May 17th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Ethanol - behind the disinformation

EDITORIAL: New situations demand new policies

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Government sets itself a trap on Medicare

Will South Australia Upper House hold the line on life issues?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: We get the rights / Rap festival / Bogus leftists, fairy luddites

QUEENSLAND: Beattie challenges Nationals over sugar deregulation

Iraq fallout may end multilateral trade deals

HEALTH: Stopping feeding and hydration is true euthanasia

EDUCATION: Surviving the latest classroom fads

LIFESTYLE: SARS, AIDS and public policy

FAMILY: Bush and Howard diverge on life and family

BOOK REVIEW: The World We're In, by Will Hutton

BOOK REVIEW: Growth Fetish, by Clive Hamilton

ARTS: Melbourne Comedy Festival: A comedy of political errors?

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Melbourne Comedy Festival: A comedy of political errors?

by Raymond Watson

News Weekly, May 17, 2003
It has almost become accepted wisdom that attendance at Australian arts and comedy festivals is some sort of "national duty".

This is quite an achievement for people who generally despise their own country and happily watch school children burn the nation's flag. It surely cannot have anything to do with a political agenda, could it ?

As I wrote in The Bulletin's 'Letters' page on October 5, 1999:

"If anyone doubts that the Melbourne arts scene is dominated by left-leaning cultural politicos, whose major motive seems to be provocation of 'bourgeois' sensibilities, consider the following themes from among those listed in the agenda for the forthcoming Melbourne Arts Festival:

''The advent of Black Power' ... "The rise of Feminism" ... 'The end of Colonialism and the falling of empires', all topped-off with performances by 'Inti Illimani', the Chilean socialist folk group.

"Is this an arts festival or a meeting of the Central Committee?"

"Party line"

Even people firmly posited in the left have to appease a "party line". Robin Archer, who by my estimation has directed arts festivals in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, and who seemed to be the almost mandatory choice as director of this year's Tasmanian "Ten Days on the Island" arts festival, landed herself in trouble with the left by arguing against a boycott of the festival by performers opposed to sponsorship by companies who "might support logging". (Nevertheless, the largest sponsor was the Tasmanian Government).

Archer had to bend over backwards to avert the boycott, pleading, in The Australian, (March 23):

"As it is, issues of refugees, reconciliation, healing, long-term unemployment, indigenous survival, negritude, land rights in PNG and multiple responses to the environment are all explored in this festival."

Not a word about art, per se. About the only thing she didn't promise was a Tasmanian re-run of Mao's "Cultural Revolution".

People all around me didn't ask if I was going to The Melbourne Comedy Festival, they asked me which performances they'd see me at. It's not yet compulsory, but it's verging on socially unacceptable not to be there. The fact is, I boycotted it.

Not because, according to The Age, (March 22), Comedy Festival director Susan Provan had gone out of her way to attract acts which were against the Iraq War, or who were rabidly anti-American, or because she highlighted Rod Quantock's "Axis of Stupidity" show.

Or because she featured Lawrence Mooney, whose claim to fame is that he was the first comedian to include jokes about the Bali bombing, and says "anything is fair game" for a laugh. (But for all his anti-censorship bravado, he once "chickened-out" of telling the jokes when he was told a Bali victim was in the audience. It's okay to joke about the Bali bombing victims, but only if it's behind their backs?).

And it was not because of the involvement of the ubiquitous Guy Rundle, who not only co-produces Channel 9's Comedy Inc., but is editor of the Marxist journal, Arena, and whose influence in the Melbourne comedy scene is downright pernicious.

Then why? Because for all their talk of "anything's good for a laugh", Bali bombing victims included (when it's safe), and for all the bile spewed out against Americans, George Bush and John Howard, Provan's "comedy kings" worked to censor any act that might be deemed "offensive" or "politically incorrect".


Ms Provan told The Age's Gabriella Coslovich (March 22) that "while in principle she is anti-censorship", she refused two American comedians spots in the Festival because they had made anti-Muslim comments in their US acts.

"That's not to say that war and politics are off the Comedy Festival agenda," writes Coslovich. Far from it! "It all depends on the schtick."

"Schtick", or the Yiddish shtick? Whatever, in plain English, Ms Provan is telling us that some comedians were banned from participating in The Melbourne Comedy Festival for the same reason that dissident artists become "non-persons" in totalitarian states.

Coslovich's Age article was headed, "Festival organiser learns the secret of great comedy ... timing." No, her "secret" is political censorship.

Ms Provan told The Age that although The Comedy Festival continues to attract record crowds, last year it managed a surplus of just $33,000, less than one per cent of its turnover.

"If people stay at home in droves and are glued to CNN" (watching the progress of the war that she and her featured artists have so stridently opposed) "it could have a really damaging effect on our continued sustainability."

Precisely. Which is why I and, I hope, many others, stayed at home. You might even consider it a "national duty".

  • Raymond Watson

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