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Thursday, 1 October 2009

Hungry Beast is trying "to tell all sides of a story", according to the website's feedback page. The team at the ABC is big on feedback and is disarmingly candid about its own essential humanity ("we enjoy cuddles and fanmail when we’ve done a good job"). The page goes to some lengths to address the dangers of asking for feedback, one of which is flaming - a scourge of online debate that is enabled by anonymity.

The ABC is a big target, while an individual viewer is a small one. Hence the paranoia.

Please keep in mind that it is possible to disagree civilly. There will be much rigorous debate (we hope) about our stories and what we're trying to achieve with the show -- that is, to tell all sides of a story. So you will sometimes strongly disagree with us, other times you will think we're right on the money. Either way, ad hominem attacks are never good, and will not be tolerated. You can take issue with someone's idea, just express your viewpoint thoughtfully, NO NEED TO GET SHOUTY and never attack someone personally. We want a discussion, not a shut down.

I love that. "No need to get shouty" - all in caps. This is just the way people endanger their reputations when they're not anonymous, and just the way they try to make a point when, anonymous, others disagree with them.

This is all fine, in its way, because the program is all about perception and debate in the public sphere. For this reason - and because the creatives behind Hungry Beast are all bright, well-educated and young - the first episode spent a lot of time attacking the media.

When they weren't attacking the media they visibly tried - as in the segment where they interviewed the wife and mother of an ADF soldier killed in Afghanistan - to give another side of the story. But I want to go now to their treatment of the media.

Actually, what I really want as a blogger is a page on their website detailing which of the team wrote and performed in which segment. It would make the task of writing about the program more rewarding and also easier. Maybe that's something I should suggest.

Three of the segments were 'about' deconstructing the media. The first was the fake press release and website they built for the Levitt Institute. Hungry Beast member Dan Ilic interviewed the guy who 'outed' the scam, and who reported it to MediaWatch, which covered it on Monday night. The scam was effective and well executed, but because it's the segment most people will remember and comment on, I won't go into its details here. In a nutshell, the team put together a credible media pack and sent it out to journalists. The pack described a large study in which it was found that Sydneysiders were more gullible than Melburnians. Many mainstream outlets ran the story, including radio, TV and print. The study was fake. The main 'expert' quoted was named after a bit-part character in Seinfeld, and the institute's street address was an unoccupied house in an inner-Sydney suburb. More details on the Hungry Beast website.

The second media-savvy segment took the piss out of tabloid TV programs like Today Tonight and 60 Minutes. In it, a glossy, vapid-looking reporter trails around a backyard after a black cat asking 'demanding' questions. The story is that the cat, which had arrived unbidden at the house owned by the elderly woman, has recently absconded. This, according to the fictitious story, has upset the woman. Hence the journalist.

Note to tabloid TV: it's impossible to interview cats. Not only can they not speak, but they tend to escape into shrubbery when approached by strange women dressed in dark suits.

The segment also includes a trans-species lawyer who has been brought in to recoup costs expended on the cat after its disappearance. In the story, the journo locates the cat in its new house's garden. Hilarious video of man in suit berating cat as it scampers around the yard.

Hilarious scene also of distraught woman describing how the cat, which she had come to love and on whom she had outlayed $1300, had jumped ship. Insert graphic showing cat paraphernalia. Cut to scene of cat poo on woman's pillow.

Great stuff, guys.

The 'Fuck Pandas' segment will be remembered. In this segment, which takes the form of a debate on whether it is desirable to protect pandas given that they are so difficult to breed in captivity, there are two team members and a guy dressed in a panda suit. The guy in the panda suit acts as an effective prop and also serves to look silly.

Looking silly is important because the sketch is designed to attack 'objective' reporting as currently practised in the media. Objectivity is that old chestnut that journalists trot out when they are trying to defend their profession against attack. It hardly ever works. The sketch shows why it hardly ever works.

It hardly ever works because just giving two, opposing sides to an argument the space to air their opinions cannot really be classed as objectivity. While the team member on the left says "Fuck pandas, Charles Darwin would agree", the guy on the right comes over all schmaltzy and tree-huggy. This is about the level of 'debate' we are accustomed to in the Australian media. No wonder there are flame wars.

Excellent segment, guys.

Hungry Beast goes where The Chaser went but it does it in a less acerbic, more geeky fashion. Instead of vox pops that are weighted in favour of a laugh from the outset, the Hungry Beast guys are like those sedentary types who, at school, would have surprised everyone with an earnest class project that included lots of nice drawings and accurate facts that even a science teacher would be proud to listen to.

Andrew Denton, the popular TV host and the brain behind the venture, should be proud.

1 comment:

Pakistan News said...

Great job guys, it is really wornderful.