Even though I usually baulk at buying and reading three whole newspapers on a Saturday, I bucked my own trend last weekend. This was because I wanted to read Caroline Overington’s story about Kyle Sandilands in the Australian Magazine, as he is on my mind a great deal these days. And how can it be otherwise, considering how many words have been expended on him? Even though I’ve almost never heard his radio show, I see one of those beauty-and-the-beast-ish photographs of Kyle and Jackie O in a prominent position on the front of a newspaper website and there I am, hurriedly exerting pressure on the mouse. In fact, I’ve frequently read the same Sandilands-themed article twice, when it’s appeared both in that part at the top where they have all the big stories, and also in the entertainment section; and maybe even three times, if an item about his exploits has, in addition, got a guernsey in a ‘life and style’ section. Now, I do not consider this to be a problem, given that I actually don’t have anything better to do than to read stories about KS. The problematic issue is the fact that I rather think he should be cut a break, although not because of his off-trotted-out tale of living on the streets as a youth, or because he came from a ‘broken family’, given that, for people of Mr Sandilands’ and my generation, our parents were mostly all either divorced or should have been divorced.
I have to admit that when I read the feature in The Australian, I was learning of several of his, perhaps lesser-known, stunts for the first time and, yes, I felt condemnatory about them. While I rejoice in the notion that I’m no prude, even I started to feel like Queen Victoria upon reading an account of Sandilands ordering a staffer to masturbate in a Black Thunder, or of the notion of a competition in which the entrants must soil themselves in order to win tickets to a Pink concert. The thing is, though, that he himself bothers me less than does the simple fact that so many people fucking listen to his show, which is also why I am dubious about the organisation of – admittedly, successful – social-media campaigns that are intended to lose Kyle and Jackie O sponsors. If the program continues to be massively popular, I would imagine that it is always going to get new sponsors, especially those that are of a more hairy chested persuasion. I will refrain from discussing the very well-covered territory of the lie-detector and the Ali-Stephenson businesses, except to say that I was not a massive fan of one point of view that Jackie O was even more culpable than Sandilands, as she should have stepped in do something for the sake of the sisterhood. Questions of fairness aside, this was plainly not going to happen, given that, first, O is a human who is on this kind of show in the first place; and, second, she is, clearly, highly content with how things stand. I may as well ask a neighbourhood feline to pen a letter of protest to Go-Cat to get them to stop peddling their fishy wares.
Furthermore, by the sounds of Austereo in this particular article, it is not going to give the faintest glimmerings of a damn what Sandilands does, as long as his show rates. This is, after all a company that, it appears, threw Sandilands a fortieth-birthday celebration at which a newsreader (whom, I assume is on Kyle and Jackie O’s show, rather than being borrowed from, for example, the ABC, with its communist ways), while attired in a close-to-translucent bikini, spread ‘her legs wide around a gold stripper’s pole that ha[d] been erected in front of Kyle’s face’. All right, presumably, no one forced her to do this but all I can say is, ‘Christ on a bicycle’, and this is without even mentioning that, for eats, there was a ‘pink cake shaped like a woman’s breasts with the nipples bouncing on springs’. I’m no Andrea Dworkin, but I find all this to be dubious, especially on the part of an organisation that, the article claims, ‘prides itself on being an excellent company to work for’.
The thing is, though, of course, that Sandilands is able to carry out his shenanigans only because the public continue to indicate that this is what they want, and it does seem to me that he, with his well-covered hide, is becoming something of a whipping boy for the less attractive aspects of society. I pray your indulgence at my being about to wheel out a barrow containing a big fat cliché but my feeling is that if you cut off Sandilands’ head, another will just grow in its place, merely because so many people happen to have terrible taste. The thing with him is that, yes, he may be rubbish but at least he gets attacked for being rubbish; I am far more irked about all the rubbish that doesn’t attacked enough for my liking.
While I first became aware of Jackie O due to the wonderful Popstars, the first I ever knew of Sandilands was when he appeared on Celebrity Big Brother, a program that I enjoyed, as it was rather a trip to see, for example, Anthony Mundine, Adriana Xenides and Dylan Lewis living and loving under the same roof. Compared with the all-new Excess Baggage, the celebrity wattage on show was equivalent to that on the red carpet of an especially well-attended Oscars ceremony. That aside, however, what bothered me about Excess Baggage, and has bothered me also about The Biggest Loser, is less the programs themselves than having to read comments by television writers, and self-styled pundits generally, about how ‘moving’ or ‘touching’ they are, and how ‘brave’ are the contestants.
I was obviously out of the country on the day that legislation was passed declaring that certain overweight Australians were going to be forced onto television to talk about how they’ve ‘never been kissed’, as opposed to, for example, quietly having some (Sandilands deserter!) Jenny Craig meals delivered, or picking up the phone to book an appointment with a therapist. While I certainly respect and admire anyone wanting to get their face on the box, not to mention receiving a whole lot of gratis ‘treatment’, I fail to see why they should be hailed as courageous for doing so. It’s as wrongheaded as television writers talking about the reboot of Young Talent Time as though it were a joyous exercise in nostalgia and innocence, rather than a deeply cynical excavation of some old, if sequined, bones, that features children who essentially want only to be rich and famous. Again, I’ve no issue whatsoever with people wanting to become rich and famous, but I simply cannot see how this quest can represent a sweet purity of spirit, even if – or especially when – they are minors. Creepiness and having a heart composed of paste jewellery was certainly a large part of what made the old YTT so very compelling; it was never exactly the TV equivalent of the sheltered little infant Brontes joining forces to write stories about imaginary lands.
The thing is that I don’t even object to cynical exercises, particularly; television executives are, in common with us all, merely attempting to keep their jobs, so of course they are going to try to give the public what they believe is most likely to be successful. What I object to is anyone whatsoever not being able, or willing, to recognise that they are cynical exercises. Believe me, when it comes to entertainment, I like a massive pile of shite as much as, and probably a great deal more than, the next person, but that doesn’t mean that I necessarily want to see it given a free pass. At least in the case of Sandilands and his show, people are generally not (with the exception of his employer) giving him a free pass; this is precisely because, whatever else one may say about him, he appears not to be a hypocrite.