Previously… On The Outland Institute

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Canny visitors to the site may have noticed we’ve been celebrating Christmas for quite some time now. Seven weeks, in fact. There’s been no updates for nearly two months, and let’s place blame squarely where it belongs – the global financial crisis.

You can’t have missed the ubiquity of the financial crisis. It’s the excuse du jour. And it works for everything – laying off a thousand employees? Financial crisis. Late to work? Financial crisis. Your daughter noticed her budgie changed colour almost as if the old one died and you were too gutless to tell her so you went to a pet shop and bought a replacement but you got it wrong because you never paid attention to anything involving your family because you are a terrible, terrible father? Financial crisis. It’s such a good excuse that if the police find you in a back alley hunched over the body of a dead prostitute with a bloody dagger still in your hand, you need only mention it’s been a disappointing morning for the Nasdaq and they’d let you off with a caution. Probably.

So apologies from all of us here at The Outland Institute. Weather conditions. Financial crisis. Oh, at that zombie outbreak that kept us all barricaded in the gift shop for five weeks, living off nothing but Twiglets and Wong Kar-Wai slippers, but I don’t think that made the news.

One thing you may have seen on the news is that the state of Victoria recently held a needlessly-accurate live recreation of 1961’s The Day The Earth Caught Fire, and misery and death are around every corner. You can give money to the relief effort – and by “can” I mean “really, really should” – at www.redcross.org.au.

Fires decimated towns around the state on February 7th – Channel 9 has taken to calling it “Black Saturday”, because why just tell the news when you can shriek it? It was an event so momentous it even has its own page on wikipedia, putting it up there with Haircut 100 and the Nazi UFO program. It was also the weekend the Evil Doctor Chris and I were spending in the Victorian Goldfields, so while we didn’t exactly fiddle while Rome burned, we did spend a lot of time indoors watching DVDs of The West Wing. Which is probably the same thing, metaphorically speaking. Any way you look at it, we were having a better day than most.

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As we marvelled at the superb acting, intricate plotting and chess-like maneuvering of characters, motivations and events, we found ourselves wondering why the Americans can make shows like The West Wing, while we’re lucky to get Packed To The Rafters. The answer is fairly straightforward, of course – what Americans do is important, while we’re thrilled if someone in Ecuador recognises Olivia Newton-John.

And to be fair, we’re a country fully aware of our half-arsedness. In November I watched the US election coverage on the big screen at the Birmingham Hotel in Fitzroy, and when Obama gave his rousing acceptance speech he mentioned “all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world“. And on that phrase we all gave a big cheer, for we instinctively knew Barack was talking about us. Yes, if there’s one thing Australians do well, it’s bitter self-effacing humour.

It’s hard to imagine an Australian version of The West West focusing on hard decisions and moral dilemmas – more likely it would involve underwhelming pie-nights and attempts to mock the New Zealand ambassador (curiously, also the plot of a  recent episode of Flight Of The Conchords).

In essence, it boils down to five words: “Previously… on The West Wing”.

Each episode starts with a member of the cast uttering these words before a deft montage intended to remind us of the ongoing story-lines. Whether these clips ever help is debatable – they usually consist of three lines of shouting, a shot of a coffin and someone looking significantly at a television set – but the delivery of the “previously” line is astonishing. It’s dramatic, pensive, threatening and concerned – all at the same time.

Now imagine Harold Bishop from Neighbours saying it. Or Alf from Home & Away. Doesn’t work, does it?

Until we – as a nation – learn how to say “previously…” properly, we’ll never be taken seriously on the world stage. So here’s my recommendation: start practising. Whether is be at home, or at work. Use it on the phone – “Previously… at Moonee Ponds Auto Repair”. Or at the doctors: “Previously… in my reconstructed knee”. Even while feeding the pets: “Previously… in Miss Whiskers McBitey’s bowl”. Eventually we’ll have that tone of ominous restraint down so well that the whole country will take itself seriously. Home & Away will become as good as Six Feet Under, Neighbours will be the new Deadwood and All Saints is surprisingly still on air. Didn’t see that one coming.

So start living in the past. And good luck.

Give money at www.redcross.org.au. Coin image from www.coinpage.com. The West Wing is available on DVD.

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6 Responses to Previously… On The Outland Institute

  1. Tim says:

    Peviously… on Swanston Street (followed by montage of dodgy pavement artists, two dollar shops, and that annoying busker in the spacesuit)

    Hmm.

  2. Narrelle says:

    Previously… in Narrelle’s Reading Project… endless montages of me trying to pick up Sweet Valley High: The Return of the Evil Twin. Putting it down after a page. Picking it up. Putting it down. Queue change of the seasons outside the window, while my hands grow ever shrivelled and liver-spotted to indicate the passage of time.

    And in this week’s episode? Narrelle struggles to choose – finish The Return of the Evil Twin, or hang herself?

  3. Sam says:

    You have a shop! Guess I’ll be stocking up on Wong Kar-Wai slippers when the stimulus package comes through – but it is difficult to take Australia seriously when Kevin Rudd announces a package, cue voice of Dr. Evil, of 42 Billion Dollars, when Barack Obama passes one for 1.2 trillion. I’m not convinced we could ever get the intonation right, less ominous restraint more hesitant suggestion – can anyone, even the cast, actually remember what happened on the previous episode of Packed to the Rafters?

  4. Anne-Marie says:

    I think Rebecca Gibney ate a piece of toast (on Packed in the Rafters).

  5. Dan says:

    The problem is, as a nation, we would say ‘Previously’ with a rising inflection, so it sounds more like ‘Previously?’

    And All Saints is still on the air because they added a helicopter. It’s true, i saw it on the ads, all of a sudden they’re commando doctors or something. Don’t expect me to watch the show to find out for sure…

  6. Glenn says:

    Don’t go knocking the dancing robot spaceman person, okay!

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