Much ado about a cigarette

It is a gross, but mildly understandable that we spend the vast majority of our time here like zombies, placated by benzos and nicotine replacement therapy.

Indeed, many people in here have angry tendencies and lash out at others.

I, conversely, expressed a desire to harm myself and have been trying to talk to someone about it.

In both cases, the belief is that we are a danger to the outside world.

Understandable.

Inside, the outside world becomes lionised, with the ultimate expression of freedom being a cigarette.*

I have seen women (with whom I have previously had coherent conversations with) turn into “girls gone wild” for a cigarette and lighter from ” the other side.”

“The other side” is not the “outside world,” but a lighter, less restrictive version of the ward. Presumably, the inhabitants are dangerous but not as dangerous as us, because they have 24/7 internet access and occasional leave.

This makes me ponder something about suicide prevention in the public system: is it really about preventing or pacifying?

All I can say is that upon entering it, I keep on asking for and trying to find the tools that will help me get better and to discuss the feelings that I’m having and am met with a stony silence from the staff.

Meanwhile, my surroundings and the unpredictability of my fellow patients somewhat terrify me. (I am the only one here for suicide ideation, or any suicide related illness.)

I’m guessing that’s the intent: to scare straight, but at the same time, I feel like hope is gone as well.

What I want is to have a therapist to talk to, in order to see what to do next. To help me put what I’m seeing into a context that doesn’t sap my will to live.

At the moment, I have a desire to live if only because I can’t picture the rest of my life being here.

For me, the system is strangling.

And perversely, that seems to be the goal.

*Coincidentally, I recently gave up smoking. Seeing what others will do for cigarette in this situation is harrowing.

Don’t Say The “S” word

At the end of every news report about suicide here in Australia, we are given the numbers of places to call if “you or someone you know are having troubling thoughts.”

The troubling thoughts being “suicide.”

At potentially great risk to myself and reputation, I have been having those troubling thoughts for the past 4 years.

For purposes of privacy, I will not discuss my triggers.

And this article is meant to facilitate discussion and awareness of the public system as it relates to those suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.

Step 1: The helpline and therapy

The staff at the helplines are trained, but not perfect. After explaining my concerns and receiving generic answers, I got ” patched up” to make it through the night so I could make to therapy.

Therein lies the issue with suicide, you’re always getting a boost to last you for a little bit as opposed to finding long lasting help.

Therapy somewhat helps, although the necessities of life (work, mostly) intervene.

Step 2: Police

Welcome to “duty of care” land. The police are the first group that many encounter whilst under “duty of care.” In this instance, it means ” you can’t harm yourself under my watch.”

In my particular case, an officer making small talk to prevent me from “suicidal ideation” actually had the effect of strengthening my internal resolve.

And it’s the internal resolve that is rarely addressed, but is the most dangerous and influential.

A medical professional once said to me during a hospitalisation that “you cannot stop someone who wants to kill themselves, because they would have done it already .”

Step 2: Hospitalisation

Often, the next step is hospitalisation. Again, “duty of care” is the keyword. Actual discussion about the circumstances causing the ideation is rare.

My experience has been to be thrown into a psychological ward, where I found myself more scared and that inner resolve grew in leaps and bounds, and calls to get someone to talk to about it fell on deaf ears as I was expected to “resolve it myself.”

Another person in the ward said “just say that you no longer wish harm to yourself and you are closer to rejoining the outside world. Be positive.”

Step 3: Life outside

Life on the outside after a suicide attempt is different. Food tastes sweeter and things feel fragile.

Therapy is somewhat of a salve, but one thing that isn’t is how we all talk about suicide.

It is consistently framed in two harmful ways: Firstly, as “your” problem that you’d better deal with in these ways we have provided.

Secondly, suicides and memorials tend to be reported in a selfish way, which is to say “I miss [deceased person] because of XYZ they did made me felt good and it’s such a waste.”

It’s such a waste you have to scream out how much pain you’re in when it comes to thoughts of suicide in order to get help.

For some of us, suicidal thoughts do not come in a massive wave, but rather like a cup that is just a little bit overflowing.

We need to be aware that not everyone experiences it the same way.

We also need to really re-evaluate how our public health system treats people with suicidal ideation, because there are people falling through the cracks who might have been able to be saved.

Eurovision Song Contest 2014 : The Grand Final

Grand final

Sam and Julia say that this will be a close contest: Austria v. Sweden v. UK.

Clips of Petra doing what in Denmark is the work of two men and one woman.

And of course, Emmelie and those bloody teardrops.

Video: Ms. de Forest approaches the B&W Hall to put the 2014 trophy on top of a building to light the Eurovision signal. Meanwhile, we get a very chic version of Dansevise (Sam doesn’t know the name.)

As we get to the hall we are greeted by dancers waving flags. Julia makes a somewhat sarcastic comment about last year’s artists having to carry their own flags. (It made good television though.)

We get what is now clearly a new tradition “The Parade of the finalists.”

Ukraine is saucy. Sanna regn. Tolmachevy Twins oblivious to the geopolitics. BaSim overwhelmed. Molly Smitten-Downes kind of anonymous.

And now we have the B&W Trio. Lisa has brought her A-game. Pilou brought his Chinese. And what’s really strange is that there is very little Danish being sung.

1 Ukraine The coincidence of the song being called “Tick Tock” and the current political situation in Ukraine is…interesting. Ukraine has a very effective formula: Sexy young woman (diva-in-training shall we say) sings upbeat dance pop. Mariya doesn’t deviate from the formula. And Svetlana’s wheels are back.

2 Belarus I tell myself “be very happy that other cake song didn’t go through.” Yes, Teo does look like a drag king doing Robin Thicke. It’s still quirky, and the backing male singer/dancers oddly keep things from looking too bizarre. Teo on the other hand is a David Lynch character brought to life. The running against the wind was a bit over the top.

3 Azerbaijan Julia questions whether Azerbaijan’s claim of using an acrobat for the first time this year is correct. Looking at this again, the intimacy that the song calls for is really blown by the acrobats and the linguistic disconnect between Dilara and the Swedish song writers of a song in English. Lots of interesting visuals, no connection between them.

Ad: Vote on this year’s songs on SBS’s website and win a Renault.

Time for Sam & Jules talk to Eurovision stars with varying degrees of English. Carl from Norway is very Nordic and talking clinically about emotions. Julia fawns over Sanna Nielsen.

4 Iceland Sam calls them “The Wiggles gone off the rails.” More like Epic Nordic Punk
Sergeant Pepper Beatles. Would’ve been nice, given the message, if they sang partly in Icelandic. Oddly enough, this performance reminds me of Latvia 2010 as performed on Playschool.

5 Norway S&J love Carl’s backstory (he’s a bouncer). I still find it dull. Yes, I know it’s all about the inability to express oneself emotionally. And I do like theatricality but it’s so mind-numbingly contained. Carl Espen joins the ranks of Andy Park clones slowly taking over Scandinavia.

6 Romania There is a bit of a subtext to this year’s returning (or long struggling to represent) entrants, which is “They were better last time.” Paula and Ovi have ditched the duelling pianos for video screens and an even faster dance music tempo. Even though they are duetting, Paula is one song and Ovi (looking wild-eyed) is a somewhat similar but not exactly the same one.

7 Armenia Sam & Julia go on about Aram’s past as a sick child. (Perhaps he dropped in the betting stakes.) Anyway, Aram does his thing alone onstage, and I continue to wonder if this whole entry is part-satire when the dub step kicks in and Aram macho emotes all over the place. Still, one of the more memorable Armenian entries.

8 Montenegro Julia is firmly in the “bring back the language rule” camp, and mentions that Sergej is singing for all the Ex-YU countries who aren’t in this year (somewhat diminishing the fact that Montenegro made it to the final for the first time.) Sergej manages to look distinguished despite having a ballerina skating around madly. Glad Montenegro got in, but they should’ve last year. (Bring back Nina in 2015,)

S&J mention that the battle of the titans with Austria and Sweden coming up next. I don’t know how Sweden is a contender this year. Already Anglophones are snickering over the lyric “undo my sad.” Besides, I’m for Conchita and Austria. (The last Austrian win was in 1965. Although Portugal deserves a win even more, even if you take my Lusophile bias away.)

Interview time: Everyone likes the Slavic Girls. Julia rightfully gushes over Conchita as the rest of us realise that Arnold Schwartznegger’s accent is a relatively mild example of the Austrian accent,

9 Poland Sam delightfully and sarcastically describes the entry as “classy.” It’s still trashily catchy. Where’s Donathan though? Honestly, we need more Polish comedic entries if they’re going be like this. Cleo’s accent when rapping in English is hilarious.

10 Greece Coming after the colourful rap from Poland, this seems very cold. The staging in traditional Greek Eurovision black, blue, and White doesn’t help. Still catchy. Interestingly RiskyKidd is captioned as “(Rap)”

11 Austria. Julia calls Conchita the “emblem” of the contest, (Fun fact: apparently “Conchita Wurst” is slang for “I don’t care.”) Conchita is now the favourite to win. Great staging combined with Conchita’s great performance. Simply brilliant. Should she win Conchita would be the first drag winner and first openly gay winner.

12 Germany Normally “Germany” and ‘accordion” scream fun kitschy times. Elaiza are a bit too sedate for that. It’s quirky whingepop. The lead singer does have some major pipes on her though.

Eurovision records: The Highest Note Winner: Maja Blagdan for Croatia back in 1996.

13 Sweden Yes, we get it. It’s 40 years since Abba won. It’s Sanna’s first time representing Sweden after seven attempts. Just because the brain wants this to add up to a potential Swedish win, doesn’t mean it will. The song is not bad, and Sanna totally deserves her Lena Ph moment for persistence, but a winner this is not. SVT’s financial year for 2015 is safe.

14 France (aka Julia’s home team) Julia explains that the song is about hipsters talking about consumerism. If Pollaponk were The Wiggles, then Twin Twin are a Gallic combo of Sesame Street and LazyTown. It’s nice to see France go down the party song route again. And it’s damn catchy too. Of the Big 5, I rather like France’s whole “we don’t give a damn what everybody thinks, this is what we call today’s French music” attitude when it comes to Eurovision. Spain tries not to care, but they certainly make a big to do when they have a Swedish written song.

Break time: Apparently the Ruth, the Ruth won’t be on fire. She’ll be dancing in the rain.

15 Russia Sam mentions that this is Russia’s 25th anniversary at Eurovision. (Youdipph, that versatile outfit, and something about an eternal wanderer.) Those poor twins, they really must be copping it with the current state of Russian relations. (Hence the seesaw. Believe you me, you can find the political references anywhere in this song.) The Twins sing admirably, and finally a glimpse of Rui Andrade.

16 Italy Viva Emma! And Julia agrees as well. Emma is dressed like a Roman rock music warrior goddess. Being a longtime (since 1997) fan of Italian rock/pop, this is a seriously amazing moment. Emma owns the stage (albeit not like Conchita, but still impressive).

17 Slovenia Ok, Tinkara is not up there with Sanna in terms of waiting (her quite reasonable 2001 EMA entry is worth a listen.) Slo-pop returns to Eurovision, and that is good. The verses are quite pleasant, and Tinkara is naturally a more mature performer than in 2001, but she really does come alive when playing the flute. Not bad, but more importantly Slovenia is back and hopefully this means Alya is finally going get her due.

18 Finland Eerie Nordic whingepop (lots of adjectives sung solemnly) gives way to Finnish indie anthem ‘rock.’ (Lordi they are not.) I will say that either it’s my advancing age or their Finnish cockney pronunciation, but I can make out 45% of the lyrics.

19 Spain Ruth apparently sang opera at age six. Apparently Dannii Minogue (her X-Factor mentor) is who she called before she went onstage. After Pastora brought the house down (for me and Andy Bell on air at least), a new standard for Spanish ballads has been set. Despite Ruth glory note-ing “The rain” it does come up short compared to the elders.

20 Switzerland Whistling chirpy ragazzo sings something that sounds English-like and could be straight out of an advert for Coles or Telstra. Folksy whingepop made slightly more interesting by the total car crash of a Swiss Italian singing in English really fast with long periods of whistling.

Interviews: Julia is impressed by Ruth and her “wet look” She tries to impress BaSim with her Danish (very carefully spoken)), and then tries to pick him up. Firelight harmonise on camera, because The Common Linnets so wouldn’t.

21 Hungary The dub step drop is so much more natural here than in Armenia, although the lyrics and subject matter are rather appropriate for dubstep. As for Andras, he leads the staging but he does not overwhelm or distract from the message.

22 Malta Firelight has their hootenanny, and honestly I think they must be dressed in H&M (Hatfield & McCoy). Roots/Folk music has its fans, and I am content to go through the highway of Life without being one.

23 Denmark S&J call it a toe-tapper. It’s very “Disney sings Motown knockoffs.” It’s catchy and verging on saccharine with lots onomatopoeia, though the bridge kind of kills the momentum for a bit.

24 The Netherlands Engelbert Humperdinck goes to Nashville and gets a wooden spoon. The Common Linnets go to Nashville get a brilliant sophisticated Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash inspired song that makes it to the final. Whoever at TROS that devised the staging and shots deserves an award. Sultry and seductive.

25 San Marino She’s in the final finally. And yes, we know this is not as good as last year’s. (I still believe in a world where “Crisalide” and “Igranka” qualified. She performs it with confidence.

26 United Kingdom This is not your parents’ British Eurovision song. Molly has got a great stage presence and a voice to back it up. I’m going to say that this is the most impressive dubstep ballad of this year. After being lost in the wilderness at Eurovision, the UK gets back on the path partly suggested by Blue in 2011.

Wish us luck messages: Dilara couldn’t be bothered less, Conchita is demure, Emma is adorable with her “vote for Emma” message.

The boys of the B&W open up the recap.

As with every year, S&J’s recap commentary is liberally peppered with pleas for people to go vote on the SBS website (even though they’re our broadcaster, they got to git dem bills paid)

All I’m going to say is: Conchita was great, Emma was not the giovane Anna Oxa I was hoping for, but impressive, Twin Twin twee twee, and The Common Linnets had the best and beautifully shot performance, and Molly Smitten-Downes majorly impressed.

Interval (of god-knows-how-many): Lisa and the boys sing an ode to 12, complete with the running gag of Pilou being a Sinophile. It’s very charmingly funny, thereby explaining the difference between Swedish and Danish humour.

Interval 2 (The improv comedy interval) Lisa is on green room duty, dressed like Natasha back in 2001 mit tiara. She fortunately is not speaking in rhyming couplets. This is not so much vox pop inasmuch say something to get the contestants to laugh. (The Nordics seem to like this humour as we had it last year and back in Helsinki.) Lisa displays some French however chief voting duties (ergo chief French duties) fall to Nikolaj.

Interval 3 (Last year’ s winner sings their winning song and a their new song.): Yeah, yeah, I’m a Danish Manic Pixie Girl in a Eurovision world, and only teardrops can save me. As for the second song,it’s lots of seemingly deep and meaningful African chanting and Emmelie looking as if every syllable she sings is very profound.

Voting: It’s Nikolaj & Pilou.

Azerbaijan giving Russia 12, who knows what’s true and what’s smoke and mirrors.

Greece gives Austria 12. Conchita looks genuinely touched.

Sweden gives The Netherlands 12. Deserved as well.

Albania gives Spain 12. Ruth ecstatic

Denmark give Sweden 12.

Rather hoping for an Austria v. The Nefherlands battle.

Montenegro gives Hungary 12. Neighbourly.

Current top 3

1 Hungary
2 Sweden
3 Austria

And indeed it does become an Austria vs. The Netherlands with Austria building a stronger lead.

Hoping it keeps up like this. Two very deserving songs and perhaps a sign that Eurovision is prepared for sophisticated subtlety and themes.

Quickly Austria nabs 10s &12s and N&P declare that no other country could catch up.

To say that Conchita is overwhelmed is an understatement. It’s a true testimony to the power of both singer and song being closely and emotionally connected.

Well deserved Conchita and Austria.

And the others in the top 3 (The Netherlands and Hungary) are equally well deserved.

I am tempted to make a very bold statement: This is Eurovision audiences showing that they are more sophisticated than the “camp and tinsel” stereotype suggests.

And a contest developing along those lines is one that I am glad to be a fan of.

One day, many messages

As I write this, it’s International Day to Stop Racism according to the UN.

It’s also Harmony Day here in Australia, which is a somewhat more upbeat spin on the former.

Today also is No Makeup Selfie Day for breast cancer awareness.

The 21st of March also happens to be The National Day of Action Against Bullying here in Australia.

Plus it’s the 9th annual World Down Syndrome Day.

Every single one of these campaigns are valid and worthy of our time, so why are all these organisations putting them all on one day when each message gets drowned out by the other?

I understand the need to raise awareness, but you have to wonder if we are bombarded with messages–no matter how worthy they are (and every single one of them are worthy)–then the likelihood of people tuning out from compassion fatigue grows.

Both Alike In Dignity and Complexity

“Two households both alike in dignity/In fair Verona where we set our scene”

"an excellent conceited tragedy" indeed

“an excellent conceited tragedy” indeed

I remember the opening prologue to Romeo & Juliet because I saw it countless times whilst waiting in the wings for my entrance during my high school’s production.

Let the record show that I was not Romeo. I was Friar Lawrence actually.

In the two productions of Shakespeare my school put on, I was cast as a religious figure who gave advice to those struck dumb with love.  Presumably this was due to the fact that as an overweight black teenage male, I didn’t exactly exude romantic lead material.

Waiting in the wings, waiting to go on, and observing the activity night after night gave me somewhat of an interesting challenge: I was disconnected from the action, but expected to thrust myself into it just a few scenes later.

This was not that different from my day-to-day life at the time, where I often felt like I was disconnected from the high school world around me. I was, for lack of a better term, “other.”

Now, on some level, that’s just a standard teenage phase, but as a double minority (black and gay), not being considered part of the mainstream really got to me. It got to me so much that I pretty much the kibosh on any thoughts of being an actor after graduating. Instead, I was going to be a writer. Yessir, I was going to write the world as I saw it and everybody’s minds would be collectively blown and the world would be a bit less daunting to the fat black gay teenage boys from Wisconsin.

I’d like to think that the world of 2014 is a bit more hospitable now than it was then.

Today, I saw two articles from The Atlantic that made me remember that sense of “otherness” from way back when.

The first one was from Enuma Okoro, praising the everywoman aspects of the lead character in the new BET (Black Entertainment Television) show Being Mary Jane, which is about a journalist attempting to get that proverbial work-life balance just right. In the article, Okoro quotes a study by Essence magazine that states that a considerable majority of black women see negative portrayals of themselves more often than positive ones, amongst which include the infamous (and unrealistic) head shaking, sassy black woman stereotype.

It certainly didn’t reflect the reality of the black women that I ever came across in my family, nor in my black female peers and friends.

This is not to say that it wasn’t true for some people, but not all, and particularly when your only representation is this archetype it can become an expectation.

Apologies for the cliché, but if I had a dime for how many people overseas asked me if black women really were that way, I’d be able to solve the GFC.

That’s the problem with television and media in general, it can turn a character trait that the actual person has to chop down (often with a metaphorical pickaxe) to find the truth inside.

And that truth is, as Okoro says about Being Mary Jane, “the potential to slowly alter the way viewers see and relate to African-Americans as a people whose lives and experiences—their good and poor decisions, and their trials and triumphs—can be encompassed into cultural and social norms in the same way that the lives and experiences of white Americans have been for centuries.”

The second article was Hope Reese’s interview with Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh, the creators of Looking, a new HBO show about gay men in San Francisco.

Haigh says “Our ambition is not to tell the story about all gay people, which is impossible to do. The gay community is full of all different types of people. It never was our intention to be the ultimate gay show about all gay people. We just want to tell the stories of these characters and their lives.”

In response to Reese’s question about whether they [Lannan & Haigh] felt a burden to “get it right,” he says: “I think ‘burden’ is a good way to put it. We do feel like there’s a burden, and then the trailer comes out, and everyone comments on it, saying, “That’s not my life.” It was hysterical looking at some of the comments. Some people decided it was a show about cock-hungry sluts, and others would say that it’s all white people. Everyone has a judgment. But we can’t represent everybody—it’s impossible.

So in many respects, we have to ignore that. But I also understand the desire, the need, for representation on the screen. My hope is that if this show does well, it will offer the opportunity for other people to make other shows about different types of gay people.”

Haigh’s statement about hoping that it offers “the opportunity for other people to make other shows about different types of gay people” echoes earlier remarks from the creators of the sitcom Will & Grace in response to accusations that the show wasn’t realistic.

Mind you, it is a comedy, and asking for verisimilitude in a half-hour comedy without it becoming mind-numbingly dull is a big ask.

A belated disclaimer: I have yet to see either of these shows, but I suspect that Looking will make an appearance on some Australian television outlet, and the eternal optimist in me hopes that Being Mary Jane might as well.  (I like to believe that in a nation that believes in the “fair go,” that is a possibility.)

With regards to Looking, I must admit that for some gay men out there, it might be a breath of fresh air to see their lives reflected onscreen. I remember when Patrik-Ian Polk’s Noah’s Arc debuted on LOGO. I remember thinking “wow, I see guys who are black and gay, and who actually have a sex life and relationships!”

Noah's Arc (cover art for the 2nd season box set)

Noah’s Arc (cover art for the 2nd season box set)

It might seem peculiar to those who aren’t black and gay, but for the most part, the representation of black gay men in TV  was pretty much as the “sassy sidekick” (mostly in drag) to the white leads who got to go through the ups and downs of romance, awkwardness, and well…reality.

Which brings me back to what the overweight black gay teenage boy waiting in the wings in 2014 sees.

I truly hope he can see that his hopes and wishes not that much different from everyone else, and perhaps, everyone else sees something of their own hopes and wishes in his.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Post 2014

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in DC

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in DC

Recently I’ve taken to reading the tablet version of the New York Daily News every day as part of my morning ritual. Given that today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US, a fair amount of the articles dealt with the legacy of Dr. King.

Yet, it was one ad in the paper that stuck out for me: It was for a 2014 Australian silver dollar targeted to US coin collectors.

Most non-coin collectors like myself would pass by that ad without thinking twice, but given that I live in Australia,  I lingered. Alas, I have been struck with the infamous “Ooh! It’s about my country” bug.

For all intents and purposes, I am Australian. I am also–and will always be–American as well. (I’ve lived here for 5 years now, so I think I’ve officially turned the corner from dalliance to full on relationship.)

The fact that I can live here of my own free will and volition is partly due to the work of Dr. King.

Many Australians are surprised that Australia has somewhat of a reputation of being somewhat inhospitable towards people of colour, due to the history of the “White Australia policy” that limited immigration to those of European background. Interestingly enough, the cracks in this policy started when a Black British man applied to come here.

What many in the US do not know is that Dr. King’s legacy of non-violent protest inspired Australia’s own Freedom Riders.

From The ABC’s “Discovering Democracy” website:

“In 1965 a group of students from the University of Sydney organised a freedom ride to towns in NSW to publicise the discrimination experienced by Aboriginal people. Discrimination took different forms, such as not being allowed to live in town at all, not being allowed into certain shops or clubs, having to sit in the front few rows at the cinema or not being allowed in the public swimming pool. Charles Perkins and Jim Spigelman led the students, with the support of Reverend Ted Noffs and Bill Ford.

“The students hired a bus and travelled over 3,000 kilometres through country towns of northern NSW which had large Aboriginal populations. Two journalists travelled with the students and recorded what they saw. The students interviewed Aboriginal people about discrimination in their towns. They picketed the swimming pool in Moree, where Aboriginal children were allowed in only if they were with a school group. Many townspeople were hostile to the students. They threw things at them, spat on them, threatened them and tried to run their bus off the road.

The freedom ride attracted great publicity in city newspapers and made the front page of the Bulletin magazine. The reports and photographs shocked white Australians and made them aware of the conditions under which many Aboriginal communities lived. The publicity generated by the freedom ride persuaded many Australians to vote for constitutional change in the 1967 referendum.”

Interesting parallels with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We hear quite often about how the world is ever more connected, and often times that just refers to trends, and not so much to ideas.

Dr. King’s legacy is not the sole domain of the US, nor should it be. The legacy of the late Nelson Mandela is not the sole domain of South Africa, as his recent memorial service proved to the global audience.

We are all more connected in our shared humanity than set apart by differing skin colour and cultural background.

Carols in the Domain Post-Mortem 2013

Hasn’t it been a long time between drinks?

A couple of bits of business before we get down to the carolling.

1) I’m watching this on PVR, and–Welcome to Australian television–the opening didn’t record.
2) Hi Australia, I’m back in blue.

Hopes for this year’s edition: Natalie Doyle’s death glare, Gnat actually getting his props for being a decent singer, another round of Seven & the Seventy-Sevens, and please, no rap breaks in songs that don’t need them. Either rap the carol or sing the carol!

Whatever preamble there was, I don’t know. What I am greeted with however, is actress Justine Clarke (very nicely attired) energetically telling a group of children “Do you know who it is?”

Since it’s not captioned, I have no idea what the children’s response is, but apparently it was a music cue for Justine to sing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

Not being terribly familiar with Justine Clarke’s career outside of prime-time, it’s pleasant to discover that she’s a very good singer. (Playschool grad?)

The ode to the oddball reindeer ends abruptly and quickly transitions to a very cabaret-style “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

The kids backing Justine are great, and two are dressed as the Mario Brothers of Nintendo fame, which is rather idiosyncratic.

As Justine really belts out the last few bars, Santa does indeed come to the Domain…on a motorcycle.

It’s Bikie Claus!

Bikie Claus then leads everybody on stage in what can only be described as “Jingle Bells” performed as a revival.

Gnat tells us that Samantha Jade is next.

Adverts: My Kitchen Rules promises twins who will be playing dumb and mean, and another pair who proceed to call them as such…Jamie Oliver salivates over WOOLWORTHS prawns…This year’s Carols in the Domain movie tie-in? Disney’s “Frozen.” Which makes a lot more sense than last year’s “Parental Guidance.”

And we’re back.

Michael Buble’ does his standard recorded “Happy Holidays” message for his very passionate fanbase down here. (I know he means it, but Seven really ought to stump up the cash to get him here for one of these things.)

No Nat this year, it’s Melissa Doyle, the old female foil to Lord Kochie on Sunrise. (A bit of background for Americans reading this: Remember the PR fiasco that happened when Ann Curry got booted from Today? Well, Melissa Doyle is essentially the Australian equivalent of Ann Curry in that situation, and let’s just leave it at that.)

No death glares or snark from Mel, which I must admit, I rather miss. These reviews are always a lot more fun when the presenters do everything with an arched eyebrow. Instead Mel & Gnat introduce Samantha Jade singing “O Holy Night.”

Unlike the risqué attire last year, Jade looks like a Disney princess. (Subtle plug?) Now, I don’t mind Jade, but she does give what is supposed to be a solemn hymn a few too many glory notes (no pun intended).

Mel remarks that Jade does look like a princess. (PLUG) Meanwhile, Gnat–wearing a parka–complains that it’s cold. Now this can go one of two ways: either with a Chaser-style bit of political humour about global warming or a plug for Disney’s Frozen. Let’s see which one wins.

Gnat says he feels frost in the air and that “it could snow at any time” followed by a joke about his surname [White].

And it turns out that the sole purpose of that whole blizzard of jokes was to intro Johnny Ruffo singing “White Christmas.”

Last year, this poor lad was running around like a mad man onstage, this year he’s taking it easy, it’s Johnny “Vegas Swing” Ruffo.

Unfortunately, the orchestration calls for him to hit a really absurdly high note. Given the fact that Ruffo looks quite baby-faced, it gives the impression that his voice is about to crack.

Out of seemingly nowhere, a flurry of tap dancers appear…in tuxedos. I admit I tend to overthink a lot of these things, but the first thought that pops into my head is that we have gone from the Domain to dinner theatre. Johnny Vegas Ruffo gamely taps along, but not too much, because he has to sing again and hit those notes. And they are HIGH.

There’s another tap break and Ruffo’s portable mic battery (or box, or whatever those things that allow a singer to hear themselves) falls out.

He soldiers on, and actually improves, in my opinion. Though of all songs to get a James Brown style “breakdown” “White Christmas” would be the last one I’d expect. Nonetheless, there Ruffo was doing the splits.

I tell you, this man is the workhorse of Seven.

Gnat chides Mel about snow, and I hope that is the end of that gag.

The glimmer of hope I had for climate change humour is dashed as Mel says “you could say it’s FROZEN.”

Gnat gives the spiel about [Disney’s new film] “Frozen,” making it sound like it’s “Gone With The Wind” for the 21st Century.

The clip we’re given is entertaining, but could not possibly live up to that hype.

Mel & Gnat–I’m just going to be calling them the MGs from here on in–promise us an “exclusive” performance of a song from the film from one of Australia’s biggest musical theatre stars, Amanda Harrison.

Not being up on my Australian musical theatre knowledge, I’m going to take the MGs word that she is.

The song “Let it go,” sounds like something you’d hear Miss Georgia sing at a Miss America pageant circa 1985. Harrison certainly gives it her all, with the fireworks dramatically punctuating every glory note.

“Exclusive” clearly is TV speak for brief, as the song is over after one chorus.

The MGs must be wearing sneakers as they reappear in a booth some distance away right after Harrison sings the last “GOOOOOOOO!”

Before we go to adverts they promise Jessica Mauboy, Human Nature (Australian boyband turned neo-Rat Pack after a Vegas residency), Stan Walker (AGAIN?), and Jimmy Barnes.

Adverts: Medibank is now speaking in hashtags.

We return with Sir Cliff Richard (or Nosferatu) reminding us to donate to the Salvos.

The MGs point out that the candle bags have sold out. (The profits go to the Salvos.) They give a donate to the Salvos spiel which conveniently segues into an intro for Stan Walker (AGAIN?) singing “The First Noel.”

Walker is accompanied by the Australian Girls Choir, and he does not try to sing over them…mostly.

After Christmas in the Park, I have reached Stan Walker saturation point.

Gnat reappears looking oddly stunned. Ah, must be time to do the awkward interview with an overseas celebrity who “wishes they could be there,” but Seven or Woolworth’s doesn’t pay enough.

This year it’s Kelly Clarkson, who is pregnant and in Los Angeles.

Personally, I don’t care, except Gnat refers to it constantly. Perhaps, it’s just me, but mentioning pregnancy during any Christmas themed show automatically makes me think of the Virgin Mary, particularly since this is Clarkson’s first pregnancy.

The Virgin Kelly will be giving an “exclusive” (read: probably recorded several days ago) performance “later on.”

I wouldn’t be so cynical about it, except last year’s Rod Stewart debacle gave that distinct impression.

Mel glides in and the MGs go into mega-hype mode, this time over the pairing of Jessica Mauboy & Human Nature.

I remember where I was when I found out that the Soviet Union was no more.

I remember where I was when Michael Jackson performed the Moonwalk for the first time.

Clearly I can add another thing to that list: when Jessica Mauboy & Human Nature performed “Sleighride.” At least that’s what the MGs want us to believe.

The reality is that this is not so much Jessica Mauboy & Human Nature, but Jessica Mauboy VS. Human Nature.

Much like Georgie Parker vs. Jay Laga’ia last year, they start out in unison and then kind of fall apart. Mauboy goes into Beyonce’ mode and Human Nature are the Osmond Brothers.

Kind of awkward, particularly when the members of Human Nature start doing one-on-one “diva vs. divo” duets with Mauboy.

Gnat tells us Jimmy Barnes and the cast of Grease are next (and if they’re performing together then that really will be Jimmy Barnes vs. the cast of Grease, because whenever Jimmy Barnes performs with somebody, it’s really Jimmy Barnes versus them), along with Kelly Clarkson’s “exclusive” performance.

Slight rant here: Somebody needs to start charging television networks every time they say the word “exclusive,” because it’s beginning to lose its meaning. Frankly, we all know that we can only see Kelly Clarkson’s performance on Seven. It’s pretty unlikely that someone from Nine or Ten is going to hijack the satellite feed and put it to air as well. (Though in the world of Australian commercial television, anything cut throat is possible.)

Adverts: The “bomb” is just the start on Home & Away. (It’s time to shore up our UK viewers with a sudden trip to London. Take that, Shortland Street.)…Holden tells us “we’re here to stay,” no matter what news of Holden winding down operations and closing plants might say (Poor Holden marketing execs are really between a rock and a hard place, honestly)

As we return, Mel intros Kelly Clarkson’s “exclusive” performance of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

Clarkson is supported by a pretty decent orchestra, which makes really wonder if “exclusive” also means “well, I was doing this anyway for US television so I might as well flick it your way too, Seven.”

The fact that she’s in a theatre with a sizable audience and pretty slick camera work supports this even more.

Gnat returns with the ironic (at least to me, given the previous rant) statement that “the word ‘legend’ gets bandied about these days.” (Not as much as the word “exclusive.”) It is the appropriate terminology to describe Jimmy Barnes, however.

There is no need to go through the man’s whole entire bio, Gnat.

Jimmy Barnes comes in and in true Barnesy style attacks the stage singing “Run Run Rudolph.” That may read as odd, but Barnes makes it work.

Unfortunately, the camera goes to a shot of the crowd and shows the enormous Tele-prompTer with the lyrics scrolling merrily along.

The MGs return saying in the most square way possible “No one rocks it out like Jimmy Barnes.”

Gnat, I like you, but please don’t say “groovy” again.

Speaking of Tele-prompTers, Gnat clearly looks at one (or a clock) when complimenting Mel’s dress.

Mel gives the details very briefly in order to intro the cast of Grease.

They sing “Greased Lightning” to a sleigh.

Not being a fan of this song, nor the musical Grease itself, this is a bit of a hard slog for me.

This segues into “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” after Todd McKinney comes onstage.

Now were this Nine, we’d be having Bert Newton, I reckon. (Bert is actually in the cast, but it wouldn’t look right for him to be on Seven, such are the politics of commercial television. You just don’t channel hop in Australia as Mel B. has discovered, although I guess Rob Mills’s deal with Ten must’ve come to an end.)

Adverts: The next edition of My Kitchen Rules will apparently include a couple who are very big on cheese. Being that they are from NSW, you can pretty much guess which part of the state they’re from…

An Open Letter To Mediaworks about TV3

Most likely this email will get filed and never read, but in the hopes that it might get read, I wanted to write this.

Frankly, you guys at TV3, are in a golden age of programming decisions, as far as I am concerned.

Now, you may not know me from Adam, but I’m an American-born Australian-based media journalist (TV is my speciality), and have been in the field since 2005.

I started out my career in New York, doing a lot of freelance work for Viacom & CBS.

I’m not saying this to strut my stuff, but because the current crop of original TV3 shows is some of the most interesting, entertaining, and boundary breaking shows I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

Having just heard that Mediaworks has gone into receivership and planning a restructure, I just want to encourage you to not tinker with your slate of shows. (I know you’ve said there will be no changes in programming, but business promises aren’t always reflected in reality.) In fact, I think TV3 in particular has got programming that can really do the business overseas if you try it.

While Outrageous Fortune was a niche hit in Australia and the US remake was, well, not even that. I think that shouldn’t deter you from letting more of the world see your shows in their original format.

I’d particularly single out Jono & Ben At Ten, a show which frankly, Hamish & Andy and their Gap Year Caravan of Blandness could only aspire to. This is the sort of show which could really be popular on both sides of the Tasman, as well as on North American cable and UK digital.

You’ve got interesting personalities galore. You’ve got smart writing and production teams. Frankly, you’ve got everything TV wonks like myself salivate for. It’s time to let the rest of the world in on your secret.

Sincerely,

Hikaru Freeman

What does gay look like?

The rainbow flag, sometimes called 'the freedo...

The rainbow flag, sometimes called ‘the freedom flag’, has been used as a symbol of gay and lesbian pride since the 1970s. The different colors symbolize diversity in the gay community, and the flag is often used as a symbol of gay pride in gay rights marches. It originated in the United States, but is now used around the world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Something historical happened today: The US has its first active openly gay athlete in professional sports (story via Rod2.0), with Jason Collins being the proverbial trailblazer–he’s actually a Wizard (pun intended).

 

What I find particularly interesting is his coming out statement: “I’m a 34 year old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” He identifies himself by job (and it’s a really good one), ethnicity, and then orientation. That I think says a lot about the gay community and how it struggles to really deal with those of us who are multiple minorities.

 

It is no secret that most of the English-language developed world has a White middle-class majority. To its credit, it’s also good that the English-language developed world is also trying to correct it and get towards a post-racial state of affairs.

 

In my experience, I have occasionally wondered whether I’m really included or not, particularly in the gay community because I don’t fit the perception in the media sense of being gay.

What’s that perception?

 

Well, when you turn on the news or read a newspaper and see something representing the “gay community” it is most often a white gay male in his late 30s to 40s.

Now, while it is great to have any representation, but I think it’s time that we start thinking about the effects of having the rainbow community represented in a largely monotone shade.

 

Here in Australia, we are fortunate to have Senator Penny Wong,  who is Asian, as one of the most prominent openly gay people in the media, because she causes people to think twice about that old ridiculous chestnut that “I can’t be gay because I am XYZ ethnicity.”

 

In the US, we’ve had ever increasing minority males and females come out, and yet there is still this perception that ethnicity trumps sexuality. We need more people to come out as being proud of both their ethnic background and their sexual orientation.

 

This where being a role model does matter, because being a role model, allows you to start changing minds on a larger scale.

 

While I wish that I had grown up seeing successful black gay men in media, I am glad that generations after me will be able to.

 

 

 

My father: The Veteran

The current crisis in North Korea has brought up memories of my late father.

My late father was a Veteran of both the Korean & Vietnam Wars, serving in the former when he was a teenager.

He was never that terribly forthcoming with details about his military life, but through references and from what my mother shared, I knew that he was a POW for a significant amount of time in Vietnam (long enough to be presumed dead) and that the very second anything on television referred to Vietnam he–in a very quiet voice–would politely ask my mother to change the channel.

With the Korean War, I know nothing except that he lied about his age in order to sign up and my memories of him talking about it are basically him saying that he served in it and that was that.

In 2003, one year after he passed, I wrote a play called Airport Lounges wherein a major scene involved the lead character imagining what the Korean War was like. (No spoilers)

Although my mother & I flew to Korea while he was alive, we literally were changing planes. For me at least, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for a proper trip to the country, because I would view it through the eyes of a scared teenager serving in the US Army.

Whilst my father lived to see the US formalise relations with Vietnam, he never expressed any desire to visit.

North Korea never featured much in US news in the 1980s & 1990s as much as Vietnam did, but I do hope that I live to see peace on the Korean peninsula, and that I am able to visit a place whose conflict has had such a profound effect on me decades before I was born.