The Block: a terrible program, sure, but it’s a terrible time

Reality TV is Damaging for Society. If this claim had not been made sufficiently by middle-brow journalists or dull academics before the election of former reality TV star Donald Trump, it certainly has been since. The consensus of almost everyone writing about everything in the West is that our cultural goods either ruin or improve society, and never the other way ‘round. I mean, it’s not like the nature of a society would be reflected in the entertainment it produces, now, is it? Television, video games and those sexy French novels are to blame, or to thank.

Whatever. I’ve given up trying to convince twits that reality precedes its representation on the telly. You want to keep sharing those listicles about how bad or how good reality TV representation is for actual reality, go right ahead. Whether an advocate for “positive” representation or an opponent of vice, you are unlikely to let go your belief in the third-person effect. You believe that “everyday” people are reshaped by what they see on the telly, but somehow, you have yourself been spared. You remarkable, upstanding censor. You Leader of Men!

All of which is to say, don’t expect me to take too much of a dump on The Block. I don’t think the thing matters, other than as a tool for social diagnosis. Sure, it’s a terrible program, but this is a terrible time. And our time is made terrible in Australia largely by lenders, whose credit-fuelled orgy is held atop a trillion dollars of private Australian mortgage debt. It is banks, yes, banks, and not personal greed or market competition that have elevated our private debt to unsustainable levels. We have to have somewhere to live, right? An unregulated banking sector, whose profits are derived largely from our enslavement to debt, now necessary to living, has us all by the short and the curlies.

This season’s winners, Elyse and Josh, were clearly never people, but a delusion that will not hold outside of Instagram.

Well. Nearly all of us. Members of the investment class are the only ones enjoying this credit-fuelled boom. And the interesting thing about The Block—again, good only for social diagnosis, completely useless when it comes to regulating the banking sector—is that it has now quit asserting that we all can simply flip a property and win. No more Dare to Dream, here.

I mean. Look at it. This season’s winners, Elyse and Josh, were clearly never people, but a delusion that will not hold outside of Instagram. Elyse is an “international model” who is a “tomboy from way back”, and, Josh, it seems, is a manbun to which some hipster fancy of artisan carpenter is attached. No one knows people like this, because people like this do not exist. And outfits like the one international Elyse wore to auction have never been sewn. No designer in their right mind would think, “I will enhance the feminine form by encasing it in a meringue doily and a white polyester chastity belt”.

And no producer or publicist who sought to make a program realistic would think to make so much of a celebrity bidder. Dave Hughes, a creditable everyman comic who built a good fortune on the foundation of his early “dole-bludger” material, purchased the Instagram home for $3.067 million. Hughes has said he purchased the home as an investment, which is probably not the most insightful move a guy could make in a market routinely described as a bubble. But this guy, who took his place at auction next to another guy who was once on The Bachelor, does not endure the reality most viewers of The Block must. Hughes might have clean forgotten the 2007-08 real-estate led global financial crisis. We haven’t, because we are still living with its effects, and the refusal of our leaders to truly regulate the banks that caused it.

Dave “Hughesy” Hughes seems like a decent bloke, and I do not wish him financial loss. Nor do I begrudge him his wealth, which at least was gained by making cracks about toddlers and married life rather than through the peonage of the many. Hughes is not a bank. But he does appear to us as an unusually lucky fellow, which is probably how he, seemingly a modest sort, still appears to himself. He might still speak like one of us, but we know, as he does, that he is not.

We know that everything on this reality program lacks reality. There was a time we still believed that home ownership was possible and a show like The Block might actually pose as instructive, not fantastic. But this was before even a pro-business, pro-bank outlet like News Corp was forced to concede that renting is fast becoming the new residential normal, and that we watch The Block not even with the aspiration of home ownership, but with full consciousness that this is how those in the higher income distribution—investors, celebrities and international models—live.

There are no more “battlers” who can make it good. Only investors, and people who accidentally fall into piles of money the bank didn’t eat.

I wonder what will become of Scotty Cam, the host of The Block, after this season of diminished profits and celebrity purchase. This fictional fix-it man was never more real than Josh and Elyse, but his idealised non-existence points to the ideals of another time. Our bootstrapping Banjo Patterson, a Bunnings catalogue come to partial life, is the sort of “reality” even those of us who watch reality TV for the fantasy it provides cannot brook. There are no more “battlers” who can make it good. Only investors, and people who accidentally fall into piles of money the bank didn’t eat.

The ocean of uninterrupted tastefulness. The moods of contestants. Even the fact that this shit show purchased St Kilda’s last low-income residential house and will remake it into some Elyse-and-Joshy post-material dream of chic beachside living. None of these things matter, so much. (Although, I do feel for the people of The Gatwick, consigned to the margins all their lives, now thrown out of my old postcode for having the cheek to be born without investments.)

Reality TV doesn’t matter. What does is that our banks are permitted to lend unchecked. They will continue to make—actually make—money. They will continue to effectively set the housing price. They will not stop until even David “Hughesy” Hughes is ruined. A little reality real estate porn is not a great crime, when we consider the ongoing and very real act of theft by our banks.


Image above: Elyse and Josh with Dave Hughes. Source: Channel 9

23 responses to “The Block: a terrible program, sure, but it’s a terrible time

  1. I see the ads and all the nasty snarking from the reno-rentacouples. It makes this kind of shit seem everyday and a standard solution. You should try teaching the kids whose f’wit parents let them watch such crap unfiltered. First step in a crisis.. spti at least one dummy, then chuck a sook. Thanks for your perspective.

    1. Tom. This would be mere speculation. Unless a specific survey was undertaken matching viewing habits to political preferences, you couldn’t know.
      Besides which. A majority of Australians vote for the the two major parties. Neither of which promises to be anything very different from the other. the ALP wants a banking royal commission, sure. What they should seek, to be truly a party for workers, is not to learn what banks have been doing illegally, but to change the legal framework for the finance sector. I.e. it doesn’t matter if banks are breaking the law, so much. What matters more is that they are not. They get away with things that should be crimes, but are not.
      I am sure the ALP and Coalition have undertaken research to learn about viewing habits and major party preferences. But, again, for me it’s not really that interesting.

  2. A tip of the iceberg in what is an unfolding tragedy. Debt has allowed us all to avoid reality on all levels, and has left the new generation, our future, so poorly equipped to understand the real world, let alone deal with it, when it comes crashing down. We live beyond our means, invest in dreams rather than reality, and programmes such as these only reinforce the damaging lie. And Helen, your irony is more deliciously tasty than any ‘reality’ cooking show.

  3. Hi Helen. I am really appreciating your views into society. It has even made me think; maybe Karl M did have some really good insights. ANd I bought your book; (and I am part of that white, male baby boomer, free uni education, paid off property etc demographic)

    1. Hey, thanks, Ian.
      I really hoped to show in the book that Marx had some sensible ideas. He was, as you know, an analyst of capitalism. The plans for a new society are pretty thin on the ground. He was NOT the architect of the Soviet Union.
      It’s a real compliment to learn that you got this from the book. I really wanted to say, “This guy knew a lot of stuff and spent a lifetime writing it down in a way that no one else ever has” and let people know about that. His name has been mud for so long, and his ideas rarely taught or discussed. Which is terrible, because some of them still help us understand the world.
      And, by the way, quit it with all that I am White and Male and Privileged stuff. :) I don’t care. If you are my comrade, stand beside me. We are united against the greatest force, the one that touches every person in the world, which is capitalism. We cannot be divided from each other. We can still be what we are: male or female or young or brown or white or old or blue collar or knowledge class. But we must be together, even if difficulties from our different identities arise.
      Onward to true democracy, comrade!

  4. Much of the new Professional Middle-Class has arisen in Australia because of the easier access to credit that arose in the late 80s and which fueled much of the so-called ‘Boom’ of the 90s. But having an economy rely so much on easily obtained credit is like pumping a child full of sugar- it will run at high speed for a while but with nothing nourishing in its tummy, like say a decent-sized manufacturing industry, it will fall in a heap sooner or later.
    I watched online a conversation between British comedians & writers Stewart Lee and Alexei Sayle. The latter spoke about how lucky he was to come of age in the mid-1970s in the pre-Thatcher era when there were openings for a working-class man in Britain. As he lamented, most of those openings have been firmly boarded over. As Sayle said, ‘The Left make the same mistakes over and over but the Right only make a mistake once.’ With the latter, he was referring to the post-war era in which conditions allowed a middle-class to flourish, conditions which the Right, with considerable help or indifference from much of the Left, have stealthily dismantled since the 1970s.

    1. Pete, I saw that one, too. What a great chat. For anyone wondering it’s at
      The history of this debt is so interesting/terrifying. Do you know Michael Hudson? His book Killing the Host is really great. Also, David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Ann Pettifor from this year, The Production of Money.
      I really like Australian economist Steve Keen, also. I support his work over at Patreon.
      None of these people are Marxists, incidentally! Just people very interested in how private debt keeps a majority enslaved.

      1. Thanks for the suggested reading, I will chase those titles up. Have you read Sayle’s 2nd volume of his Memoirs ‘Thatcher Ate My Trousers?’- Its a bit sketchy and episodic but certainly easier to read than Lee’s ‘How I escaped my certain fate’

  5. You were right to give qanda a miss. Kevin-I-no-longer-live-here-07 is still cross with Julia and has started to concur so much with Alan Jones that Jonesy was serenading him with ‘Drink to Me Only’ when Tony-of-the-Same-Name had to cut him off with a curtain drop. But that doesn’t make Hughesy a decent bloke for pushing the Instagram home out of the reach of the reality family that just wants a roof over its head. The banks are hand-in-glove with the negative gearers.

  6. the retired
    Never would I be so short of things to do as TO WATCH A REALITY tv SHOW. Low budget, production standards and entertainment value, so well done Helen to put the idea to the sword.

    1. Brian, that’s fine. You may not enjoy what you see as bad television. But, a lot of people like it. Just as a form of leisure. There is no real problem with watching something meaningless. Football. Motorsports. Midsomer Murders.
      But this is not the point up for discussion, here: are people bad because they watch nonsense?
      No. They’re not. We all consume dumb stuff. With the possible exception of you.
      The point is, what can these shows tell us about the world that produced them?
      Not to be a headmistress, but try to keep comments on topic.

  7. As if it wasn’t enough that you put the banks in there, you also got in this sentence: “This season’s winners, Elyse and Josh, were clearly never people, but a delusion that will not hold outside of Instagram.”

    I fucking love your take, Ms R.

    1. What are you talking about, chad?
      We all like crap. I eat chocolate biscuits, quite aware they are not good for my tum. I also watch terrible TV. We all do things for leisure we know are not wholesome. This does not mean we mistake them as wholesome or instructive. And I certainly didn’t tell anyone to stop viewing. I watch this crud myself.
      Please read more thoroughly before having a peculiar public explosion.

    2. The “Viewers” ARE idiots. Only a complete fool would consume this crap. Is your life so empty, unintelligent, and boring that you could regard “the block” as entertaining? I suppose crossing the road is high action drama that really gets the adrenaline pumping for you. That so many people watch this rubbish is an indictment on how stupid and brain washed by corporate propaganda Australians are – Whoops I forgot, the Chinese are the ones brainwashed by propaganda – but they, at least, can recognize it as such.

      1. So. It’s all Mahler and classical texts ’round your house, is it?
        Goodness. This empty snobbery tells us nothing. Nothing save for the fact that its author wants to be seen as one of the Better People.
        Good to know all the culture you consume is pure and high.


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