Artistic Shorthand

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”.

It’s finished.

Do you have any commonly used artistic shorthand? Add your comments below. Dancing With The Stars is on Channel 7 on Sunday nights.

See also: Soap Stars Go Pop! and Friday: Soap Stars Revealed!

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11 Responses to Artistic Shorthand

  1. Anne-Marie says:

    Something that has been observed by myself and at least one other person- 20somethings don’t get Spaced! I may be being a little bit generic – I’m sure at least one person in their 20s loves it as much as we do – but my experience is blank looks at the screen as they wonder -” Why would anyone live like that”.

    You watched Dancing With the Stars! Suddenly I don’t feel so bad about making it though nearly a whole episode of “Taken Out”. I can honestly say – worst thing ever on television. Makes Wife Swap look caring and classy.

    A recent cultural short hand I adopted (after hearing Greg Fleet use it -and I’m not a Fleety fan) – “Going all Deadwood” for when the language is a little on the rough side.

    And Toni was just lovely on “Gee it’s funny watching blokes get hit in the goolies and small children being injured” and she did a film once – I remember not hating it. Can’t remember what it was though. I’m sure someone will.

    ….finished

  2. Tim says:

    We use Blackadder references a lot down our way, especially:

    “The long winter evenings must just fly by”

    upon being shown anything which is supposed to be incredibly amusing but is actually quite banal.

  3. Edward says:

    Yikes. Dancing with the Stars. Channel Nine’s Wipeout is the most unwatchable drivel I’ve seen for a long time. Which is odd because I was a big fan of those YouTube clips from the original Japanese version. I wonder now if they were celebrities in Japan.

    Perhaps The Mighty Boosh is Spaced for 20-somethings. They get it, no-one else does. This generational humour shift has probably been going on since The Goons (no-one under 50 finds Spike Milligan funny do they?).

    Aritstic shorthand –
    League of Gentlemen – “I won the mums!” – for any one gloating that their life turned out better than someone else’s.
    Simpsons – “The jiggling is hypnotic” (from the X-files episode).
    Seinfeld – “No soup for you!”; “I had hand”; and “stopping short” among others.

  4. Narrelle says:

    Edward, I thought the Mighty Boosh was the Goodies for the 21st Century…

    Tim and I use ‘It’s not finished… It’s finished’ – usually at the theatre, when a play is being interminable. This has the unfortunately effect of rendering us both very giggly in solemn, silent (read ‘boring’) stretches not nearly close enough to the end of the play.

  5. outlandinstitute says:

    Edward: I use the term “local” in the League Of Gentlemen way, to mean “frightening and inbred” – “this is a local shop for local people, there’s nothing for you here”. I was a manager at the Ritzy Cinema in London for a couple of years and we always referred to it as a “local cinema”.

    Anne-Marie: Really, the kids don’t dig the Spaced? Is that because they don’t do the share house thing now? I was watching some old clips on Rage recently and I realised that a bunch were filmed in the rambling old Melbourne share houses that don’t exist anymore…

    I also use 30 Rock quotes/paraphrases a bit, but they’re usually just direct quotes rather than to represent bigger concepts (like using “mind-grapes” in place of “mind”. Or “live every week like it’s Shark Week”).

  6. Dave AA says:

    I was just watching a video of Latte Art and my first thought was “Sideways, Miss Jane.”

  7. Dan Cardone says:

    I find myself saying “You know how I’ve always reminded me of Grace Kelly?” whenever I catch myself doing something very vain and egotistical. Which is quite often. (from 30 Rock)

  8. Anne-Marie says:

    Really! Go out into Smith St and find some 20Somethings – they will be having a soy dandelion latte at Soul Food, lining up outside Barry, selecting a new Bonds hoodie from TSL, or ordering a healthy choice happy meal at the evil takeaway starting with Mac. Or just buy a 6 pack of Bacardi Breezers and they will come running. Sit them on the couch – show them an ep and watch their reaction.

    I’ve given my precious – bought-on-ebay -before-one-could-get -them-here – Spaced DVDs to young uns who love Scrubs and Veronica Mars – they handed them back with them same look we gave our parents when they bought videos of Dad’s Army or To The Manor Born

    And they really don’t believe Dogs In Space!

  9. Janet says:

    Give them time, Anne Marie. My Dad, a huge Goons fan, never really got the Pythons until after ‘Life of Brian’. I haven’t tried him on ‘Spaced’ yet . . . but he loved ‘Hot Fuzz’. So there’s a start. Maybe it’ll work with the young ‘uns. We can but hope!

  10. Janet says:

    Zipping right back to Anne Marie’s first entry – Toni Pearen has appeared in THREE films, one of which has the unfortunate title of ‘On the Dead Side’ – an apt description of her career really. She also did ‘All Men are Liars’, again, an apt description . . . I saw this and all I remember about it was a cross-dressing boy and John Jarratt who probably should have killed off the cast but didn’t. And it was filmed in Queensland.

    The third is an American film ‘Colin Fitz’ which according to the imdb is ‘a comedy about love, death and rock ‘n roll’. She’s way down the list.

    The sad point being, of course, that I had to check the imdb because even the one film of hers I had seen (like Anne Marie) I couldn’t even remember.

  11. Dan Cardone says:

    With the advent of people falling madly in love with their iPhones, I find the following exchange from Black Books very useful:

    Bernard: Can it stop boring conversations?
    Fran: No, no of them can do that.
    Bernard: Mine can (picks up landline and dials Fran’s mobile) Shut up about your stupid phone!

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