Monday, February 20, 2012

Michael Duffy, and let us talk of conspicuous consumerism and public transport and sustainability ...

(Above: a shaker clock, because we wanted to start with something simple in this troubled week. Click to enlarge).

The one thing the world doesn't need is a single word more written about the rumble between former chairman Rudd and current incumbent Gillard, except to marvel at the number of people who've never heard the story of the scorpion and the frog (naturally Aesop is now wired here).

Which is why it's such a relief to turn to the Duffster, Michael Duffy, the very original inspiration for the pond, who nicely dissects the television show Grand Designs in Building egos as well as homes.

Something's happened to Michael Duffy since he went off to work for the ABC on Counterpoint, and stopped writing regular columns which he felt the need to dress with an ideological, ersatz conservative bias. He got interested in crime, and on the show he gets actively interested in the ideas of others, bizarre as they might be.

The zealtory is now left to guests, and to the likes of hapless one time cartoonist, the deeply disturbed and embittered Patrick Cook, who turns up for a monthly rant sounding like a lemon that's squeezing its own pips.

Of late the show has been breaking things up with tunes by the likes of Dr. John, The Doors and Gram Parsons, pure hipster groove from the seventies and beyond.

There's something deeply cardigan-wearing and ABC quaint about those musical choices, all the more so as the pond has a particular taste for Parsons and the good doctor.

Now you might think it's the pond that's changed, but the musical taste once on view on the Duffster's show was much more inclined to musical exotica from the thirties, or blues, or whatever. This had the virtue of avoiding music from the culture wars days, while asserting an idiosyncratic taste for popular music.

Is there any reason to doubt that the moment Gerard Henderson hears the Doors blaring out of the radio, he switches it off and asserts that there are no genuine conservatives working in the ABC?

In 2006, the ABC did not have one conservative presenter or executive producer on any of its key TV or radio programs - although many on the left held such positions. (here).

Of course in 2006, the ABC had the Duffster, and in the usual way Henderson gives himself an out with the word "key" which allows him to dismiss Counterpoint as "not key" - such are the joys of being a pedant.

Back in in those days the Duffster was playing Peggy Lee, Bryan Ferry, Janet Seidel doing Jingle Bell Rock, Jack Teagarden doing Basin Street Blues, Billie Holiday doing Summertime, Jack Teagarden doing I'm An Old Cowhand ... and so on and so forth.

In all the columns that Gerard Henderson has written, I can't recall one mention of music, or an enthusiasm for same, or any interest in literature or architecture or the plastic arts. Instead what's offered is a monotonous drone from the hive mind about history and politics, always with a drone hive ideological bias ...

And pretty much the same can be said for Paul Sheehan, whose flights of ecstasy, whose understanding of the y'arts pretty much comes back to raving about the quality of yeast in certain magic breads.

Which is why it's such a relief that the Duffster has now surfaced in the Herald, while Sheehan has gone off to Europe to reinforce all his prejudices about how western civilisation is doomed, and it's all the fault of lazy Celts and Greeks.

The Duffster's demolition of Grand Designs - a show much enjoyed by the pond for its parade of weirdos and eccentrics - is spot on, but most tellingly, it's told from a modest and puritanical - one almost might say ABC - viewpoint.

He slam dunks the building of large "concrete brag" boxes in the modernist way, recalling the good old days of Patrick Cook when the cartoonist took Harry Seidler's Bauhaus ways apart in a cartoon, and Seidler sued and lost.

The Duffster talks of materialism and consumerism, and the price of taps, and the celebration of space porn, since the houses on view are much larger than what you find around Britain, or in parts of Australia (though really to understand space porn, you need to go to the United States and compare and contrast the difference between trailer parks, shotgun cottages and the average mansion in Beverly Hills - here for all your realtor needs with new mansions becoming available daily).

The Duffster is astute at picking apart the key points in the genre, most notably the many rural settings in which the grand designs are built (though the rhetoric about being complementary can also apply to weird erections in a traditional urban landscape):

These settings produce one of the show's great unconscious jokes - and it does have lot of humour once you can spot it - the solemnity with which the audience is assured, by everyone on screen, how wonderfully a flat-topped box can complement a traditional landscape.

And the Duffster nails another element that's always bewildered the pond, which is that after erecting this grand monument to architecture, the spaces themselves are usually dressed out with furniture art and other hideous banalities of the IKEA school of household design (yes the pond lives in a mess cluttered by junk and books and discs and coffee tables hidden by books):

The grand designers are the modern bourgeoisie, but lack some of the redeeming features of their predecessors. Their lives appear to be completely devoted to making money and spending it. With the exception of the obligatory passing reference to how they're doing it all for their children, there is rarely any mention of community or religion or volunteer activity or what once passed for culture. Most Grand Designs homes do not have granny flats or gardens you'd want to walk in. Or bookshelves. Their walls are often bare of images, apart from photographs of the occupants or something slick that looks like it was bought from IKEA. This helps explain why the interiors seem more like magazine photographs than places to live.

Eek, the Duffster and the pond are as one ... and yet, and yet, the same could be said for the relentless droning of commentariat columnists, who might allow in a little religion but ban the rest as fripperies.

The viewpoint, if we may speak to it, is arguably very ABC, certainly inclined to the puritanical and conservative in the old sense of the word. The Duffster takes a view of the outer suburbs which is a little askance, and would be certain to send Gerard Henderson into a frenzy:

...a surprising number of the homes in the program, with their wow-factor entrance halls and acres of bare floor, resemble the sort of thing you see in upmarket Sydney housing estates and display-home villages.

Well he didn't actually say McMansions, but we know what he meant.

The Duffster even sounds vaguely disapproving of the way Grand Designs value adds to the re-sale of a house, and then goes shockingly green:

These houses might be expensive, they might be enormous, but surely they are, at least, green? Words such as ''sustainable'' are thrown about on the program, but with more passion than rigour. Not many of the homes in the 11 series are near public transport. Often a perfectly good older home on the site is destroyed, along with all the embodied carbon it contains. The new home, constructed by belching machines using materials flown in from around the globe, is generally enormous and open plan, with high ceilings and massive windows on one side. The lighting and heating bills must be considerable, no matter how much is spent on the triple-glazed gas-filled windows imported from Scandinavia.
Despite the implausibility of these green claims, I suspect - for I am an optimist - they indicate a slight trace of remnant guilt about the orgy of consumerist materialism on display. Here also, in the desire to have its cake and eat it, Grand Designs is typical of the wider world.

Now it's hard to agree with any of this, and you might even add in the question of the sustainability of Kevin McCloud wandering around the countryside, wasting resources filming the erection of these personal monstrosities, as these towers of Babel rise up to the clouds, and the Kraken awakes in the countryside.

But surely the real point here is the way the Duffster has changed, as he reveals he cares about resources, public transport, and sustainability, and the need for a remnant guilt about the orgy of consumerist materialism.

Why it's almost Quakerish, it's certainly Shakerish, though the point where Shaker furniture and IKEA designs come together is alarmingly close on occasions (see the wiki on Shaker furniture).

There are any number of upsides to this tale. Firstly, no Paul Sheehan on a Monday, secondly, none of Gerard Henderson's monomaniac pedantry, and thirdly an interesting tour through a television show which has lasted some eleven series on the ABC, as seen by an ABC worker ...

In contrast, the likes of the Bolter rarely writes about his secret passion, opera, as if it's something that should be checked at the door, hidden lest it reveal something deeply disturbing and unsettling about him. Well I guess this is revealing:

May I never hear The Fiery Angel again, or see an Orpheus and Eurdyce set in a junkyard.

... Teracini should also note that the de-glamorising of opera and opera venues in Australia has also helped to kill opera as a sensual experience. (here).

Yes, the Bolter is simply a dullard in love with opera as glamor and incapable of enjoying Prokofiev (what does he make of Wozzeck, one wonders, without giving a toss about the answer). It's likely his taste never evolved much past Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, and the glamour, dear thing, the sensual glamour ...

Above all, the pond has been saved from thinking about Rudd v. Gillard, and the endless coverage devoted to it by the mutants at Murdoch.

For that alone, the Duffster now enters the pond's pantheon of people who have a life outside politics ...

There has to be something said for the civilising power of the invisible culture that affects everyone at the ABC ...

(Below: and now for that infamous Cook cartoon).

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