The Evil Doctor Chris and I were ensconced in the bunker underneath The Outland Institute, working through the recipes in Passport To Survival – it’s amazing what you can do with wheat gluten. We were both feeling under the weather, so we were doing what all sick people do – watching truly terrible television. And when you think “terrible television” you think Dancing With The Stars.
For those who haven’t seen Dancing With The Stars – I salute you. In a nutshell, it’s a celebrity dance competition for people who don’t like dancing. Or celebrities. In fact, half of the “stars” seem to be chosen as an ironic statement on the nature of fame – I would’ve called it Dancing With Who’s That Then? Among this year’s contestants are various footballers, Home & Away starlets (male and female), “sporting personalities” (yes, I know) and Toni Pearen, who I last remember seeing in 1993 when she had a big hit with “I Want You”.
According to the official Dancing With The Stars website, Pearen “was the host of Australia’s Funniest Home Video Show from 2003 until 2008, and one of Australia’s most recognised and adored faces.” Most recognised? I suspect Channel 7 doth protest too much…
There are two people involved I would genuinely accept as stars – Cal Wilson possibly isn’t the most famous name in there, but she’s easily the most talented. And while I’m no fan of Red Symons, his work in Skyhooks earns him a place at the table of celebrity.
The show follows the couples as they rehearse their routines to a well-known song, but when it comes to the performance a strange thing happens – a terrible wedding-reception band is wheeled out to murder the song live. In the worst cover-band tradition, they perform the chosen song exactly the same as the original… only a little bit worse. So there’s Red Symons rehearsing to Skyhooks‘ “Women In Uniform”, but come the night he’s stuck with Leslie McBlande and the Bored Session Players Orchestra.
It is at this point that I reach the nub of today’s crux. As the showband launched into their first song (possibly disoriented by the absence of their cruise ship), the Evil Doctor and I both looked up and said “Hello, Tokyo”. And I suddenly realised that we had entire abstract concepts that we could express through quotes – a kind of artistic shorthand.
“Hello, Tokyo” means “this is a terrible band/performer who sings without any passion or interest”. It originates from Lost In Translation, where Catherine Lambert plays a lounge singer who performs wallpaper jazz at the Park Hyatt, Tokyo. Curiously, before the film’s release in 2003 I didn’t realise I needed a term that means “this musical performance is extremely bland”. And yet now I find it extremely useful.
Another term we use a lot is “Sontaran night”. This is admittedly a much more specific term – it’s for those occasions in which you find yourself in a gay bar where everyone has a shaved head and no neck. Sontarans are villains from Doctor Who, and they look like this:
So when you look around The Hoist and everyone looks like a cloned warrior from the planet Sontar, you might say, “Hmmm… Sontaran Night.” (Another commonly-used term in gay bars is “Industry Night”. Usually a Monday, it’s supposed to mean “a night for people who work in hospitality and who have worked all weekend”, but in practice it usually means “Drug-Dealers and Rentboys R Us”).
The largest repository of artistic shorthand must surely be The Simpsons. Commonly used phrases in my life include “I heard it too – here’s some music”, and “my favourite part was when they gave me the money”. Less commonly used ones include “purple monkey dishwasher” and “I am familiar with the works of Pablo Neruda“. In 2004 the parody site The Onion ran an article headed “Suicide Letter Full Of Simpsons References”:
“When death comes so suddenly, it can seem incomprehensible,” Ernst said. “It certainly doesn’t help matters that Aaron’s note begins, ‘No banging your head on the display case, please. It contains a very rare Mary Worth in which she has advised a friend to commit suicide.’ How do you even begin to explain something like that to his parents?”
Another great source of artistic shorthand is the UK comedy Spaced, which now seems to play on a permanent loop on ABC2. If you haven’t seen it – and you must – Spaced follows the lives of Daisy (aspirant writer) and Tim (aspirant comic-book artist), who share a flat in North London. Full of visual flair (courtesy of director Edgar Wright) and pop-culture referencing, Spaced often feels alarmingly like looking into a mirror. It’s also curious that – now nearly a decade old – Spaced still feels like it was made last week. Common artistic shorthand from Spaced includes:
- for after a terrible job interview – “Thank you for coming – it’s been very useful”,
- for a long-winded story – “…skip to the end…”,
- and the generic – “How did it go? Really badly.” (Or alternately “it made me want to drown things”).
But my absolute favourite Spaced shorthand comes from Vulva, a Leigh-Bowery-like performance artist played by a pre-Little Britain David Walliams:
“It’s not finished… (pause)… it’s finished”.