Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"The Jackpot and the Damage Done"

I’m an unprincipled, unscrupulous, amoral, hypocrite with less integrity than Colonel Gadaffi. And that’s just what my friends are saying. See, I’m the cad who did the Clubs Australia ad, the one designed to fight the government’s plan to introduce a pre-commitment plan to play pokies. It’s a hard rap to defend, but let me have a crack at putting my side and trying to set a couple of things straight, at least as far as the charge of hypocrisy goes.

Case for the prosecution: “It’s wrong for an actor to do an ad supporting an industry whose machines cause misery and hardship for gambling addicts and their families. More damning is the defendant’s double-standard in doing such an ad, given that in the past he has written and spoken out against poker machines”. Fair enough, to a degree. But to describe me as a “strident anti-pokies campaigner”, as Crikey’s Andrew Crook* has, is a bit of a stretch. As evidence of my anti-gambling stridency, Crook sites a Heckler column I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald a few years ago which was principally about how businesses are morphing into other businesses^ – i.e. post offices have become tacky two-dollar shops; newsagents flog Lotto and Scratchies to such an extent it’s hard to buy a bloody paper. I ended the piece by envisaging Centrelink offices morphing into a Centrelink Bar and Pokies chain where punters could have their welfare direct debited straight into their favourite machine. A satirical jape stretched for comic effect, yes, but hardly evidence of a red-ragging “anti-pokies campaigner”.

To be fair, I don’t doubt I’ve written and said other negative things about pokies in the past. It would be surprising if I hadn’t. Over ten years of doing radio, first on Triple-J, then ABC 702 , I wrote and performed hundreds of poems, rants, monologues and sketches lampooning pollies of every stripe, as well as every other target under the sun ripe for a satiric salvo, including that hoary old clichĂ© “Ordinary Australians”, a phrase which I once dissected in a poem, and now utter, without irony, as an actor in the Clubs Australia ad.

As further evidence of my nefarious double standards, Crook points out that I myself have a gambling history and quotes me talking about it in a Radio National program, “The Deal”, broadcast in March this year, which was about the very same time I was shooting the Clubs Australia ad. Oh, damnable villain! Yet Crook neglects to point out that the program was a repeat, and that “The Deal” was originally broadcast in November 2005. Sure, at the time I was going through a phase of blowing too much on pokies, but I’ve been pretty much untroubled by them ever since.

The late American comic Bill Hicks is dear to me. As well savaging Republicans, shock jocks and the religious right, he vented spleen upon anyone who would stoop to do a tv commercial, particularly rich celebrities who didn’t need the money. But he did make an exception for struggling young actors. Sorry Bill, I’m not young. But my living is pretty much a peripatetic hand-to-mouth affair (violins please, folks). I’d love to say I’ve nobly dedicated my life to working in disaster zones, and in a way I have. I perform in schools, as well as doing the occasional ad. Any peak of recognition I had was a blip on the radio radar years ago. If I’m still known and remembered it’s in a circle the size of a dot. The point being: I’m not famous. I was a voice on radio, not a face on tv. I’m not recognisable and I’m not a big name lending credence to a product, and if I was a big name why the hell would I bother doing ads? I’m an anonymous actor, a cipher, a blank slate, and as an actor I’m under no more obligation to believe in what I’m plugging in an ad than I would be to condone the behaviour I portrayed in the role of a wife-beater or rapist.

Okay, call my arguments sophistry and decry my lack of integrity. Yes, credibility would be nice, but it’s a luxury a self-unemployed performer with a family can’t afford.

*Crikey piece

^Heckler piece

Daily Telegraph piece