Fauxstralian Britain

 Mark Simpson on how we’re all Australian now  

(One from the vaults, originally appeared in the Guardian Guide, 2001 – at what now looks like Oz’s cultural high-water mark)

If you listen carefully to the soundtrack on Puppetry of the Penis, a video of the show which recently toured Britain to sell-out audiences in which two Australian men, one with long frizzy hair, the other with a handlebar moustache, make their genitalia do impressions of hamburgers and vaginas, you will hear people laughing. Not the audience, who are too busy steaming up their opera glasses, but millions of Australians. 

Laughing at us.

They’re laughing because, as the video demonstrates amply (though not that amply – contrary to myth, not all Antipodean didgeridoos are as big as Rolf Harris’), the British are suckers who will pay any amount of money to see Australians perform ‘Australian’ for them. ‘Australian’, as any Aussie knows, is a British fantasy of Oz, as fictitious but as profitable as Fosters lager; a cartoon version of an Australia which if it ever existed at all ceased being the dominant one long before Paul Hogan’s first facelift.

This is because Britain is in love with her own vulgar fantasy of Australia, and for some time now has wanted nothing more than to forget her Imperial past, her class culture, her uncertain future – to forget herself and throw her starchy knickers in the air and become ‘Australian’. America is too big and powerful a former colony to patronise, Canada too boring and too French. So we have chosen Australia. 

Truth is, the British have been praying for years that those visitors from the Lucky Country would leave their surfboards under their beds and they would wake up pod-Australians, in a kind of Invasion of the Bollocks Scratchers. Hence Puppetry of the Penis will be watched as a ‘How To’ video by a nation of whingeing Pom Aussie wannabes. 

This Christmas, expect thousands of hotly embarrassed Brit males to be admitted to casualty departments around the country, doubled-up in agony, knees pointing together. Legions of Australian rugby players will have to be hired to tackle the knotty problem. 

However, the worst of it is that for all our desperate, painful attempts to become ‘Australian’, we Poms have only succeeded in becoming lousy Aussies. Australia has been described by the British as ‘Essex plus sunshine’, but actually the flip-flop is rather on the other foot.

As you can see from the evidence accumulated below, Britain today has ended up becoming Australia minus the sunshine, the swimming pools, the dentistry, a functioning transport and health-care system, or the self respect.

POLITICS

According to pollsters, we Brits are now almost as dissatisfied with the monarchy as our Southern hemisphere cousins. Interestingly, Australians recently decided in a referendum that that while they weren’t fond of the monarchy they weren’t too keen on the Republican alternatives either – a position which closely approximates that of British voters today.

The difference is, of course, is that we Brits would never be actually asked by anyone other than a market researcher – or the Guardian – whether we actually want the monarchy or not. And we’re the ones that have to actually have to live with the Windsors, and pick up their bills. 

SPORT

Like the Aussies, the British have succeeded in becoming bad losers as well. Unlike the Aussies we still don’t actually win anything. Meanwhile, it seems to be only a matter of time before England Captain David Beckham forces the England squad to adopt the Aussie Rules Football kit as an ‘efficiency’ measure (he’ll be able to play football and pursue his saucy semi-porno modelling work at the same time).

CULTURE

Many of our intellectuals are not only Australian expats: Germaine Greer, Clive James, Robert Hughes, Rolf Harris. It has been said that British culture has been ‘tabloidised’ – of course The Sun, the uber-tabloid which began this process, is owned by an Australian. However, if instead of ‘tabloidised’ we used the more accurate ‘Australianized’ no one would see what there was to complain about.

Everyone knows that regardless of who comes and goes in Whitehall reshuffles, the real British Culture Secretary for the last twenty years has been Sir Les Patterson. Interestingly, when someone wants to depict ‘Sydney’ visually they show an opera house; when people want depict ‘London’ they now show that big ferrous wheel on the South Bank. 

FOOD

We now all, by law, eat in public, especially on buses. We even eat in our back gardens when there is nothing wrong with our kitchens, poisoning our friends and gassing our neighbours, pretending we know how to use a ‘barbie’.  Often this is because most Brits can’t actually afford to eat ‘out’ properly, certainly not at London prices – which are designed to keep riff raff without company charge-cards out.

So it’s just as well most of us don’t know how many fine, and very, very busy inexpensive restaurants there are in modern Sydney and Melbourne.

SEXUALITY

Gay Pride Marches in Manchester, London and Brighton have renamed themselves ‘Mardi Gras’ parades, imitating, woefully, the world-famous street carnival in sultry Sydney. Every year, thousands of UK gays develop terrible colds as a result of dancing half naked on ‘Priscilla Queen of the Dessert Trolley’ floats in sleet showers.

Meanwhile, the heterosexual population of the UK seems to be becoming as laid back about homosexuality and previously unconventional sexual mores as the Aussies, including: sex out of wedlock, sex not in the missionary position, and even sex with the lights on.

POP

Australian soap operas swallowed British pop music whole. A helium-voiced, big-toothed Australian dwarfette former Neighbours star still reigns supreme in the British pop charts despite launching her pop career way back in the 1980s. This is down to the fact that her name is the most ‘Australian’, silliest name anyone in the UK has heard of and in fact a name the mere pronouncing of which makes anyone sound ‘Australian’. And because it means we can carry on ignoring contemporary, rather more interesting Australian acts, such as The Avalanches.

Meanwhile, the most important rock band of the last decade, Oasis, might have been mistaken for Australians if it wasn’t for their misanthropy and their inability to hold their drink. (It’s clear now that Oasis’ antecedents weren’t the Beatles at all but Men at Work).

MEN

New Lad was just a watered down form of ‘Australian’. A magazine version of ‘mate’ culture (confusingly, ‘Puppetry of the Penis’ is the video of the magazine). Estuary English a poor approximation of Australian. ‘Men Behaving Badly’ was all about this – hence the spin-off ‘Men Behaving Badly Down Under’ was not only inevitable but what the whole series was working towards.

‘Mooning’ only became a New Lad sacrament because we thought it was the national sport of Australia. Ironically, just as Australia was becoming one of the most metropolitan and middle-class countries in the world, we decided that it was a benchmark of non-ponce ‘authenticity’ and vulgarity. How sad are we?

WOMEN

Ladettes are just a pale imitation of Australian women.  (See early Germaine Greer)

TV

ITV has run whole ‘Australian’ weekends (ITV is almost synonymous with ‘Australian’ anyway). The dominant British TV format – reality TV – was developed in Australia, e.g. Sylvania Waters and Popstars. In fact, British docusoaps were really just national talent searches for somebody as irritating and as vulgar as the loud-mouthed woman in Sylvania Waters. (Whom we hated because she had a much higher standard of living than we did).

The biggest TV success of recent years, Big Brother, is clearly based on the British idea of an ‘Australian’ shared house in Willesden, North London, where the residents wear the same shorts in bed and out, and while away the hours making porridge, sunbathing, scratching, getting drunk, and talking complete bollocks. 

There are already rumours that the next generation of Big Brother programmes, tentatively called Big Sis, will feature a cast of out of work actresses thrown together and forced to wear ill-fitting dungarees and endlessly press towels in the laundry room – when they’re not engaging in very unconvincing lesbian love scenes behind bars.

Critics say this has already been done with a programme called The Girlie Show.

FAMOUS ‘FAUXSTRALIAN’ BRITS

  • Robbie Williams
  • Posh & Becks
  • Tracey Emin
  • Jamie Oliver
  • Zoë Ball
  • Damien Hirst
  • Chris Evans
  • Jenny Eclair
  • Davina McCall
  • Keith Allen
  • Chris Evans
  • Kelvin Mackenzie
  • Chris Tarrant

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American Speedophobia Strikes Again

 

The buff chap with the stuck-on beard above was recently kicked out of a football game in Florida for daring to wear as little on the stands as the cheerleaders do on the pitch. Boo! American Speedophobia strikes again!

It wouldn’t happen in Oz, home of the budgie smuggler and anything-but-shy spornographic rugby players.

And where, with the launch of Amazon.co.au, Mark Simpson Kindle titles are now available to download!

Real Beer For Real Men – A Niche Market?

An Australian beer company tries the ‘buy our beer and save yourself from metrosexuality’ approach.

I’ve been to Australia and can tell you that the beer in question certainly isn’t going to sell itself on something as gay as, er, tasting nice.

I doubt this approach, however ironic it may be, is going to be very effective.  Several ailing American brands, including Hummer and the Republican Party, tried the reassuringly retrosexual approach a few years back, and look what happened to them.

Traditional beer manufacturers have been hit hard by metrosexuality, especially in Australia which, for all its Crocodile Dundee image abroad, is one of the most metrosexualised countries on the planet.  Australian men no longer just drink ‘beer’ (‘Pint please, mate’ ‘What kind?’ ‘What kind?? Do I look like a pooftah!?’) – and instead actually have tastes and preferences.  Even if they still drink beer – and not many young men do – they have standards.  How lah-dee-dah. Even worse, they no longer spend all their disposable income on ‘beer’, but lots of other consumer products, including of course clothes, gym membership and vanity products.

How times have changed.  I remember UK beer ads from the 70s and 80s which sold beer as the essential and compulsory ingredient of masculinity. Some were fun, but generally there was something slightly depressing about them and the men that appeared in them. The masculinity represented in them was generally as mass produced and industrial as the product, and pretty much all the ads depended on the idea that men needed to be medicated with cheap alcohol to enjoy one another’s company.  And there always, always had to be at least three of them in case we though they might be getting up to any funny business.  ‘Beer’ was boring normality on tap.

That tap is running dry.

Tip: M Castro

We’re Better at Everything, Mate: Australia’s Sports Complex

By Mark Simpson, Independent on Sunday (December 3, 2006)

We all know that Australians are better than us. Better looking, better at sport, better at partying, better at sex, better at reality TV shows. Mostly because they told us so. Very loudly.

Little wonder recent Government figures showed half the population of the UK is giving up on Britain and moving to Australia – while the other half is trying to become Australian by watching Neighbours or Kath and Kim or by wearing shorts and flip flops and drinking lager until they hurl. Even the UK’s version of Big Brother is clearly just a bunch of Brits pretending to be Australians living in a shared house in Willesden.  In this topsy-turvy, antipodean world, The Mother Country now wants nothing more than to be the Lucky Country. Mate.

But not everyone is completely open about their Ozspirations.  Richard Beard’s Manly Pursuits: beating the Australians (Yellow Jersey Press) is clearly about a nice, middle-class sporting Englishman’s quest to stop being English and become Australian – while pretending to research a book about why the Australians are so much better at sports than we are. But he doesn’t say this.  Instead he says he wants find out why the fifty-third most populated country is fourth in the medals table at the Athens Olympics – and always spanking our much more populous country’s puny, pale not-very-sporting bottom with a big, firm, sun-tanned hand.

So he travels to Manly, Australia (so named by Captain Arthur Philips because, Beard explains, of the manliness of the naked aborigines on the shore shouting ‘Go home whingeing Poms!’) and takes on the locals at bowls, shooting, golf, swimming, surfing, running and… pub quiz trivia. He mostly gets thrashed.  Even by pensioners and ladies. In between thrashings, he waxes lyrical about the strength and beauty of the sporting Australian male, compares and contrasts Oz and Brit culture (they’re great; we’re rubbish), and dips into some colonial history (they’re plucky; we’re just guilty). He of course, like most people, isn’t really interested in beating the Australians so much as joining them. Even if he hasn’t quite admitted it to himself.

I have to say that while Mr Beard is a good, thoughtful writer, and his book is certainly more fun than a game of rugby against Australians on steroids, I didn’t find his shameless Oz-worship something to smile about. But then, I’m very peculiar. You see, I don’t believe Australians are ‘better’ than us and certainly don’t want to become one.

Oh yes, I once shared Beard’s – and everyone else’s – enthusiasm for all things Australian. Raised on Skippy, Rolf Harris and swimwear catalogues I too yearned for a country where the sun shone all day everyday, where everyone was your mate, kangaroos could talk and ‘Speedos’ meant ‘Y-fronts’.

And then I visited Australia. And it quickly dawned on me that Australia, like Australian skin, is much better in long-shot. Australia is much more Australian from a distance. Close up, it’s just not really worth 24 hours of recirculated flu viruses, deep-vein thrombosis and Love Actually. It’s been left out in the sun too long.

There is though one thing that Australians are indubitably good at: selling Australia. Perhaps this shouldn’t be so surprising since they run the world’s media. Oh, and, sorry, all the best-looking Australians we’ve seen already – either in their visiting rugby teams, their TV soaps, the Hollywood movies they hog, or in the Escort section at the back of gay mags. Leaving behind those hit with the ugly didgeridoo to mind the Barbie.

OK, so they are actually better at sport. Beard comes up with some reasons why. These are: the weather, booze (if you’re an Australian social club the easiest way to get a license is to organise ‘sporting activities’ – so playing sport in Oz is quite literally a way to get drunk), the weather again, all that meat in the diet, and the German Democratic Republic. Apparently Australia slavishly copied the GDR’s hugely successful centralised approach to Olympic sports in the 1970s. And, I’d like to think, for much the same reason: both were tiny countries that everyone was leaving that desperately needed some good PR.

Oh, and: homosexuality. ‘Sport allows men to stare, in detail, without homosexuality alleged or feared,’ Beard explains. ‘Especially in swimming, where in this all-male club bodies are straining, on their fronts, buttocks up, naked, except for tiny lycra Speedos. It’s surely nothing but coincidence that everyone’s favourite words are “mate” and “fuck”.’

Now, I’ve always wanted to believe that Australian sportsmen and their Speedo-clad butts are gagging for it – or rather me – but now I can cite Beard, someone I presume is happily heterosexual, in case any Oz sportsman dares to disagree.

I though have a crazy hunch that, lycra fetishism aside, the main reason why Australians are better than us at sport is because they don’t hate themselves.

Beard’s oh-so-English self-deprecation, amusing for a while, does end up sounding like self-hatred (though when he really lets rip, as he does at the cringeworthy Mike Atherton for example, he can rise to dazzlingly spiteful poetry). On the perennial Republican campaigns to redesign, i.e. de-Brit, the Australian flag he offers: ‘My own idea is to shrink the Union Jack in the corner of the existing flag by half a centimetre each year. No one will notice, and in twenty years it’ll be gone.’

This seems to be Beard’s and much of today’s English middle-class’ attitude towards their own identity. They hope their embarrassing, awkward, damp, guilt-ridden Englishness will just wither away unnoticed and one day they’ll wake up something innocent, tanned, laid-back and athletic with a swimming pool and actually be able to barbecue meat without sending people to hospital.

Sorry cobbers, it ain’t gonna happen. Australians have got not use for self-hating whingeing poms and their whimsical self-mutilating sense of humour.  They’re too busy telling the world how great it is to be Australian. And conquering it.

‘Metrosexual Knobs’ – Can They Satisfy?

Poor Mark Latham, the former leader of the Australian Labour Party, isn’t happy with the state of Australian manhood. Like so many things, it isn’t as good or as big or as satisfying as it used to be. In his new book (curiously titled ’A Conga Line of Suckholes’) he laments:

“One of the saddest things I have seen in my lifetime has been the decline in Australian male culture . . . Australian mates and good blokes have been replaced by nervous wrecks, metrosexual knobs and toss bags.”

I’m not sure who the ‘nervous wrecks’ or the ‘toss bags’ he was referring to are, but when he was talking about ‘metrosexual knobs’ – the phrase that has made headlines around the world – perhaps he had in mind Jamie Brooksby, this year’s Australian Big Brother winner, a young, highly groomed fitness trainer who spent much of his time naked in the bathroom showing the world his assets.

If so, Mark Latham is a very hard man to satisfy indeed. Jamie’s metrosexual knob was more substantial than Sydney Harbour Bridge. If Latham isn’t impressed with this metrosexual knob what on earth does an Aussie retrosexual knob look like?

Well…. Mark Latham.

That his remarks have aroused so many column inches in the global press and ‘half-cocked’ discussions about ‘the crisis of masculinity’ can only be down to the rather fond, rather dated fantasy that the rest of the world has about Australia in general and Australian men in particular – that it’s the last frontier of ‘real’ manliness in an enervated Western World. A masculine Eden, full of Crocodile Dundees wrestling their lunch onto the barbie and their Sheilas into bed.

This would also go some way to explaining the ‘outpouring of grief’ (to use the mandatory cliché) over the ’shocking’ death of the outdoor cabaret artist Steve Irwin, whose worldwide popularity seemed to be based in large part on him being sold as the ‘real’ Crocodile Dundee.

That he died was not, I would venture (at the risk of provoking an outpouring of rage), really quite so surprising – his act depended on extreme recklessness. Nonetheless, his death was talked about in astonished, traumatised tones as if it marked the passing away of a certain kind of old-time masculinity rather than just a particular TV personality. It’s as if people couldn’t quite come to terms with how the retrosexual was apparently killed off by Nature herself, with a poison arrow through his heart.

While I’m sure there are plenty of retrosexual Australians left who haven’t been Stingrayed, particularly outside the metropoli, and while I personally can be rather nostalgic about retrosexuals (so long as they don’t look like Latham), Australia long ago made the transition from industrial to service economy, production to consumerism, mining to makeover, and was also the country whose cutting-edge media helped pioneer the process of turning the sporting male body into a commodity – into appetising meat.

Australia is a highly metro country – not least because, like Mark Latham and Steve Irwin – Australia is highly successful at drawing attention to itself. Oz, that scarcely-populated dusty continent in the middle of nowhere has for many years been parading in the bathroom of the global media village with its knob out.

The Australian male is still on the frontier – but it’s now the frontier of consumerism and me-dia. Call me shallow, but if they’re endowed like Brooksby, I doubt many people, apart from whingeing retired male politicos with faces like a smacked Platypus, will seriously complain if they’re more into sack-and-crack waxing than sheep-shearing, ab crunches than Crocodiles.

In a mediated world, metrosexual knobs win over retrosexual knobs.  Hand(s) over fist.

(Thanks to the website at worst, my best for the ‘grabs’ of Brooksby & Topak  for finding them)