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Razer reviews 'I'm a Celebrity': get me out of this colonial nightmare!

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The horror. The horror. There are few horror shows, even in the horror film canon, so reliably terrifying as Apocalypse Now. Francis Ford Coppola’s expensive, flawed and peculiar masterpiece remains a horror, and when Colonel Kurtz offered his monologue again on SBS last Friday, it had lost none of its power to terrify. Evil in the jungle is not done by monsters, Kurtz tells us, but by men. It is done by men. It is done by the hollow men of a colonising west who, in attributing monstrous qualities to the brown millions they slew and enslaved, become evil themselves.
They become evil. And unless they have a good hard think about themselves, they make blithely evil programs like I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.
Whether or not you saw it on the back of Apocalypse Now, last night’s debut hour of western repression was its own kind of horror. I mean, have you seen this shit, which is not filmed, as claimed, “deep in the African jungle”, but in a game reserve. If you have not viewed the program itself, perhaps you have glimpsed images promoting it which offer us an Australian celebrity vet in a brief “Africa”-inspired ensemble, which refers less to any dress that has ever been worn by an African people than it does to the limited imagination of a wardrobe department. One, apparently, that resides happily in the nineteenth century and has no knowledge of Apocalypse Now nor of the novella on which it is based, Heart of Darkness. Which, fairly perversely, I re-read last night to convince myself that the long psychological process of decolonisation had been started in the western mind and, surely, could not have just been ended by Dirty Street Pie and Fev.
It is difficult to watch this program — which can only get bearable if contestant Shane Warne does go full Kurtz — and understand how it was produced in this era. As marvellously camp and mocking as its host Julia Morris can be, there is surely no comic flourish that makes this lurid ethnocentrism broadly acceptable. And I don’t mean “unasseptable” in the PC Super Nanny moralising sense, but just in what we as viewers can actually accept without being so embarrassed, we have to turn off the fucking telly. The vision of black men in pith helmets serving drinks to white tourists surely makes many people squirm as I did and the sound of “jungle drums” manufactured by the Rudyard Kipling White Man’s Burden studio is horrid. Like many western people, I do not care to be regularly reminded of the evil of my history. It is difficult enough to read Conrad and watch his self-awareness and guilt emerge. It is impossible to watch this colonist’s cartoon and I wondered how one could ever think to appear on it. How could one take this voyage into the darkness of the self and down the river of despair?
How? Why? What is the sum that makes someone decide to take a trip out to a sea of vanishing flatness? Even if our celebrities have been too busy acquiring their celebrity through appearances on other celebrity reality programs to know of Joseph Conrad, how could they have no knowledge of good manners? And how could producers pay no respect to basic geography? That this “Dark Continent” shit can survive all the way to twenty-first century primetime is curious. Would it kill the program’s writers to describe or decorate their location a little more particularly than “Africa”? There are more than fifty nation states on the world’s second most populous continent and although I have never visited one of them, I am pretty sure that all of them are at least a little different from the other and that not one of them recognises a gym-toned vet with blonde highlights who cavorts in a suede loincloth “deep in the jungle” as a citizen.
It is rude to apply a one-size-fits-most Disney aesthetic to any people, but it seems especially ill-mannered to do so to a people who not so very long go were in manacles and remain, in many cases, enchained by debt.
Host Chris Brown welcomes us to a mystical continent canopied by “ancient baobab trees”, which are more commonly associated with Madagascar. But, fuzzy misunderstanding of one’s landscape is what produces evil, as Kurtz, by way of T S Eliot, reminds us. This is shape without form, shade without colour. We are the hollow men. We are the stuffed men. Leaning together. Headpiece filled with straw.
While it is true that there were some mildly funny moments in this program and that the promise of seeing luvvies like Val Lehman and Bonnie Lythgoe so far from the comforts of the boards is almost enough to keep me watching, it is also true that the entire thing is just icky.
This is not to say that we should hold the unthinking colonialism of producers responsible for real life horror — the World Bank has done far more damage in African states than Morris ever could in her questionable costume of “headdress”. It is simply to ask: what the fuck? Representing a continent’s culture in such amorphous ooga-booga terms deserves widespread complaint. And, even if it does not elicit such complaint, it will certainly dissuade large numbers of people from watching.
And not just because this is obviously not a respectful way to see “Africa”, but because it is a shameful way for us in the west to see ourselves. When the Nellie leaves from the Thames for the Congo, we no longer see London as the greatest city on earth. “The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.”
This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but in the Bondi Vet’s loincloth.

18 responses to “Razer reviews 'I'm a Celebrity': get me out of this colonial nightmare!

  1. I blame my boredom in tuning into this shlock-fest of second, third and fourth rate celebrities (Brendon Fevola, the horror, the horror, indeed) on the subliminal brain-washing ads on during my bored summer of watching way to much summer cricket.
    I have started my detox by trying to read a Steven Pinker 700 page tome on the history and nature of violence and its possible decline, (The merchants of torture within Guantanamo Bay should contact the Channel 10 producers straight away, those individuals who know the whereabouts of the ISIS death camp leaders would give them up in a heart beat after being forced, Clockwork Orange-style to watch the first episode of this abysmal television masquerading as entertainment).
    Helen, juxtaposing the hollow men of western society within television-land who produce this ‘train-wreck’ television, your comment that, “unless they have a good hard think about themselves, they make blithely evil programs like IACGMOOH” with that of Conrad’s demented Kurtz looking like an amateur in comparison to the dark arts of today’s television producers.
    Unfortunately your words will be wasted on the gullible masses who will lap this stuff up in between KFC and other commercial product endorsements that will dumb us down as a society even further.
    Indeed, the horror, the horror of commercial television in Australia if this what dictates as what constitutes prime ratings periods of television.
    What time does Four Corners start ?

    1. No need to wait for 4 corners. Catch it on Iview and watch when convenient. Go read a book now to calm yourself down (& I don’t mean 700 pages on the nature of violence).

      1. To be fair to the docile masses, unless he’s bowling at cricket, they tend to despise Warne – he’s never had a hit show – I suspect this one will be a flop. (But being Channel 10, they won’t be able to afford to replace it…)

  2. Dear Helen,
    have you read The education of a British-protected child : essays / Chinua Achebe?
    I got a whole new perspective on Conrad and Heart of Darkness, it had been one of my favourite books, but now I see how racist it really is.

  3. Hate to be a pedant (that’s actually a lie – the hate bit that is) but SA does in fact host species of Baobab trees. Give the Bondi Vet a pass on that one although I doubt he knows anything about it.

  4. I skimmed through it a bit today whilst doing something else and actually found it slightly amusing. Fev is a bit of a character and, as portrayed so far at least, not as bogan as we might believe. The skinny model types who I’ve never heard of will be crocodile fodder before long. I hope so anyway at least. Warnie is Warnie. Love him or hate him, he remains Warnie. Jo-beth and Val look like stayers and Harrigan will probably be alright. The rest are pretty nondescript so far. What though is the stupid film crew guffaws at the Morris/Brown comedy routine in aid of? They actually play off each other quite well and don’t really need the laughter “track”….and yes I’m sure it’s scripted to nth degree.

    1. Obviously Fev hadn’t kept up on Warnie’s woes with his Foundation and auditors being called in ? He nominated Warne’s now defunct charity as the beneficiary if he (Fevola) won this despicable excuse for entertainment television. Would seem imbecilic Victorian sports people stick together through thick and thin dodgy charities ?

  5. I’m a simple bastard and I just see this sad crap and all the game shows on ABC as cheap to make. I don’t know much about a show like Jack Irish but I presume it has a big crew, lighting, costumes etc etc. A game show has 3 or 4 dipshits who talk crap and one set. The get me out is like that, not much in costumes, set etc. Lots of people who are “famous”. Parachute them into a village in Nigeria or Zimbabwe, that would be fun !!!
    Its my idea of hell, being in an old folks home and being forced to watch trash like that. Currently I can watch something else or read a book. I often wonder how bad can it get and I am surprised less often now.

  6. Helen,
    There is scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when an old crone exclaims “Dennis, a lovely bit of filth down here!”
    This piece made me worry, in a caring, concerned kind of way, that like the crone, you are starting to love the filth too much. Invoking Conrad and Kurtz to lambast this latest issue from the box, as it were, is like invoking Suskind to tell us they some things are very, very smelly.
    At times getting in to the bog holds its attractions – but perhaps not being drawn to the worst offerings is what keeps us above the level of monsters.
    For your consideration

  7. Should be called I’m a wannabe celebrity, and yes, it is a sign of the end-times.
    These people should be parachuted into Syria with cameras and guns for a real hour of entertainment.

  8. There was a time when I would be dismayed, in a bemused kind of way, at how bad reality TV was getting. I’ve now reached the plane of “nothing could surprise me”. The pre-season advertising for this programme was more than enough for me. To actually watch the thing would be unthinkable.

  9. I saw about 10 minutes of get me last night. They wear T shirts and Jacky Howe singlets with their names on the back in big letters. Is that because they are too stupid to remember their own and others names OR because we are too stupid to remember who they are ?

    1. Very funny George. As a fifty something and 30 kilo overweight something, this show made me turn off the tv and go for a walk. Up a hill as well. I really hate walking!

  10. Alas dear Helen, watching bucket loads of cricket the imminent horror was evident in the endless promos for the show where, as a once-upon-a-time Congo boy I knew the jungle was way beyond the savannah set’s horizon. But what the hell. Australia specialises in amnesiac populations piously intoning meaningless blah and feint respect for ‘country’s original occupants’. The representation of our terminally banal fascination with celebs continues to lead the slide of middle Australia’s mental condition towards an irreparable sludge.

  11. How many producers, directors, narrators, participants would be on this shite if there was anything else better to do to pay the next bits of the mortgage or keep up the coke habit or keep their brand fresh? None of them would. Well, maybe Warnie would. Makes me depressed though how easily capitulated they all are. We are all so fearful and unwilling to stand out from the status quo. That’s what depresses me most, even more than the ship sinking.

  12. Ha ha…hilarious, the idea of Warnie going the full Kurtz. But I’m pretty sure that as long as he remains a brand ambassador for Advanced Hair, that’s a bridge too far.

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