean, if this guy wants to (a) demonstrate his poor reading comprehension and (b) claim, as so many have, that the true problem of the moment is Political Correctness Gone Mad, good on him. Let him share his cultural myopia about the “cultural Marxist” with his friends or in his academic department. Let me use the internet without corporate disturbance. Let me, and others, believe that this familiar, endlessly reproduced “argument” about the evil power of certain German philosophers is one that does not need address.

I miss the comedy festival. I miss a good, live laugh. I miss a response unmediated by the internet.

You see. Now I have to bore you and say that the Frankfurt School is not as Donnelly describes it: evil architect of The Politically Correct. This was not a group of hive-minded toddlers who never knew hardship and sat about in their ivory playpen conspiring to build an invisible regulatory body that would prevent a football player of the future from saying that homosexuals belong in hell and would also coerce a major airline into communist ways.

No. The Frankfurt School was not a club of comfortable toffs identically absorbed with cultural matters. First, bit hard to ponce about talking only about Goethe when the very material threat of Nazism is on your doorstep. German intellectuals, particularly German Jewish intellectuals, weren’t often awarded government grants. Second, Walter Benjamin, a person driven to suicide by the German state, was pretty clear about the power of the cultural. History, he said, has been “a fight for the crude and material things without which no refined and spiritual things could exist.”

When Benjamin—arguably now the name most associated with Frankfurt, notwithstanding a life and oeuvre cut short—wrote of culture, he did so with ardent curiosity. His question was not “how can culture shape the world for my evil purposes?” but “how doesculture shape the world, if at all?” Benjamin’s unfinished debate with Theodor Adorno, whose viewof mass culture as an inevitably ruling class force is WELL KNOWN, KEVIN, was the prelude to something great. Something that has nothing to do with political correctness.

I guess that Donnelly has read a little of the 1960s paperback best-seller Herbert Marcuse, or, at least, the guy’s Wikipedia entry. I surmise that he is aware of Jürgen Habermas, a still living sociologist often associated with the Frankfurt School but not, at all, Marxist. I am absolutely sure that there is no rationale for the reproduction of a tired argument in a newspaper of purported quality. And I am just so cranky that this is carried to me and to others by algorithmic gas.

I miss the comedy festival. I miss a good, live laugh. I miss a response unmediated by the internet. I miss turning off my phone.

7 responses to “Helen Razer misses the Comedy Festival but catches the Frankfurt School

  1. Dr Donnelly’s diatribes against progressive ideas in education have become notorious for the mistakes, errors, and fatuous claims he makes. Good to see you take him to task.
    There was a move some years ago to create an educational equivalent of ” the Ernies” and call it ” The Kevin” to be awarded for the most outrageous educational research, theory, practice, op -ed piece. Wonder what happened to it.

    1. Brian. Email me. helen at badhostess dot com
      I know some very respected academics who would be delighted to found this thing.!

  2. I think you are rather kind to Mr Donnelly. His article reflected badly on academic standards at the ACU . The Frankfurt School got underway in the late sixties? Why drag in Simone de Beauvoir? Not to mention Althussar (sic). Shouldn’t a local academic, whatever his political persuasion, do more than regurgitate well-worn and ridiculous talking points from American talk show hosts?

    1. You know. The misspelled Louis was something.
      Made me less inclined to loathe the guy than pity him.
      That stuff about Marx which declares that capitalism will fail due to revolution. Wow. Someone never read about the labour theory of value. Or any of Capital. It’s not just an oversimplification of Marxist economics. It’s just wrong.
      Object to theory. Fine. But know what you’re objecting to, right? Isn’t that like a thing for scholars?

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