Australians are losing their bullshit detectors
One of the advantages of being overseas in November is that I’m able to completely bypass the middle class festival of crass that is the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, the Spring Racing Carnival is a popular horse racing event held Down Under. It’s an annual celebration that combines two of the things Australians do best – gambling and binge drinking – with the not-so-Australian tradition of paying six figure appearance fees to vapid Hollywood celebrities.
Yes, the appearance of the Tinseltown celebrity at the Melbourne races is a strange and mystifying phenomenon. Clicking through the photos of this year’s crop of guests, several questions sprang to mind:
Does Sarah Jessica Parker really care about the latest fashions in Melbourne as she claims to?
Does Sarah Jessica Parker know what hemisphere she is in for the 5 minutes she’s in Australia?
Is Sarah Jessica Parker conscious? (Seriously, she might be sleep-walking. It’s hard to tell. Not that it matters.)
Is it just me, or are there more stars being wheeled in from Hollywood than ever before? Many commentators have already lamented the superficiality of some of the celebrities gracing our shores; that probably goes without saying. But it’s not the celebrities themselves who bother me. (I actually love me a bit of celebrity. When I recently received a text message from a friend alerting me that there were film crews shooting scenes for The Good Wife in my street, I was out the door faster than you can say Show Me the Pleasant But Forgettable Actors Who Play the Generic Characters in the Enjoyable Yet Ultimately Formulaic Prime Time Drama!!!).
What is irksome about the Spring Racing Carnival is the mind-numbing brain constipation that one experiences when attempting to understand what marketing cachet these personalities possess as far as the average Australian is concerned and why we pay so much to lure them to our shores. This is apparently what it took to get these celebs Down Under in 2011:
Kim Kardashian: $150,000
Sarah Jessica Parker: $100,000
Dita von Teese: $100,000
Adrian Grenier: $50,000
Shane Warne and Liz Hurley: free drinks
These sums wouldn’t seem so exorbitant, if only I could work out what the attraction is to the broader public. The hired celebrity’s duties are as follows: be wheeled into a corporate marquee, pose for a few photos and then jump on a jet back home. Aside from the photos in tomorrow’s newspaper, there is basically no interaction with the general public.
Perhaps it’s difficult for me to grasp the attraction because I’m not part of the organisers’ target market. My
sense of taste current life situation means that I don’t fall into any of the key demographics, being “the corporate hobnobber”, “the young university student embracing their new found legal ability to purchase alcohol” or “the bogan“, so the races currently don’t hold any appeal to me. (That’s not to say they never will. Who knows, maybe one day I will become a high-flying corporate luncher. Or a bogan. You never know.)
Still, it’s difficult to comprehend how the fleeting presence of a paid celebrity in a luxury corporate marquee that no one is allowed to go near leads to more people wanting to buy a general admission ticket to stand in a paddock and risk being vomitted on. (It’s not that I’m above passing out from excess alcohol consumption, it’s just that I like to do it in more salubrious surroundings.) This might make sense if the poor race-going public were deluded into believing that Dita von Teese genuinely wants to be in Australia to discuss the number 6 race at Randwick with Larry Emdur, except that we all know darn well that she’s only there for the $$$.
This whole business is also normalising some decidedly un-Australian behaviour. Take Adrian Grenier, for example, who backed out of his deal with Emirates at the last minute because another sponsor made him a better offer to appear in their marquee. This is of course after Emirates had made all the transport and security arrangements for Grenier and his “entourage” (urgh). If that wasn’t bad enough, the second deal itself was rumoured to also be in jeopardy once the beacon of class himself heard that his appearance fee wasn’t quite up there with the sums being offered to bigger stars like SJP and Kim Kardashian. Grenier’s thoughts? “I’m doing whatever I want to do”. Uh-huh.
Once upon a time, this sort of form would have been roundly met with chants of “you are a wanker”. One of the greatest strengths of the average Aussie was traditionally the ability to spot a dickhead. Sadly, that now appears to be a dying art as we increasingly fawn over utterly irrelevant celebrities who probably didn’t even know what Australia was until their publicist briefed them 5 minutes before landing.
Some people might argue that this appearance fee rubbish is simply Australia having a mild case of the United States. I think there might be something slightly more disturbing. Unlike the American press, Australian newspapers are obsessed with routinely reporting the “rumoured appearance fee”. In other words, we all know we’re suckers. The bigger the appearance fee, the bigger the schmucks we are, and yet we “ooh!” and “aah!” about it even more. Why is that?
Australia has a slight inferiority complex that results in some fairly odd and desperate attempts to assure ourselves we’re “up there” and “part of it” on the world stage. Getting off on reporting the large sums of money we’re paying is one such example (even though this is completely illogical because it only demonstrates that we have to pay Hollywood stars to come to Australia – but hey, deep seated psychological hang-ups often don’t make sense!). Another example is when crazy shit happens in Australia, say, a mass murderer going on a rampage and killing 35 people. The first story on the 6 o’clock news will be that a mass murderer has gone on a rampage and killed 35 people. The second story will be how this event made the 6 o’clock news in lots of other countries that are bigger than us, with a tally of how many times the word ‘Australia’ was mentioned. Yep, we need help.
Remember how in high school there were always the nice, quiet kids who each had their own talents but felt a bit insecure because they weren’t one of the “popular kids”? Remember how, at some crucial point in high school, some of those kids stuck to their guns and then grew up to be interesting people or high achievers, beating many of their peers at the game of “Who Has Done More With Their Life Since High School?” at the 10 year reunion? But remember how some of those kids, at the same crucial point in high school, began trying to imitate the popular kids – blithely going along with things that they were never really born to do – because they didn’t have the inner sense of self worth to just be themselves? The ones you meet later at the high school reunion who turned out to be pleasant enough, but fairly unremarkable? I really hope Australia doesn’t go that way.