27 August 2008

Yes, I have a new favourite TV show

"As you know, weakness is a plague that is destroying this great country, Australia."

So says Steve Foxx, the star/host of cult TV show Double The Fist, which has returned to our screens after a four year hiatus. And you know, I think that he's right.

Australian TV is in a sad place. And, you know, I think that the powers that be really haven't got a clue about why that is.

This is best typified by the sadness that is your average Aussie dad who sits at home in the dark watching whatever woeful British detective show happens to be on the ABC at any point in time, just because the ABC doesn't have ads:

Dikkii: Hey Dad, why don't we flick over to Seven - there's this great new high budget show on that the critics seem to like.

Dikkii's dad: No way. It's American. I want to watch Doc Martin.

Dikkii: That's not exactly a criticism, Dad. I could criticise Doc Martin for being British.

Dikkii's dad: What's wrong with that?

Dikkii: Firstly, nothing. Which is my point. Secondly, I'm not accurately describing the cliched picture postcard seaside English village with the grumpy doctor and countless other stereotypes recycled from The Vicar of Dibley, Bergerac and every other British series. Thirdly, will you hang around to hear me tear into the banal scripting, the bland storylines, the offensive romantic threads, the cloyingly friendly villagers, the... hey dad, where you going?

Dikkii's dad: I'm going upstairs to watch it. You can have your exciting, high-budget American...

Narrator: Given that sister number two married an American, there really is no need for the way he spits out the word "American". Plus, it's unnecessary - he uses it in a derogatory way for American TV, but if you took it out of context, you might think that he had a low opinion of everything and everyone American. Or something.

Dikkii's dad: ...show that you seem so keen on viewing.

Meanwhile, what apparently passes for quality Australian TV is relegated to stultifyingly boring clones of Doc Martin set in the Torres Strait or the Bellarine Peninsula. If I see another "quality" piece of Australian TV set in the country or in a seaside town, I'm going to dry-retch.

The sad state of Australian TV is best exemplified by comedy which was once an edgy and subversive genre typified by shows such as The Naked Vicar, Aunty Jack, Norman Gunston and Kingswood Country.

Now, the best comedy that Australia has to offer seems to come in the form of shows that rely on cleverness for their appeal, such as Frontline or Kath and Kim. And while cleverness can be appreciated, it simply does not perform in the belly laugh stakes compared to idiot humour, toilet humour, double-entendre, smut and slapstick.

Not only that, but as Steve Foxx might say, it's completely weak.

Let me tell you a story about my relationship with Double The Fist.

About three years ago, sister number one gave me a DVD of the first few episodes of the first season of this show. I watched the episodes. I didn't actually "get" them. I promptly forgot about them.

To me, it was another "clever" attack on bogan culture. And an ultra-low budget one at that - season one was reportedly shot for under AUD $250,000.

For the benefit of my international readers, "bogan" is a generic Australian term that roughly translates into North American English as "white trash" or into British English as "chav". Regional variations exist - in Sydney, a bogan is referred to as a "westie", in Hobart, a "chigga" and in Brisbane and Canberra, I believe that terms such as "booner" and "bevan" have been used in the past. But "bogan" has gained national currency over these in recent years.

Unlike their North American or British counterparts, there has never been any outright hostility in Australia towards bogans. Nor is there a racial component - you can be a bogan from an Anglo-Celtic background just as easily as a bogan from an Arabic background.

Indeed, the main characters in Double The Fist are all pretty much bogans.

But that was then.

Fast forward to 2008, and after the event, I hear on the grapevine that Double The Fist has re-commenced a new season on the ABC. Something was tweaking my curiosity about this show: Was there something that I missed the first time around? Did I subconsciously "get it" and not know about it?

So I went and downloaded the first episode.

In the first couple of minutes, it all snapped into place. I got it.

In short, this is a show of pure genius. And it may just save Australian comedy.

Double The Fist is a celebration of what it means to mix fantasy in with reality. It's both a parody, and a far more extreme version of, Jackass, the Three Stooges, B-movies, splatter movies, ozploitation flicks and ridiculous storylines.

It's prime goal, is to find activities that can be deemed to be fistworthy.

It has a plot - in the early episodes, it was this extreme sport show where our four main competitors - Foxx, his brother Rod, The Womp and Mephisto - as well as their ever present sidekick in a Panda suit, Panda go out of their way to try activities that make them worthy of "fist".

They dot this with little snippets where our crew go out to do ridiculous activities to either be awarded "full fist" or penalised with "no fist".

The difference with this as opposed to a show like Jackass, is that (a) humiliation is non-existent - these guys have no shame, and (b) the stuff they do is clearly stupidly life-threatening and probably couldn't be tried at home.

Indeed, in the first two episodes of the current season, there are two deaths but our intrepid posse bounce back as good as ever the next week. Now, they're fighting vampires, zombies, local councils, medieval recreation societies, etc.

In short: fighting weakness.

Shall we meet the characters?

Steve Foxx

An angry, angry man. Foxx is on a crusade to rid Australia of weakness. And host what he describes as the world's greatest TV show. At the end of season 1, he found himself in space.

He returned to earth the fistworthy way, of course:

Rod Foxx

Rod sees himself as a ladies man and all round athlete. Which translates as a bit of a sleaze who clearly wanks in front of mirrors. Since the end of season 1, he's grown what can really only be described as possibly the most spectacular mullet ever seen.

He also likes to watch certain sports:


Mephisto is a nob. And a dodgy one at that. Supposedly, he's a failed security guard who's wanted by tax authorities in multiple locations.

He's always thinking ahead:

The Womp

An ex-wrestler in a state of arrested development. The Womp has a high pain threshold, supposedly because he suffered a brain injury when he was younger.

Womp has been getting work as a stunt clown at demolition derbies:


Foxx's assistant. It speaks volumes that Panda is both female and the smartest one of the whole crew.

Panda is Panda (from season 1):

So there you go.

Just before I finish this off, get a load of the trailer for season 2 - talk about over the top:

I'll say it again: This show is sheer genius.

Download episodes 1 and 2 here and view them, or are you unworthy of fist?

18 August 2008

China and the Olympics

It's just fantastic what we hear from Beijing during these Olympic Games. I personally would like to know who the fuck is "Chinese Taipei"? Why can't our craven media call them Taiwan? Why do we have to sit through hearing athletes from "The People's Republic of Korea" and "Korea" when everyone knows these countries as North and South Korea? Why does our idiot team of TV commentators then insist on calling the Czech Republic "Czechoslovakia"? Why not call Georgia the "Soviet Union"? Or would this be just too wrong?

But this post is about putting the boot into China.

First of all, we heard that the footage of the fireworks for the Olympic broadcasts from the opening ceremony were faked. Nice. China, the land that invented fireworks couldn't be arsed to do it properly themselves.

Then, we heard that not only was there a good reason why seven year old Lin Miaoke, the little cherub who won over our hearts with her rendition of "Ode To The Motherland", appeared to be miming: She didn't even sing the tune that she was miming to. Another seven year old named Yang Peiyi had recorded the song for Lin to mime to. But, because her adult teeth were starting to come through, she simply wasn't photogenic enough for the Chinese.

Now, we hear that all the kids representing the ethnic minorities of China were, in yet another instance of Beijing pissing all over the rest of the country, Han Chinese. The Han are, of course, the ethnic majority.

Let's put this in perspective. It's 2012 and London is hosting the games. Imagine if they decide to have a bunch of kids from all over the country, and the little tyke representing some Welsh coalminer's daughter turns out to be someone named Trace from Essex. The resulting riots would end the Olympic movement for good.

Of course, we're not going to see riots in China. Oh no, the limitations on all the foreign journos have put paid to that. We're not going to see Tibetans, Uighurs, or any of the other Chinese minority peoples protesting. China is still a vastly communist country when it comes to law and order, even if it isn't much anymore from an economic perspective.

Wang Wei, the Executive VP of the Beijing games organising committee is on record as having accused the foreign media of "nitpicking" over these, and other controversies which have dogged the games so far. While Wang's refreshingly un-Chinese touch of 'tude is to be admired, one can't help but notice the question that it begs: Exactly how big does a controversy need to be to raise it above the status of petty "nitpicking"?

15 August 2008

Rock epic of the month: "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" (Iron Butterfly) 1968

Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.

Some of you are thinking, 'It had to happen.' Some of you are thinking, 'Couldn't he have avoided this one?' Some of you are thinking, 'It took him long enough.' And some of you are thinking, 'This is just too obvious.'

To which I say, 'Der,' 'No he couldn't have,' 'I was getting around to it,' and 'Sod off you wankers. And the horses you rode in on.'

Yes. The classic Iron Butterfly song, or I. Ron Butterfly song, if you really want, was a drug-addled hoot when it was released back in the day, and it's still one incredibly silly and indulgent piece today.

Heavy metal, as we now know it didn't really come into being until the power metal bands of the late seventies and early eighties. But it's history is shrouded in all sorts of stories.

Some say it started with The Who when Pete Townshend went berzerk with a series of windmill power chords. Still others like to cite The Kinks' classic rifforama from 'You Really Got Me'.

Some say it was white boys playing the blues loudly, such as the early work of Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds. Others again like to cite the work of Jimi Hendrix, Cream (which also featured Clapton) and even The Doors.

And then there are the pure psychedelicists, who will go straight to the louder end of the psychedelic spectrum to where acts like Steppenwolf, Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly sat.

Whatever, we all know where it went from here. There was the Led Zeppelin faction, with their fairies at the bottom of the garden and bustles in your hedgerows. There was the Black Sabbath faction, with all Tony Iommi's riffing and Ozzy Osbourne's internal demons. There was Deep Purple's work, which partly paved the way for prog rock. And there was the totally out there amped up post-psych of Blue Öyster Cult and the totally pedestrian musical stylings of Grand Funk Railroad.

But Iron Butterfly will always be remembered for this, the one tune that everyone remembers them for - a tune that clocks in at 17:05, and the title track off their second album.

'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' was so long that it took up the entire length of side B. The name of the tune apparently comes from a drunken conversation that singer and keyboardist Doug Ingle had with drummer Ron Bushy where Bushy wrote down what he thought Ingle had said, and thus the tune was no longer titled 'In The Garden Of Eden' any more.

The band, completed at this stage by Eric Brann on guitars and Lee Dorman on bass, recorded this monster epic as a jam in the studio where everyone has their moment.

It starts off with the signature horror-movie organ at the start, before launching into the main riff, which, to 1968 society, must have seemed like one of the heaviest things imaginable. The tune only really strays from the main riff in a couple of spots, mainly during the choruses, but also a bit during the breakdown in the middle. Dorman manages to stay in the groove most of the way through without sounding too bored.

It eventually re-assembles itself to come back for another verse and chorus near the end, but by this stage, you're either thanking the gods of rock and roll, or falling asleep.

The breakdown itself is truly epic, and longer than the rest of the tune: There's more than one organ solo. And more than one guitar solo. And even a drum solo. This is one tune that will have you punching the air and giggling as you play it loud to annoy the hell out of your girlfriend, or cringing in a corner hoping that no one catches you listening to it.

There simply is no middle ground here. It's either monumentally offensive and stupid, or it's a glorious slab of medium-octane rock that you can air organ to.

Iron Butterfly did nothing else of note.

Boney M, incidentally, covered this tune. And like everything else that Boney M did, it too, was utter rubbish.

This tune comes in two parts, with some visuals, which are pretty boring, so you might prefer just to listen.

Part 1 ends just after the drum solo, and Part 2 picks up with the second (or is it the third?) organ solo.

Enjoy, or not.

Part 1:

Part 2:

11 August 2008

Open source woo

Congratulations go this week to Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, who has accepted the post of the president of JREF. A more worthy person would be hard to name, considering that the outgoing president is James Randi himself. Randi will stay on as founder and chairman.

I've been staying right out of the whole ridiculousness surrounding "The One", a talent show screening on Australian TV which aims to further the career of the most convincing bullshit artists psychics that go up in front of the cameras. Personally, I found the whole discussion around this show rather refreshing, in an Australian kind of way: The standard joke seemed to be, "Won't they already know the winner if they're truly psychic?"

Never mind that this kinda misrepresents what psychics actually claim to do. For example, a clairaudient doesn't normally claim to be able to see into the future, unless they're Sylvia Browne.

Plus it also removes part of the fun. Watching these con artists psychics going at each other in the hope of winning has been, at least in the snippets that I've seen, hilarious.

I haven't actually been watching it, mostly because it's on on Monday nights when I've been out of the house.

However, I have been reading the week by week updates in SWIFT, and I can tell you that it's actually quite impressive the attention that the JREF have been giving it, although to be honest, Richard Saunders, the token skeptic on the judging panel is quite well known around skeptical circles, both within Australia and abroad. And you know, from what I've seen, Saunders is both erudite and charismatic, has a sense of humour and appears to be approachable. If perhaps a little too quiet to nail a regular spot on TV as a "celeb".

The other judge is a lady by the name of Stacey Demarco who from what I can tell is a stereotypical, credulous, shoot-ones-mouth-off, cliché-spouting, doggerel-delivering, card-carrying woo merchant and certifiable loon. Demarco is smack bang on course to get her fifteen minutes of fame, and calls herself a 'metaphysician'.

You know, before I saw this festering pustule of a TV show, I'd never heard of such occupations as 'medical intuitives'. Nor had I head the term 'psychometry' used outside of recruitment. But now, I'm convinced.

Convinced that people will believe absolutely anything.

After this week's SWIFT, I somehow found myself directed to a site where Saunders was interviewed by someone for a podcast named Lia Ramses where she attempts the Galileo Gambit, invokes Dean Radin's work, and comes out with this:

Soon, the topic of conversation turns to "The One" and after some banter, in which Richard reminds the listeners that the failure rate of contestants exceeded 90%, Ramses asks Richard how he thinks She found the "lost boy" in episode one, given that he doesn't believe she used remote viewing. Richard gives the only logical answer "she went in the right direction and there the little boy was". It's got to be hard to dispute that kind of logic given that no other "psychic" contestant went in that direction and only one other found the boy, after covering most of the available area within the time limit.

(Thanks to Thinking is Real)

After having a bit of a read, I found myself looking around the Ghost Radio site and found a seething wasp's nest of woo. I'm not sure what was more frightening - that fact that the owners of this site believe anything, or that I now have evidence that suggests that there are simply no bounds to human gullibility.

Crop circles, crystal skulls, homeopathy, reiki, there really isn't anything that won't sell. Gullibility is way hip, and there doesn't appear to be anything that you or I can do about it. Particularly in light of the (frankly frightening) revelation that while Richard Saunders will continue to be known as the "the skeptic", Stacey Demarco is guaranteed a spot on the celebrity C-list for the rest of her life.

In order to test my new hypothesis, I dreamed up a great test: Why not build a mill to create the silliest woo imaginable, and then see if it sells?

I think that those of us who are only even slightly creative could come up with some absolute whoppers.

I see this project as having three parts:

  1. A wiki or an online forum where the most insane woo ideas can be kicked around until they're ready to be sold to the general public.

  2. A website where the "phony" woo (OK, you come up with a better adjective) can then be sold to paying punters.

  3. After selling the woo, and covering expenses, any profits left over (and I'm fairly convinced there will be) can be donated to a charity to be nominated. I vote JREF, myself.

In order to preserve the element of surprise, the wiki/online forum should ideally be password protected and users should join by invitation only. Although I do like the open source thing where absolutely anyone can modify an idea, but this kinda kills off the surprise thing.

The wiki/online forum should be able to cover stuff like design and feedback right through to production and logistics.

The website, on the other hand, should be littered with all sorts of disclaimers, so that if a potential buyer goes deaf, dumb and blind, they should still be able to know that "this product has not been scientifically tested" and "we cannot vouch for the accuracy of our claims" etc. After all, we shouldn't be leaving ourselves open to claims of hypocrisy or unethical behaviour.

(I may be a hypocrite, but I sure as hell don't speak for anyone else who may wish to join this worthy cause.)

The products should be kinda cool, though. I know more people who buy decks of tarot cards for the pretty pictures than because they're into tarot readings.

They would also have to be funny.

Lastly, the website should have a clever name - one that if you think about a little, makes it crystal clear that there is mischief afoot.

Oh, and there should be an awards night where the most ludicrous idea gets presented with something like a golden dowsing rod. Or something.

I think that this is a sensational idea. Who's in, and how do we get this underway?

03 August 2008

Devo at Festival Hall Melbourne 31 July 2008

OK, so on Thursday night I went and saw Devo at Festival Hall, otherwise known as Festering Hole. I had a great time.

For those who don't know, Devo are my favourite band ever, and for those who do, you're probably sick of hearing about it. But having never seen Devo live before, I didn't really know what to expect.

I got into Devo quite young - I suppose that to a kid in second grade, a band wearing red hats that look like flowerpots (yes, I know that they're called "energy domes") is sensational - but it was only when I reached university age that I suddenly put two and two together on some of the songs. Particularly the really snigger-worthy ones such as "Uncontrollable urge" and even "Girl u want". Or even the single-entendre of "Penetration in the centrefold".

And having not been to a gig at Festival Hall for close to 10 years (yes, it's been that long) I suppose that I had forgotten exactly how loud the PA in there actually is.

We tried to get there early enough to catch Eddy Current Suppression Ring but sadly we missed them. It's a pity - I hear that they did a great set.

Next up was Regurgitator, who are always good live. And even though they mixed up their set to include old and new, they chose to concentrate quite a lot on their second album, Unit. Not really surprising, given that Unit was so incredibly 80s sounding. The all-white Abba look was strikingly effective as well.

Devo came out and ripped into "Good thing" after a short spiel by General Boy, and a few snippets from their back catalog of music videos. It was pretty good.

I suppose that I was expecting something more synth heavy, and something more approaching a greatest hits package, but what I wasn't prepared for was the sheer volume of the gig. It was brutally fucking loud. They also managed to get the more synthy songs out of the way early so that Jerry could pick up his bass and Bob #2 could transfer to guitar and just spend the rest of the set rocking out.

But anyway, in as best an order as what I remember, here are as many tunes as what I can remember they played:

  • That's good
  • Peek-a-boo
  • Girl u want
  • Whip it
  • Going under
  • Smart patrol/Mr DNA
  • Uncontrollable urge
  • Secret agent man
  • (I can't get no) Satisfaction
  • Gut feeling/Slap your mammy
  • Jocko homo
  • Blockhead
  • Mongoloid
  • Devo corporate anthem
  • Freedom of choice
  • Beautiful world

I was most surprised that their cover of "Secret agent man", as well as "Uncontrollable urge" and "Going under" got played. And they worked quite well.

Sadly, though, they chose to close with "Beautiful world" with Booji Boy on lead vocals, which didn't really work. I admit that they needed a Booji Boy slot for completeness, but it should have been a different tune. "Beautiful world" is probably the most sarcastic song ever written, and maybe it occasionally needs Booji Boy to accentuate the sarcasm in some parts of the world. But the Australian sense of humour is largely rooted in sarcasm so handing this to Booji Boy to do might have been a little over the top.

But you know the best part of this gig - no mosh pit!

Anyway, it's two days after the gig and I still have a ringing in my ears. So I must have enjoyed it.

Here's a few videos of the gig as posted to YouTube:

1. Collage of various tunes (sound quality OK)

Includes bits of "Uncontrollable urge", "Mongoloid", "Jocko homo", "Devo corporate anthem", "Freedom of choice" and "Beautiful world"

2. "Whip it" (sound quality passable)

3. "Going under" (sound quality barely rateable)

4. "Mongoloid" (sound quality rubbish)

5. "Girl u want" (sound quality not much better)

Hope that you enjoyed this.