Film, News & Commentary

Razer climbs on the Blockhead Express aka The Verdict

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This is one of many brief reviews of panel show The Verdict littering the internet since it aired last night. The program, a bastard issue of Q&A and The Footy Show, is, as one might reasonably expect and as all reviews will tell you, more dreadful than both of its parents.
There is no Tony Jones to simulate gravity and there is no bloke in a dress to make us laugh. There’s a host, Karl Stefanovic, who appears torn between the performance styles of an RSL floor show and a TED talk. And, apparently, there’s Mark Latham.
There are few persons more grating than the former ALP leader. And this is less because he says “offensive”, “dangerous” things that mock liberal tolerance and much more because he has had direct pipe laid between his id and his mouth.
Once, he went to the trouble of refining his waste, but now, he bypasses scholarship altogether in favour of just crapping out repression. It’s annoying, because the occasional corn kernel of truth appears in the hot sewer of his speech. But, let’s not inhale too much Latham when there’s an entire internet huffing on his stench and pretending to be shocked when it vomits.
Let’s consider what is fundamentally “wrong” with The Verdict. And that is, nothing much in particular save for the fact that it is on TV.
Finding fault with The Verdict for its notable failure to improve the conversation of the world is a bit like blaming the air for being polluted. There are many claims that this program, which is chiefly made of yelling, is the product of negligence.
And yes, it is a deluded outrage mechanism and yes, “this should not be what passes for comment” etc. But to hope that television could offer us anything more than a reflection of our own collective misdeed is to wish for television to be something that it simply is not. To wit, a guardian of morals and not a partner to their lack.
The world is hurtling in the direction of hell on tracks made of continuous welded idiocy. This is no late-breaking story and surely, those of us in the dining cart of the Blockhead Express know that our days of making high-speed table talk are numbered. We must see by now that we are all passengers doomed to die midway through a conversation. Still, we are surprised every time the silverware shudders and every time the on-board entertainment reflects our destination, we say “Well. I had no idea that I bought a ticket to hell”.
We bought a ticket to hell. For this, we cannot blame Mark Latham. Mark Latham, who performed exactly like Mark Latham, is not the reason we are going to hell. He’s just the conductor that reminds us that this is where we’re headed.
If there is a “good” thing about The Verdict, it is that is reflects common modes of exchange very clearly. To watch this program is to be lost for some painful minutes inside the worst kind of Facebook thread.
It has its passably eloquent bully—obviously, Mark-o—and its impressively calm influence of progressive tolerance, last night played by Mamamia’s charming Jamila Rizvi. And, then there are a few reliable facts, provided in this case chiefly by Curtin University’s Anne Aly, but these suffer elision in a discord of self-interest and illusory half-ideas.
Most offensive of which, in my view, were not provided by Latham but by the cultural Right’s Anne Henderson who seems not to have recovered from the paranoia of the Cold War. A fun reason to endure this program, which technology too easily permits, is to watch the Sydney Institute representative talk about communists. Just like your cranky old uncle might do on Facebook.
Other than providing doctoral inspiration for communications students of the future and a reason to Tweet, there is no real value, here. It’s just people saying things quickly and badly then suffering egoistic misinterpretation by others who respond more quickly and worse. Which is to say, it’s just like real life.
We don’t improve real life, really, by improving television. There are those critics who worry that the intolerant language of Latham in particular will have a negative social impact. But, at the foundation of the belief that entertainment television can do bad is the hope that it can also do good and I remain resolutely unconvinced that such a thing is possible. Television can simply repackage bad ideas. Whether it is Q&A, whose false and sober appearance of “democracy” routinely only features people arguing for mild improvement to liberal democracy, or Karl’s other show, it’s just a sound-and-light show.
The world is hurtling in the direction of hell on tracks made of continuous welded idiocy. First-class diners seemed unaware of their fate and continued to talk about how either (a) those in second class or (b) the intolerant language used about those in second class was largely to blame for inconvenient changes to the menu.
Without an inconvenient change to another track entirely, we can’t expect much more food for thought than this.

20 responses to “Razer climbs on the Blockhead Express aka The Verdict

    1. That’s sweet!
      Unfortunately, I must decline owing to the belief that marriage is an instrument of capitalist production. So, if I weren’t already engaged to the revolution, I would totes say yes.

  1. Good article, Helen. Loved that line about the watcher expecting television to be ‘a guardian of morals and not a partner to their lack’. Sadly, my curiosity now demands that I watch some of The Verdict to see if it’s as bad as you say. Were not this article written I might have let the show go by into the TV oblivion that it appears to deserve, and my soul would have remained pure.

  2. Couldn’t agree more Ms Razer. If you find that sort of thing entertaining, watch it. If not (or Latham makes you feel physically unwell) don’t, but don’t pretend to imbue it with an intellectual content it aint got!! Its just, as you say, TV!!

  3. Hi Helen,
    I beg to differ regarding television’s possibilities for calm and erudite discussion. SBS used have “Newshour” at 16.40 each week day, until they replaced it with crap. It was probably the best balanced show I have encountered – not “balanced” where whacky ideas are given the same weight and time as serious ideas – but balanced in terms of its contributors’ ability to enlighten the audience rather than bully them. The anchors didn’t try and impose an agenda through “devil’s advocate” questioning, but rather presented opposing views through the people that were expert in the field being discussed. If we resign ourselves to expect nothing, that’s what we’ll get . . . and we’re well on our way.

    1. Oh, I am not suggesting that television can’t be tolerable. I am just questioning the premise that it can do any good.
      I would also say that the particular aesthetic and mode of a program should not be especially confused with its power to really “change”.
      In the case of PBS NewsHour, which plays to a progressive tolerant audience, the primary impact is one of affirming our views.
      I know this sounds desperately cynical and I understand that someone who actually works in media making the case against it is perverse. But I just can’t see how, the way things currently are where we’re all in the business of saving the world without actually changing it, that tv can go beyond this goal of pleasing people.

      1. Do you mean affirming our view that the big problems are complex, don’t admit easy solutions, and our answers are at best tentative? What is the counterview that NewsHour is neglecting to consider? Creationism? Intolerance? What was it that Stephen Colbert once said, “Reality has a liberal bias…”

  4. “The world is hurtling in the direction of hell on tracks made of continuous welded idiocy” … love it, and with your permission Helen, I plan to use it ad nauseam in the coming week or so …

  5. Thank god for compilation after compilation of cats doing funny stuff on youtube, so i unfortunately missed this stellar piece of programming.However I have to ask, what the hell would Campbell Brown know about anything apart from how to punch his team mate and get fired from a cushy retirement gig? I suppose he is entitled to an opinion, but why would they think anyone cares? I’m very confused Helen. Maybe you can pull some strings and get Laurie Daley on next week……

  6. I rather like “egoistic misinterpretation”. I think that happens all the time. I may even be guilty of it. I’m off to google it.
    Thanks, Raze (if I may) for the usual brain booster your articles provide.

    1. Hi Jerny. It’s two words I assembled so you might not find it on Google. But, for a very good history on electronic misinterpretation, there’s a book called The Tyranny Of Email by former Granta editor John Freeman. It’s about seven years old now and doesn’t really engage with social media but it does use some studies, of which I am certain there are now a good many more, that track our reading time and response time. In short, they are both much shorter.
      I know I am guilty of misunderstanding things and sometimes do it here in the comments. I think we all are so long as we engage in such rapid communications. Anyhow. Freeman describes the way in which conversation is now had at such speed well.
      I would also recommend the essay On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt. It’s old but hilarious and talks about the way in which bullshit responds to bullshit in the television age.

  7. Helen Razer seems to approve only the expression of politically correct views. She also disapproves of Mark Latham, and Helen would have him expelled if she were able. If that is the viewer’s cup of tea, then find a different program.
    This program allows expression of radical and contentious views and they certainly are expressed. The other virtue of this program is that these views are often vigorously attacked, leading to a stimulating dialogue instead of the same-old same-old.
    My criticism is that sometimes everyone was talking at once. The compere needs to take control.

    1. I am very clear here that I believe that some of what Latham has to say is worthwhile. I have also said this elsewhere.
      The problem is not the “politically correct” nature of the views. I explicitly criticise “politically correct” thinking, for which tolerance can be taken as a virtual synonym.
      I am very critical of the “politically correct”.
      My criticism is that this show is stupid. The views may be “radical” (btw I don’t think a view is radical if it can be regularly found in the pages of the nation’s best-selling papers) but they are not complex.
      Please read before commenting.
      Remember what I said about life becoming like the worst Facebook thread? We all misinterpret.

  8. “The direct path laid to his Id and his mouth ” oh my gosh Helen you have reconstructed all his Freudian complexities ….need to get to know his Mum , may help me to appreciate and understand him .

    1. Please! It was “pipe”. This is a sewage analogy.
      I should also say that I think we must begin to understand Freud’s truly good and enduring work. The stuff about “blame the mothers” is a kind of a misinterpretation of one of history’s greatest thinkers.

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