How I Binge

One of the many buzzwords you hear today is “binge watching,” which is basically watching loads of one programme in one fell swoop. Frankly, I’ve called this marathon watching, but I’m a product of the 80s, when marathons were special events on networks.

A lot of these binges are tied into the success of Netflix’s entrance into the production market, where instead of weekly releases of a programme, they dropped all episodes at once to much success. I’ll be honest with you, I have little interest in what Netflix is offering (and all they really offer the Australian market is esterophilia). 

Recently I read an article in The Hollywood Reporter where Jenji Kohan, creator of one of the Netflix successes, Orange Is The New Black, said that binging is hurting the shared experience that used to happen when things were released weekly. Indeed, it’s quite funny to read the entertainment news websites’ attempts to cover shows whose episodes are released all at once, because the journalists have no idea how to write for an audience who could be at any place in the series. 

Even though none of the new binge shows appeal to me, I do enjoy binging. My current delight is the early 2000s Australian* crime show Stingers. I’m under no illusion that I’m probably one of the very few people watching episode after episode, and that’s fine with me. Binging for me is about personal enjoyment, and I don’t expect anyone else to be on the same page as me. Perhaps befitting my background as a scriptwriter, I’d rather discuss things with the scriptwriters, network executives, and producers.

* I tend to watch a lot of Australian & New Zealand programming simply because it’s new to me. Bizarrely, you barely see any old (as in not currently in production) Australian television programming on Australian television. But that’s another subject entirely

Pirates & Pillaging

 

 Netflix has arrived in the Antipodes with one of it’s aims being to end the high amount of piracy down here.

Truth be told, part of the piracy problem stems from the often ridiculously inflated prices that we pay down here for digital products. How can a company justify higher prices for the Australian/New Zealand markets when the product is a download? Quite rightly, the Australian government is holding hearings into why this situation exists, and the answer that seems to be constantly popping up is “greed.” 

Fair point to charge more money for a premium product–it’s the entertainment business, after all–but it’s a bit ridiculous to charge different prices in different countries when the product is intangible.

What has really got my goat about Netflix’s roll out has been how it arrogantly shafted the local entertainment industry with no announcement of Australian nor New Zealand production (FYI: they’re doing the same thing in Canada). In my view, that’s just as unacceptable as piracy. You don’t just come into a market and take without giving back or providing opportunities. 

The Australian government has announced plans for a tax on “streaming services” like Netflix, and frankly I hope they tax them hard, and that the money goes towards funding local content. 

As for Netflix, I doubt they ever would’ve had me as a return customer (disclaimer: I used to have a Netflix account back when they actually sent DVDs. It was a great place to discover LGBT films), but I hope they have a change of heart, because at some point all the buzz will fade and you’re left with diminished profits.   

  

  

Before 40

The age of 40 is a touchstone, albeit an awkward one. 30 is still seen as the dividing line between supposed youth and supposed adulthood. (A look over at Hikaruland might prove that debatable), and 50 means you’ve lived half a century. 40, I reckon means that you should’ve cast off those last vestiges of youth and become a full-fledged adult.

  

Now why is my 36 year old self pondering 40?

Well, much as how people talk about “Bucket Lists,” I’ve been coming up with a “40 List” of experiences I’d like to have before I hit middle adulthood.

  1. Spend a month in Uruguay or Chile learning Spanish. 
  2. Interview Ben Cousins and tell him in person that his story saved my life.
  3. Visit Mississippi, in particular the area where my father grew up and also visit Jackson (the state capital) to acknowledge my great great cousin Blanche Kelso Bruce (1st Black US Senator to serve an entire term).   (Jessie Mae Hemphill, a blues performer from the area of Mississippi my father’s family is from.)
  4. Find out more about the Irish & Choctaw sides of my family.
  5. See another openly gay NRL player play and succeed professionally.
  6. Visit Australia outside of the East Coast.
  7. See one of my plays performed.
  8. Visit Quai d’Orsay (the home of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
  9. Get married. (The child aspect, is, as per family tradition, going to happen after 40.)
  10. Finally become an Australian citizen (though not until after #6)
  11. Become an advocate for a healthy body image amongst gay men.

So that’s 11 experiences within 4 years. Hopefully it’s doable.

Woolworths Carols in the Domain 2014

This has been quite the challenging week here in Australia.

I tend to be of the belief that everyone deals with these events in their own way and that it is best to get on with life albeit with sensitivity to others.

So in that vein, striking the right tone for this review will be somewhat tricky. Yet, understand that underneath the jibes and puns is a strong degree of affection for the event and the people that put it on.

Before we actually begin, we need the show to actually start at the scheduled time.

Yes, it’s the time honoured Australian television tradition of starting programmes late in order to win the time slot.

(Australian networks are NOT fined for starting shows late.)

The show starts with a very solemn (and understandable) note about this week’s events and Mark Vincent singing “You Raise Me Up.”

This year, the hosts are the entire (Weekday) Sunrise team: [David] Koch (aka “Kochie”), Samantha Armytage, Natalie Barr, and Mark Beretta.

Mark Vincent resets the tone by bringing out a group of opera singers who sing “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

Much rather this than Lorne Michaels asking Giuliani “if we can laugh again?”

It does end in a flurry of glory notes, but at least everyone onstage can hit them.

Adverts: This is being marketed as “Woolworths-Disney Carols in the Domain,” and Big Hero 6 is the new Disney film getting released soon, so I fully expect the ratio to be 50% Disney ads during the break, but surprisingly there’s only one…Woolworths “cheap cheap” ads never fail to make me snicker (“Wow, that’s cheap!”)

And our guests include: A whole bunch of X-Factor people, The Wiggles, and Georgie Parker & Jay Laga’aia. (I’m truly looking forward to that reunion.)

Kochie welcomes the Premier & Police, and it’s rather interesting to note that as part of a Quartet, the HBIC powers of Natalie Barr are diminished.

Nat does get to announce Dami Im (X Factor 2013 winner) singing “O Holy Night.” Dami does an extremely good (and glory note free) version of the song.

Strike that, she did melisma the last part.

Now, it’s Taylor Henderson (who is also responsible the new Sunrise theme song, and a X Factor alumni) singing “The First Noel.” As pious as Taylor is, I question his choice to sound rather nasal when singing about Jesus and looking solemn.

Mark & Nat give a really quick intro to Christine Anu (the first non-reality show soloist) singing “Little Drummer Boy.” As good as Christine Anu is (and she is VERY GOOD), there will always be only one version of this song for me and that’s Vanessa Williams’s Jazz version.

Mark tells us “The kids take over with Jay Laga’aia…”

I didn’t hear Georgie Parker’s name afterwards, which makes me doubt the chances of a reunion of their awkward 2012 duet.

Adverts: So Fresh “Songs for Christmas” surely must be an ironic title as those are some very dated covers…And Disney and Qantas must be using the same advertising agencies.

And we’re back in the Quartet, and now we’re really back because it is all bad puns about Kochie being responsible for Santa Claus.

They intro Jay Laga’aia (sans Georgie Parker). He sings “Frosty the Snowman” and at least his mic is on.

It’s been awhile that I’ve heard the song, but I don’t remember a line about a “traffic cop.”

Mark & Nat come back with the first of several Disney plugs, this time for the live-action Cinderella. Nat does a very obvious segue by saying “Here is are own Cinderella story, [X-Factor 2014 winner] Marlisa.”

Marlisa sings a melisma filled version of “A Dream Is a wish your heart makes,” she is accompanied by a bunch of scenes from Cinderella, of course.

I voted for Dean Ray, and let’s leave it at that.

And we’re back to the quartet, who for people who appear on television 5 days a week, look oddly stunned.

Sam intros Nathaniel [X-Factor] singing “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

There will be no rap break, fortunately.

Nathaniel has opted for a version that veers occasionally close to “I Want You Back” by the Jackson Five.

That said, you can only inject so much soul into “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Kochie teases me with another promise of a Laga’aia-Parker duet.

Adverts: I am very happy they finally turned the bloody volume down on that Freeview ad. The whole world has had it in their hands and ears…On Sunrise, no matter what you do, we will make your Christmas feel inadequate.

Mark & Nat finally deliver the goods: The Laga’aia-Parker duet.

And it is as awkward in 2014 as it was in 2012, with the dancing children as a wall between Georgie-land and Jay-Land. At least Jay’s microphone is turned on.

Poor Rudolph, the co-dependent Reindeer.

More woeful jokes about Kochie’s incompetence as Santa introduces The Wiggles.

Santa Claus with a strong Australian accent is something to behold.

Unlike his former colleagues, Anthony ain’t retiring anytime soon.

They sing a song about Emma’s Christmas Bow.

I tune out of sincerity. Though the word “Bow” rings in my ears for several minutes after.

The camera does a closeup of a baby as The Wiggles sing “Silent Night.” The baby looks rather annoyed.

And then it’s the inevitable “Go Santa Go.”

The interesting about Wiggles performances is that the parents tend to be more into it than the children.

That said, The Wiggles do their annual duty and bring in Santa Claus, who is being driven in via golf cart.

When Santa does get onstage, the orchestra greets him with a couple instrumental lines from Jesus Christ Superstar, or it certainly sounds like it.

All and sundry onstage perform a considerably restrained version of “Jingle Bells” considering they are being assaulted by silly string.

Adverts: “This is Aus-TRAL-IA!” Seven is running a serious risk of pissing a portion of the public off with the constant promotion of “Australia: The Story of Us.”…A Crystal Furby?…If you don’t fly Qantas, you have no family…Dear Sweet Lord this Qantas ad is long…I probably could be back in 1990s Wisconsin by the time it ends.

Celebrity greeting: Jamie Oliver (Woolworths $pokesperson) tells us to donate to the Salvation Army.

Kochie tells Sam that he’s been eager to host Carols for some time, and proceeds to embarrass his grandchildren and contrive a link to Marlisa.

Marlisa sings “Away in a manger.” She sounds not as polished as previously.

Nat & Mark intro Taylor Henderson and Samantha Jade singing “Happy Christmas.”

Henderson looks startled, whereas Jade looks like she is about to bust out a “Praise Him” at any moment.

Kochie & Sam show us some of the actual programs the Salvos do (which is a pleasant change from just saying “DONATE”) and then introduce Judith Dunham.

Dunham is the grande dame of this year, and first performs a song in round
with The Australian Girls Choir. Then things get seriously ratcheted up to eleven in a very loud version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” that threatens to drown poor Judith out. When they get to the final chorus it gets so brassy, I have expect a chorus line to come out kicking.

Mark promises Adam Garcia next. (Doing what?)

Adverts: My Kitchen Rules: Real People, Real Food? So they were cyborgs all the previous seasons?…When will these Hobbit films ever end?…Australia Post, Please Privatise Us (despite it being foolish to do so)…

And we return with a smiling Nat & Mark introducing Adam Garcia singing (and fortunately dancing to) “It’s beginning to look like Christmas.” Some cruel audio person turned the volume up on Adam’s mic so we hear every last breath.

The audio evens out during his rather impressive tap break with The Tap Pack.

Partial advertising break: Woolworths hardware store refurbishes a house for a youth centre in Blacktown. Though the faux reality show narration does grate.

Sam & Kochie intro Lee Kernaghan & his very gorgeous wife singing a version of “Jingle Bell Rock” with a lot more sex appeal than you’d expect.

Mark mentions Nat’s previous hosting of Carols, and we get a glimpse of the old HBIC Nat. They introduce The McClymonts doing the inevitable-but-meteorologically-impossible in the Australian Summer medley of snow songs which will include “Let It Go,” (as in the Disney film…It’s Showtime, Synergy.)

The camera tries to catch as many children singing along, though it unfortunately captures a boy sleeping.

Mark promises Dami Im and “more.” I notice one thing that is absent this year, and that is the overseas celebrity gue$t.

Adverts: Seven News is omnipresent, in fact, Chris Bath is already filing a report about what you had for dinner…Buy jewellery to make up for being a crap partner…That poor Dick Smith voiceover artist must be still aching after having to speak so fast.

Kochie & Sam again, and they FINALLY tell us how to make a donation via SMS. (It’s been onscreen several times.)

Dami Im sings “The Christmas Song” at a piano. She’s coming across as the real star this year, as her performance is seemingly effortless.

Kochie returns us to the most plug-filled renovation show ever. But it is for a good cause.

Kochie embarrasses Nat (who apparently likes Wicked), with the cast of Wicked singing some of the songs from the show.

I’ve seen Wicked, but I’m rather indifferent to it, or rather the PLEASE-LOOK-AT-ME style of musical theatre.

The cast sings “Joy to the World” with a lot more restraint, fortunately.

Interesting lyric: “He makes the nations prove his righteousness.”

Kochie threatens/promises us with Doug “Hiro Tsunoda” Parkinson and Jubilation.

Adverts: Buy an Apple product and bridge the generation gap…Shut up Meerkat…super synergy is achieved with a Woolworths ad for Frozen…

Another thing this year is missing: Matt “Gnat” White, who has gone over to Ten.

Nat wishes everyone who is watching this on the ashes of the Australia Network, “Australia Plus.”

Paulini (Australian Idol) comes on to sing “Jesus, The Wonderful Child” with Jubilation.

She is gospel-ing it up in a rather risqué evening gown, which makes it rather interesting visual.

Alas, no one onstage gets the spirit.

She then is joined by Doug “the white Australian possessed by an old black gospel singer” Parkinson in a version of “Go Tell It On the Mountain.”

And again, no one gets the spirit.

They try again when Doug starts singing “This Little of Mine,” which I don’t even think of as a religious song, though clearly I’ve never made it past the chorus.

No one gets the spirit and does the spinning chook dance.

Adverts: Australia was made by bullets (“THIS IS AUS-TRA-LIA”)…They really want people to buy that Human Nature album…The Water Diviner has got some howl-worthy lines…Heterosexuals are easily blinded by jewellery…Optus needs to say no to Josh Thomas…Ford apparently keeps Australia “real.” Woolworths is cheap, but the CGI in those ads isn’t, and they’ve got to recoup their costs somewhere

Kochie & Sam introduce Samantha Jade singing a song whose title I wasn’t able to get. Jade looks much more appropriate this year than in previous years, where her outfits were more Mary Magdalene than Virgin Mary.

Though she does a good job, alas this year belongs Dami Im.

And as in years past, Mark Vincent sings “The Holy City,” a song I’ve never heard of until moving to this country.

This has been a very interesting, and dare I say, innocent edition of Carols. It seems stripped back.

While on some level, I miss the madcap craziness, it’s an understandable decision.

Kochie tells us an All-star singalong is next.

Adverts: Give a gift from Officeworks, the gift that says “5 January isn’t that far away”…Mortein, I’ve been slapping all day long, I’d like my money back…Michael Hill, where clueless men are separated from their money…The new Annie is the remake no one asked for.

Christine Anu sings “Silent Night” with the Australian Girls Choir.

The camera cuts to another child asleep…and another…and another.

I should mention it’s now after 11 at night.

Sam finally mention the fireworks, because this show truly needs to end.

As is always the tradition, it’s “Song of Joy,” performed by the classical singers who opened the show along with all the other singers: Jay Laga’aia & Georgie Parker cling to each other, as do Nathaniel and Taylor Henderson.

A few fireworks half-heartedly spit up in the air.

Kochie still promises us more, and there’s a bit of tiredness/desperation in his voice.

Adverts: Is Kylie Minogue singing 80s covers a bit redundant?…Foxtel is also “cheap, cheap”

Kochie says that it has been a sensational night, though it’s also been a rather flat one.

One by one, they rattle off the sponsors, and close with what seems to be the new “seasons greetings” “Look out for each other.”

And after several false starts everyone sings “Reach Out And Touch Someone’s Hand,” then “We Need A Little Christmas,” and then “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree.” Kochie is completely wooden, the rest of his colleagues are surprisingly not.

Because this thing will not end, they then sing “Go Santa Go,” “Jingle Bells,” “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”

Why on Earth is this “family” show ending at almost 11:30 at night?

Finally credits amongst a more potent firework display.

When I Think of Home Now

As I write this I’m watching the final of the Rugby League Four Nations. For those unfamiliar with Rugby League this is a biennial tournament between Australia, England, New Zealand, and one other (un)lucky country.

This year the final is between Australia and New Zealand. Prior to last year, anytime Australia or New Zealand play, I have always stayed politely neutral, as I’m an Australian permanent resident and also a Kiwiphile.

After living in New Zealand for a year, however, I’ve changed.

I’m a Kiwi.

Well, I’m an American-New Zealander who lives in Australia.

Having lived outside of the U.S. for almost 6 years, I’ve seen my sense of what nationality I am become a lot more complicated that I ever thought it could be.

The best way I could describe it is with something I call the “warm, fuzzy feeling factor.” When you think of a place that gives you that feeling where is it? (Note, for Dutch speakers think “gezellig” or for Welsh speakers “hiraeth.”)

For me, I think of several places instantly :

A snowy morning in Wisconsin, an autumn afternoon in New York, an evening in Wellington or Rotorua, and a foggy morning in Auckland.

These places and the time I spent in them remind me of times I’ve felt grounded and certain.

That’s home in my book, and yes, it’s odd that with as many years as I’ve lived here in Australia, it hasn’t yet felt like home.

It’s a bit hard to feel grounded when to this day whenever I meet someone and they know that I’ve lived here for a long time I still get asked what I think of Australia. Maybe it’s me, but I think 5 years is a sign that I think it’s pretty nice place.

The next question tends to be do I think I might go back to the U.S. Which is a rather odd question for me personally, since though I’m from the U.S. (and as I’ve also pointed out here before, the U.S. is itself more like 50 separate countries), the country has moved on since I left and so have I. So who’s to say that we’ll be able to get in sync again like we were when I was younger?

Home is where the heart is, as the old saying goes. In my opinion, the heart thrives where it feels supported and part of a greater “family.” (Probably I should say “whanau.”)

This isn’t to say that Australia won’t ever invoke those feelings, it’s just that Australia is not going to make it easy.

And the strange thing, the fact that it won’t, probably makes me love it more.

By the way, as I type this New Zealand is beating Australia 14 to 12.

Āe.

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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.

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…

The Antipodean Dilemma of the Gay Traveler

I’ve lived in Australia for 4 years now, and I do love living here, but it’s location in the world can be trying.

If you have your family and/or business mostly in the Western part of the United States, getting there is about a 12-14 hour nonstop flight to Los Angeles or San Francisco.

(This also explains why Australians tend to view the US through a Californian lens, and worthy of its own post.)

Getting to the Midwest or the East Coast generally involves adding on a flight from California to one’s final destination, adding on an extra 3-6 hours.

QANTAS itself operates a flight from New York to Los Angeles (where you can subsequently connect to its flights to the Australian East Coast), mostly due to the presumed reputation of US carriers and also to get its own significant slice of the fare pie.

Now, the reason I bring this up, is because QANTAS has been in the Australian media a lot these days because of their new alliance with Emirates, a major carrier from Dubai.

Emirates has been making serious inroads into the Australian market because whilst it’s 13 hours to Dubai from Sydney, it’s also 5 or 6 hours from Dubai to Europe, and the Europe to Australia market is huge and competitive.

Whereas before one generally flew QANTAS from Australia to Europe via Singapore (where homosexuality is illegal, but the law is rarely enforced), or via Hong Kong (where it is at least legal to be gay), or Bangkok (same), now those who want to fly the main national carrier will be routed through the UAE, a country where there are significant legal differences with Australia, homosexuality being illegal and prosecuted being a notable difference, as this article in the Star Observer points out.

Even the Australian government itself warns gay travelers to the UAE.

The other main Australian carrier, Virgin Australia, has an alliance with UAE carrier Etihad Airways, to fly its Europe bound passengers via Abu Dhabi. (Oddly enough they don’t emphasise the daily Virgin Atlantic flight from Sydney to London via Hong Kong, but that’s a bit of a quirk of Virgin Australia’s ownership.)

Getting to Europe without going through the UAE is seemingly difficult, but not impossible.

Air New Zealand avoids the issue by having its London flights via Los Angeles, though it’s not the most pleasant transit experience from what I’ve heard.

China Southern, Cathay Pacific, Thai, and JAL have been encouraging Australians to get to Europe (and the US) via Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Tokyo respectively.

That said it is hard to avoid the intense advertisement by the UAE carriers. I gave in, even though I was fully aware that by doing so, I was giving money to a homophobic government.

So I flew to Chicago from Melbourne via Abu Dhabi.

The flight was present, but when I got to the lounge, I was not able to log into several gay-identified websites (AfterElton, JOY94.9, The Advocate), because they were blocked.

Perhaps this is a bit close to my heart, because I’ve worked in the LGBT media. Others might not be bothered by it.

For me, personally, the cost savings were outweighed by the moral compromise.