The Dark Days Of Disney: Slavery, Propaganda, Animal Cruelty, And More

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Originally published on Junkee – July 15, 2013

When your company has been making films since 1923, it is inevitable that, as sensibilities shift and time insists on remaining linear, you will find your back-catalogue strewn with quite objectionable content.

And although the Disney company has been under fire in recent years for racial stereotyping – a lazy Jamaican crab in 1989’s The Little Mermaid touts the benefits of not needing a job; the introductory song to 1992’s Aladdin sets up “home” as “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face”; all of Pocahontas is just terrible – back during the heyday of Walt Disney Productions, the inappropriate content really flourished: Propaganda films, a light-hearted look at plantation slavery, actual animal murder for the sake of a documentary, replacing the Bible with Mein Kampf, and the burning of a Catholic Church. You know, classic Disney.

Let’s begin with a charming 1946 short, The Story of Menstruation.

The Story Of Menstruation (1946)

The Story Of Menstruation wasn’t crammed between ‘Chip and Dale’ adventures on Saturday Disney or anything like that; it was an educational film screened in health classes to school-aged students. But a few troubling factors still stand out. Most notably, this film was commissioned by International Cello-Cotton Company, whose stock and trade was the Kotex range of feminine hygiene products (the company are better known now as Kimberly Clark). This commercial coupling is extra evil in that, as the film was screened, students were given a booklet named Very Personally Yours, covering off the Kotex range of products and imploring students not to use tampons – as these were a product of competitors Procter and Gamble, and therefore not a happy purchase.

While these sexual education films are squeamish/horrifying at best, The Story Of Menstruation is filled to the brim with troubling messages, such as the following sage advice for avoiding depression: “No matter how you feel, you have to live with people – and yourself”, and the visual depiction of yucky, red menstrual blood as a pure, snow-white flow.

The film also presses the importance of keeping up appearances, despite the beautiful, natural process tearing through your insides (“It’s smart to keep looking smart!”). It reduces the resulting pain to “a little twinge”, while advising you not to “throw yourself off schedule by getting over-tired, emotionally upset, or catching cold.” There seemed to be a real emphasis on not catching a cold during this magical time, to the point of instructing on shower temperature. (Fun fact: “Not only can you bathe, but you should bathe”!)

Of course, intercourse and reproduction are daintily skipped over (read: not mentioned once during the entire film), although The Story Of Menstruation does mark the first time the word “vagina” was uttered in a motion picture, so there’s that in its favour. I believe Rob Schneider’s The Hot Chick was the second to hit this milestone although, as we all know, this film has dated terribly.

Der Fuehrer’s Face And Education For Death: The Making Of The Nazi (1943)

By 1943, children all around this glorious, spinning globe were enchanted by the Walt Disney Company, and the magical worlds they created. The Silly Symphonies and Mickey Mouse shorts produced throughout the ‘30s were popular and lucrative enough that Walt had been able to step into feature length animation — and by “step into” I mean “invent”. Between 1938 and 1942 the company had pumped out Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi, so naturally the next big brainstorming session concluded with the decision to portray the lovable, easily-flappable Donald as a subservient Nazi.

It wasn’t as crazy a leap from Bambi to Der Fuehrer as it may first seem. By 1942, the studio was in a state of disarray: many animators had been drafted, a lot of previous markets were now cut off to Disney product due to the war, and there was the matter of a pesky little deal Disney made with the US government, to create propaganda films to help with the war effort.

Approximately 500 of Disney’s 550 employees were working exclusively on war-related films, the easy familiarity of Disney’s characters now being used to rally troops and increase support for the cause. During this time, the company created hundreds of shorts, with output ranging from dry educational films for Navy cadets, to Donald Nazi-saluting a photo of Hitler. Donald, for his part, seems to have been the Disney character most caught up in the war effort: a series of five 1942 cartoons see him get drafted (the first of these, Donald Gets Drafted, seems heavily anti-military, despite the Government funding), while more than a few Donald films from this period existed solely to encourage viewers to pay their income tax in order to keep the war effort rolling.

The furthest they went with the Donald character (aside from when he purportedly called WB’s Daffy Duck a “stubborn nigger”) was in Der Fuehrer’s Face, released on New Year’s Day in 1943 because, Happy New Year! Donald is portrayed as a slightly resistant/drone-like Nazi, living in a town where everything — clouds, trees, telegraph poles — is swastika-shaped. Donald is dragged out of bed by, oh, just Himmler, Goebbels and Mussolini, who force him to read Mein Kampf, give him piss-weak war rations, then kick him to a factory, where his job seems to be to make artillery shells and salute pictures of Hitler. This repetitive regime results in a manic episode where Donald begins twisting his body into the shape of a swastika, before flipping out and tripping balls, his world now a spinning rush of singing shells, shrieking snakes, screeching smoke whistles and untold horror. As this is a cartoon, and also 1943, it turns out Heir Duck’s army flirtation was but a dream, with the cartoon ending with a tomato thrown at Hitler’s face – as per film and television laws in the ‘40s.

Oh, and Disney won an Academy Award for the piece.

Two weeks later they followed up with the even more disturbing Education for Death: The Making of the Nazi, which sees a little boy, Hans, gifted to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, who raise the adorable tyke to see that “weakness has no place in a soldier”. Young Hans takes this to heart and embarks on a book-burning spree, swapping out copies of the Bible for Mein Kampf, burning a Catholic Church, and marching throughout his teen and adult years as a “good Nazi”, until he marches right into one of a row of identical graves – marked by nothing but a swastika and his helmet.

No tomato gag this time, just the full-force of the Nazi regime. And you thought Bambi’s mother was brutal. Disney was just setting you up for this.


The Victory March and Seven Wise Dwarfs (1941-1942)

More war-time Disney magic, although this campaign was all about bypassing the adults and hitting the real impressionable minds of the day: the children. This time, war stamps and war bonds are the point of order, first off with a special book for children, which encourages the collection (purchase) of War Savings stamps.

The Victory March book was published in 1942, available for free, and wrapped in a colourful cover depicting some of Disney’s most lovable creations brandishing the Stars and Stripes, marching merrily towards victory. Pinocchio is picketing with a ‘Save Uncle Sam’ sign — a glazed-looking Goofy controlling his strings — while Mickey and Minnie lead the march, their thirst for Nazi blood palpable (Mickey got the taste when he brutally smote the personified broom in Fantasia). The cover reads “this book was prepared at the suggestion of the U.S treasury department”, with sarcastic emphasis no doubt intended on the word ‘suggestion’.

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Inside, the book tastefully conveys the Big Bad Wolf of Goldilocks fame, and three meeker-looking wolves as German, Japanese and Italian fascists, who steal Donald’s single savings stamp – indicating that even Donald wasn’t paying attention to the messages in his propaganda films. Basically, this was the Dollarmites scam of the ‘40s.

Feeling the War Savings message really should be served to children across several formats, Walt Disney also reprised the Seven Dwarfs, one of his most celebrated creations at that point. This time, Disney stripped each of them of their one defining trait, instead painting them equally as the Seven Wise Dwarfs.

And what makes the seven dwarfs wise, aside from their ability to brainwash a princess into staying in their pokey cottage for years as a live-in maid? Well, in the four years that had passed since their first cinematic outing, the dwarfs had moved from the dark depths of the mystical forest to the outskirts of Ottawa, working there in an undisclosed mine. After uncovering a mess of gemstones, our diminutive friends do what all miners do, and immediately invest in Canadian War Savings Certificates — an extremely wise and patriotic move.

The short film doesn’t shine any light on whether, four years on, Snow White and Prince Charming had yet had the awkward discussion where she questions his initial reasons for making out with her corpse. That’s more of a three-months-in kind of conversation.

Song Of The South (1946)

Definitely the most controversial film in Disney’s canon – quite a feat when you have a cartoon child systematically torching churches in your catalogue – Song Of The South has never been released in its entirety on home video, and met widespread condemnation upon its 1946 release. Mainly due to Disney taking the Seven Dwarfs’ cheerful “whistle while you work” motif and importing it directly to black plantation slaves.
Set in the South during the Reconstruction-era (i.e. post-abolishment of slavery), it nevertheless paints protagonist Uncle Remus firmly as a slave, albeit the willing, acquiescing type. The easy relationship between master and slave was too much for many to handle, as were the clichéd, racist mannerisms of many of the share-croppers, topped off by Disney-style skirting over any of the major issues the film dabbles in/exploits for commercial gain.

Disney weren’t blind to the controversy the film would arouse upon release; that’s why they chose to set the film in a time of post-abolition – although the delineation was needlessly muddy. Time Magazine warned the film would “enrage all educated Negroes”, and the National Negro Congress picketed screenings, while The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issued a statement which read in part: “In an effort neither to offend audiences in the North or South, the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery. Making use of the beautiful Uncle Remus folklore, Song of the South unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts.”

Remember, this public outrage was in 1946, so the content has only become more offensive. The film was reissued ten years later, before being sensibly buried in the ‘60s to avoid the studio becoming an easy target during the civil rights turmoil. Disney announced in 1970 that it had “permanently” been retired, although there it was, was back in cinemas, in 1972.

Song Of the South has never enjoyed a home video release in America – it would be a troubled addition to any child’s collection – although numerous cinematic re-releases have occurred, the most recent of which was in 1986, to mark the film’s 40th anniversary. In 2010, Disney CEO Robert Igor dismissed Song Of The South as “fairly offensive” and “antiquated”, suggesting a re-release is unlikely.

But should he ever wish to argue the merits of this frightfully offensive film, he could point out that actor James Baskett, who portrayed Uncle Remus, was the first black man to win an Academy Award – which, we smugly counter, almost makes up for the fact he wasn’t allowed to attend his own film’s premiere: Atlanta was still racially segregated in 1946.

White Wilderness (1958)

Given the previous entry, it would be easy to surmise by its name that this 1958 film was another unfortunate racial mis-step. White Wilderness, however, is simply an Academy Award-winning nature documentary about the curious habits of the adorable lemming. Awww, bless!

Filmed over three years, the documentary is notable for its critical levels of cuteness — until a shocking scene in which a rush of lemmings roll/slide/leap off a cliff-face into the Arctic Ocean. The narrator stresses this is simply a gang of migrating lemmings approaching a body of water and attempting to swim across, but popular culture has since rendered the scene as proof of a mass lemming suicide — an aspect which has become the rodent’s defining feature.

The video game, Lemmings, is entirely about this mindless trait, while the Blink-182 song of the same name deals with Mark Hoppus’ strained relationship with a girl… but also references “lemmings to the sea”, so there’s that. The problem with this misconception is not that this “suicide” scene has been misread, or infused with human motives – it’s that the entire scene was staged, with the hapless lemmings being pushed off the cliff-face by the film-makers.

This wasn’t simply cruel opportunism though; the footage was shot in Canada, not by the Arctic Ocean – with the decidedly non-native lemmings imported by the Disney crew. The film-makers basically treated these adorable rodents as neglected plush-toys, tossing them over cliffs, coercing them down steep, rugged terrain, and placing them on a rotating platform – leading directly to the great blue beyond below.

It took a 1982 report on Canada show The Fifth Estate to uncover the ruse; while researching animal cruelty in Hollywood, journalist Bob McKeown discovered the footage had been pieced together and manipulated to look natural. Regardless, the film is yet to be stripped of its Academy Award, and the lemming still has to deal with the daily occurrence of well-adjusted rodents stressing that “the clouds will lift any day now man, you’ll see”.

 

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Say Hello To Your Friends: On Liz Phair and The Baby-Sitters Club

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Originally published in issue #16 of Alphabet Pony – March 6, 2012

I guess I must have been eleven when I discovered the Babysitters Club books I’d been devouring devotedly were probably intended for girls. There were earlier signs, as there always are: the pink glittered spines on the special editions; the row of heart-splattered bookmarks which came free with certain books; the solely female protagonists; everything else about them. And while I realised that I didn’t mind not being Ann M Martin’s target audience, I also realised very quickly and quietly that I would have to hide this obsession. Which is how I became a secret member of the Babysitters Club; admittedly more of a junior member like Mallory or Jessi – but still a devoted member nonetheless.

I learnt a lot from those girls; not about babysitting, mind – like most things of value, the premise was but a flimsy pretext – but about infinitely more important things, all rendered in title case as Kevin Arnold-esque moments of discovery. How Romance Works. How Girls Think. How To Be A Good Friend. The Secret Passage In Dawn’s House (the latter one hasn’t served me too practically, I’ll admit). I learnt about diabetes and divorce through Stacey. I learnt what tomboys and stepfathers were through Kristy. I learnt how to spell the word “Connecticut,” a skill that has helped with my burgeoning career as a tiresome chronicler of all things Gilmore Girls-related. I developed pre-teen crushes on all five members, bouncing around the club meetings like a curious beachball. Kristy became too much of a tomboy for me early in the piece, and I liked, and more importantly could relate to, Mary Anne’s anxious shyness. I detested her perennially absent, boring boyfriend Logan (associate member: what the fuck is that?). I liked Claudia’s exotic nature (god damn you half-Japanese girls) and her disinterest in any subject at school that wasn’t art. My crush quickly transferred to Dawn once it was revealed Claudia was terrible at spelling, and that Dawn was from California (a mythical world the Beach Boys had informed me of via their greatest hits tape). And, I suppose I wanted to fuck Stacey, even if that idea was a conceptual non-starter at the age of 11 (wasn’t it? Lil Wayne says he knowingly and willingly lost his virginity at 12, but can that be true?).

My next big sister/older crush was Liz Phair, who kindly took me under her wing when I was 16 or 17; that wonderful time when you are old enough to have clumsy, messy sex but not old enough to watch a stilted simulation at the cinema. Her album Exile In Guyville took the five Babysitters Club archetypes and blended them all into a sexually explicit, resigned, heartsick, confused, angry, pandering, petulant, blonde whirlwind. A wonderful, messy girl singing about feelings that I was yet to actually experience but could acutely empathise with. Or at least vividly anticipate. Exile In Guyville taught me about sex; not movie screen sex, or backseat sex, or train-through-the-tunnel sex, but proper, adult, feelings-y, consequence-y sex.

This 1993 album is still considered canon crib notes for intelligent, over-analysing females everywhere, but all 17-year-old boys should also be issued this album as a guide on ‘what-not-to-do’ and ‘how-not-to-act’. The guys in Help Me Mary seemed to elicit the most vile from Liz Phair, and as a young guy desperately clinging onto all that she thought, I knew I didn’t want to be one of those guys who “bully the stereo and drink,” nor did I want to imagine every girl I cast eyes upon in mid-coitus. The Divorce Song single-handedly turned me into a better, more understanding future-boyfriend (“It’s harder to be friends than lovers /and you shouldn’t try to mix the two/ ‘cos if you do it and you’re still unhappy/ then you know that the problem is you”, still stands out as the universal truth that it is), while Soap Star Joeinstalled the belief that no man is man enough to save any woman. Fuck and Run cast the allure of one-night stands as empty artifice before Flower countered this viewpoint two songs later with such brash, shocking sexuality that I longed to be “obnoxious, funny, true and mean” and quite possibly anchored my entire personality around this just to elicit the type of future-lust from a future-woman that Phair exhibits in that song.

But most of all, the real reason all 17-year-old boys should be given this record is that it acts beautifully and definitively as a exploration into the mind of an intelligent, autonomous, cool-as-fuck, broken, bookish, self-conscious, noise-loving girl. The girls that teach you not only that there is no God, but that knowing this to be true somehow makes everything that much more sad and finite and beautiful and worth holding onto. These are the girls you need to understand, learn from and surround yourself with. At least, until Stacey comes back from New York. Say hello to your friends.

Compact Discs Are For Lovers

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Originally published in issue #18 of Alphabet Pony – May, 2012

We’ve all read the writing on the wall proclaiming the death of the CD. It’s only inevitable, right – considering the format’s usurper (the mp3) is itself being usurped by the multitude of streaming services that are flooding our shores as we speak. With the music industry’s entire back pages available on demand, in your handbag/bum-bag/pocket, fumbling through piles of CDs seems as counter-intuitive as carrying a walkman and a handbag/bum-bag/pocket full of tapes. However, much like the vinyl record and Bill Murray before it, only once it disappears from the frontline of over-saturation can its real worth be finally measured. The compact disc will never truly die. There have been too many of these beautifully clunky things thrown out in the world for them to ever fade out of our lives.

CD FACT: The running time of a compact disc was chosen to fit a 1951 recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Such lofty beginnings…

The sad decline of the CD has been in effect for sometime: it was inevitable, as all deaths are, and although the CD has shown way more resilience against Napster, mp3s, nu-metal and the Internet than most market analysts thought would be possible, it is still being ushered out the door at a depressing rate. CD singles are a thing of the past: as a music journalist who unfortunately gets sent every sound every made, the Born This Way single from Lady Gaga was the last properly-printed CD single I can recall receiving, and this was over a year ago. The ARIA singles chart splintered into two: the physical sales chart (comprising of actual CDs being sold over counters in ARIA-accredited stores), and the overall chart, which factored in digital downloads (read: the only way singles actually get bought). The physical chart wilted as surely as the format did, and digital album downloads are now, for the first time in history (history-ha!) set to surpass physical sales. The days of going into a record store and buying a CD seem to be behind us. JB Hi-Fi, the country’s biggest stockists of compact discs, recently launched their streaming service, NOW, with most of their floor space now taken up with DVDs.

CD FACT: The first album to be released on CD was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. 

So, with even the concept of downloading music set to be an archaic thing, what will happen to the humble compact disc? Well, nothing at all – at least not for decades. Before too long you won’t be able to nip down to your local record store to buy the latest album on CD – that much is certain. But those huge, unalphabetised (please!) collections we have all amassed aren’t going anywhere; those CDs are signifiers of who we are, and who we were. They are hundreds of diary entries that we have clutched at and studied and made our own. And while there are a lot of owners-but-not-lovers of music collections (those things pile up like dust, ya know?), kids coming of age in the next decade will be scooping these up for 50c a piece at Op Shops in small, scattered towns and discovering the glorious back catalogue of the world, much in the way the previous generation did through vinyl and videotape. CDs will become romantic. This is the most exciting thing that will happen, and it is quite possibly happening in small corners around the world as I type. Those set to come-of-age in the next decade will regard CDs as some blurry relic of the past: clunky and charming and cheap. The idea of storing music–or words for that matter–on stand-alone, physical formats will be rendered too irresistibly soaked in nostalgic for romantics to pass up. As the argument as to how to best monetise music without under-valuing continues to rage, there are stacks of worthless CDs sitting in storage, just waiting to come alive again once the dust settles and people realise that humans are hard-wired to want ‘things’, not ‘access to things.’

CD FACT: Over 200 billion compact discs have been sold worldwide.

As nostalgia surrounds us–even for things that happened as recently as the turn of the century–our generation will look back at cracked cases, at fold out booklets that never quite folded back in, at sun-warped cases, at lyrics scrawled with all the style of an ink-soaked spider running across a page, at indulgent thankyou notes – at all the minutia that can mean as much as the actual music itself. CDs will feel redundant, then quaint, then romantic, then vital. You cannot throw your arms around a memory, this is true – but at least these memories will be of something that was once tangible. At the end of the day we just wanna be surrounded by those that we love, and for millions of us, that includes a skyline of stacked, cracked, plastic monuments.

Love vs. Lust

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Original published in Alphabet Pony #20: The Love and Lust Issue – July 11, 2012

Love is the best. That giddy rush, that tragic crush, that casual brush. Trying to fall in love, however, is the worst. It’s the most hollow of feelings when you catch yourself in motion. You shoot like an eager arrow towards anyone that fits within your parameters until you find yourself yawning and lazily editing obscurities and extremities, and talking about work and how quiet it is in here for a Saturday night. Unless it’s extremely crowded, in which case you’ll probably be talking about how crowded it is in here, even though it’s a Saturday night and you did expect people to be out, you didn’t expect this many-people-to-be-out-have-you-been-watching-Mad-Men?

At first it isn’t like this at all. You are excited enough that you tripped into a boy-girl situation and that it is playing out in an endless succession of beaches and cinemas and dates and the fumbling, clumsy heat of it all, because television has long taught you that Real Love is either a) instant and immediate: a slow-motion Spector-soundtracked series of mixtapes and ice-cream kisses or b) a slow shuffle from curiosity to attraction, through finding then inventing then dismissing faults, towards realising you simply cannot do without them in your life – that shift from finding them breathtakingly beautiful, to undeniably knowing them to be so. The truth is that falling in love is both a) and b), simultaneously, with some c) (having to go places when ‘going places’ is the thing you expend most of your energy trying to avoid) shoved in unceremoniously between the Spector-soundtracked-ice-cream-kiss-bliss. When it matters more to you that they feel a bit sick than it does that they just sprayed vomit all over you, that’s love. John Donne said something similar. The problem is, once you are aware that this is how love actually feels and happens, not just how it looks on Home and Away, then that leap between lust and love seems less like an arbitrary milestone you hop over and assume you are feeling now because, ‘Gosh, has it been six months?’ and more like an impossible leap over a chasm of blank glares and angry stares and missed-Gilmore-Girls-references and ‘oh, any style of music, really’ and stories about co-workers you will never meet and all of the uncles and aunties you will meet and all those things that aren’t there or don’t matter once you are with someone ‘because’, not ‘despite’.

Of course love and lust aren’t mutually exclusive. But they can stand alone. The best type of love, and the type that is being hereby and thereby referred to as ‘love’ in this article, is the type where love and lust collide – the slide from a warm drug into a warm hug, where you feel cocooned and Siamese and like a new team seeing new shapes and hearing new sounds: an unstoppable, world-beating, code-talking, sunshining team-but-stop-leaving-your-wet-towels-on-top-of-my-jeans!

“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together” struck me as a singularly beautiful line from Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘America’, before I fell in love for the first time and found this would never, ever be a conversation between lovers, but only between those caught on the other side of that chasm, standing on the edge, shaking their knees and pretending they are trying to build the willpower to jump.

Self preservation is a marvellous thing. It drives necessary wedges, and it filters out the extremities that linger where loneliness lies, and that too easily raise their heads and shake their ghosts and cause all sorts of trouble when liquor and lipstick get involved. Lust can be dangerous and thrilling (often the same thing) but only momentarily misleading. When you simply aren’t going to make that leap from lust to love you know it a while before you admit it to yourself. From that first point it is about keeping your world black and white – even if you aren’t yet admitting to yourself that’s what you are doing. Not black and white in a cinema-newspaper-bowler-hat way, but by keeping things separate and simple and bland. By making the dead-centre of your city your neutral meeting point, your Switzerland. It’s a convenient meeting place and too commonplace and disconnected to belong to anyone. These are places that live on postcards and teatowels, bought by tourists for relatives back home. Every city is full of easy landmarks: proof of that summer, that winter, that year crumbled and hidden when you first got your heart broken. We cannot make this city our own, because it has belonged to millions of people who shuffled in and out and never left their mark. The nooks and laneways and art galleries and punk clubs and patches of grass in parks are to be reserved for another, and when you know-but-don’t-yet-know this is the case, you will steer well clear of carrying out the relationship in any place that could be in danger of developing its own private personality for the two of you. This anonymity means that you can never affix memories to tripped out alleyways or windows in libraries overlooking those red roofs where you would joke about buying that cream-coloured house and digging up that horrible garden and that Italian rock-bed which is oh-too-easy to make jokes about while you waste your entire summer on a winter fling.

The mind loves to apply sentimentality to mundane occurrences. A halfhearted lunch, a bottle of wine, a patch of grass and a gust of wind that was never in danger of carrying music along with it… The mind erases the bindis, the arguments, the beating sun, the sweat stains, the green ants, the crippling wind. The hangover that would rather be under blankets and sheets with another. Wait for love, or revel in lust. What lies between is infinitely more depressing, and should never be confused for either.

Nobody Mentioned There’d Be Women Dunking At The Olympics

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Original published in Alphabet Pony #21: The Homegrown Issue – August 13, 2012

Nobody mentioned there’d be women dunking at the Olympics. When I think of the Olympics Games, I think of swimming and running and jumping and tossing and all the feats of endurance that we, for some reason, keep dedicating carnivals to. The Olympics is the biggest of these carnivals: a friendly war with its splashes of national pride, its unity, its human endeavour, a parade of glory, and hearts crushed by mere milliseconds. But mainly, the Olympics is that thing that clogs up the front page of every newspaper for weeks, messes with regular television scheduling (for those who rely on TV for a steady stream of normality and nonsense, this is like being spun ten times and pushed into traffic) and enters every slice of suffocating small talk: impassioned commentary on sports nobody cared about two weeks ago. Like Christmas, it’s nice, but inconvenient.

However, two amazing developments have emerged so far at the 2012 Olympics. The first was the entire world tuning in to watch a Mr. Bean sketch (who, with his entire act devoid of speech, is actually the most universal British character since… well, James Bond…who was in a sketch with The Queen. The entire opening ceremony was akin to watching a BBC Home Videos trailer while on acid, wasn’t it?). The second was when this past Friday, Elizabeth Cambage, a twenty-year-old Australian basketball player, dunked  – the first woman in history to do so at the Olympics Games. Now, obviously such a sweeping statement cannot be completely verified; FIBA (the UN/filing cabinet for basketball, basically) couldn’t say with any certainty that this was a first. Keep in mind we are talking purely about the Olympics here. In small pockets of Arizona or Connecticut, there are probably high school girls dunking basketballs like (nothing can be inserted here without this sounding like a euphemism). But in terms of high profile, televised, Olympic-level basketball, this was a first. And a genuinely exciting first. It offers up so many possibilities. As a nation, we love watching Australians be great at something on an international level. This is why we will watch swimming – a sport that isn’t interesting, is super-repetitive, hard to follow, impossible to commentate with any level of entertainment, and mostly occurs underwater, below the actual line of sight. But we are really good at it, so we will support it, and love it, and elevate it to silly levels and time slots. As Tom Gleisner once stated on The Panel, we don’t even joke about Thorpie’s jewellery line.

An Australian basketball player achieved a world-first last Friday, and not a shrug-worthy javelin-y world-first or an unsexy Penicillin-y world-first, an impossibly cool, slam dunk world-first. A slam dunk is called a slam dunk for a reason. Let’s please cling onto this, and perhaps as a nation, become besotted by Australian female basketball to the point where its players start popping up in NW and Who and on celebrity episodes of game shows hosted by Eddie McGuire. A female Australian basketball player needs to be papped stumbling out of a club at 2am with ecstasy saucer-pupils and a cast member from Home and Away wrapped around her. Australian female basketball players need to Tweet and cheat and become household names. WNBL games need to be broadcast on television. WNBL needs to change its name to something without a W. It could have tremendous knock-on effects that will impact those who don’t give a fuck about sports past being impressed by the odd acrobatic feat. We need this insurgence in order to detonate the footballer worship that currently plagues us and causes otherwise intelligent humans to develop a blind spot that excuses football culture: the horribly stunted, degrading view of women; the (fucking weird) group sex fetish; commentators shoving microphones in player’s post-game faces and expecting insight. There’s too big an industry built around these guys. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see the entire football culture crumble? All we need to do is stop watching, stop caring, to be the fickle fairweather fans we are every four years when the Olympics roll around and we become experts on double trap shooting.

There was a period in the early ‘90s in Australia when basketball suddenly shot into consciousness. NBA games started being broadcast regularly on free-to-air television for the first time since its inception, and kids around the country began buying, trading and selling basketball cards, which retailed for close to $10 a packet, an inexcusable price we all found ways to excuse. This wasn’t just a youth fad though: stores dedicated to the selling and trading of cards popped up; at least two monthly magazines (Beckett, and the one that wasn’t Beckett) thrived by simply listing the ‘value’ of most cards – basically a stock-market broadsheet for bits of cardboard; while numerous books, magazines, figurines and other basketball-related bits flooded the country. It’s funny in retrospect how wide-spread the mayhem was, but it is proof that a basketball fad is not outside the realms of possibility. Christ, if a definitively damning Four Corners report and Tracy Grimshaw’s amazing decimation of group-sex-fiend/opportunist/wacky TV personality Matthew Johns couldn’t kill his career or the commonly held belief he is a harmless scamp, then perhaps Elizabeth Cambage dunking at the Olympics will be the first step in a cultural shift. Maybe it is that easy. Why not women’s basketball? The players would make infinitely better role models/tabloid news fodder/interview subjects/photo subjects than the inarticulate NRL players currently bumping overseas atrocities down the running order on the evening news every time they get drunk and sexually assault someone. Plus, now that Australian women are dunking at Olympic level, it’s a whole new ball game.