The dream with Roy and H.G.: “When too much sport is barely enough”
There is a pair of commentators inhabiting the Australian media landscape who, through a satirical engagement with all things sporting, cut through the discourses of heroism, triumphalism and masculinity characteristic of the parochial and jingoistic world of Australian sport. These two comic figures are Rampaging Roy Slaven and H.G. Nelson for whom, according to their own catchphrase, “too much sport is barely enough”. Similar to Norman Gunston, Roy and H.G. are the creations of two actors, John Doyle and Greig Pickhaver, however, unlike Garry McDonald, Doyle and Pickhaver produce their own characters and material.
Roy and H.G. began their media careers on the then Sydney-based ABC youth radio station, Triple J. Their weekly sports programme, This sporting life, dissected and satirised the happenings of all things sporting, discussing Australian and international issues as they saw relevant. From their early days in radio Roy and H.G. moved into the world of television, initially with a straightforward adaptation of their radio show to ABC television in 1993, again called This sporting life. This was followed by the more successful Club buggery (1996; 1997), a weekly variety programme produced for ABC TV that combined musical numbers and interviews with celebrities and sportspeople in front of a live studio audience. A somewhat unprecedented move from the ABC to the commercialism of Channel Seven followed in time for their first foray into the Olympics with The dream (2000). They also returned to the ABC for The Memphis trousers half-hour (2005). It is the images and scenes of Roy and H.G. from the television broadcast of the Olympics in Sydney that I am looking at here.
Screening nightly during the broadcast of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, The dream has also formed part of Channel Seven’s subsequent Olympics coverage both at the 2002 Winter Olympics with The ice dream, and in 2004 with The dream in Athens.1 The dream was broadcast each evening as an officially sanctioned part of Channel Seven’s Olympic coverage during the Sydney 2000 Games. The format of the programme was not unlike Roy and H.G.’s other radio and television programmes where, as authoritative experts, they provide their views and suggestions regarding sporting events. In The dream, their satiric eye had a particularly focussed target in the Olympics, whereas usually their topics are more wide-ranging, encompassing the Australian political, cultural and sporting landscape. The dream featured three main types of segments – Roy and H.G. in conversation with each other, interviews with Olympic personalities (both Australian and international) and their much-touted re-commentary of various Olympic events.2
Clowns, rogues and cranks
Inhabiting the official Olympic broadcaster for The dream highlights a shift in Roy and H.G.’s position – from the self-proclaimed alternative youth radio of Triple J, and the public service, non-commercial, low ratings arena of ABC TV. With The dream they became intertwined in the globalising processes and culture of commercial television, with the official Channel Seven images of competition being broadcast around the world. Their comical and parodic construction of parochial Australian sports commentators appeared as part of the lengthier television text of Channel Seven’s extended Olympic coverage. Thus, an excessively rabid attitude to Australian success in any sporting arena appeared in conjunction with the television images of sporting authority that Roy and H.G. were parodying. This again produces images that actualise the televisual operations of control through the scenic relations of movement and forces that mobilise a tactical, inhabited resistance. In their scenic configuration of face, voice, gesture, together with what they say, Roy and H.G. are images that comically expose the prejudices and idiosyncrasies of Australia’s sporting culture and its connection to the idea of the nation through their excessive and exaggerated articulation of the same. These various aspects of the television images from The dream allow us to consider how in their construction and appearance they mobilise a tactical, inhabited resistance to the televisual operation of control.3 By intensifying the comic and excessive aspects of televisual sport, like carnival clowns Roy and H.G. manage to say the unsayable with a directness unavailable to those television sports personalities, the images of which are produced through traditional televisual sporting discourses.
Without the garish, bleeding grotesqueness of Gunston’s face, and definitely without apologetic and cringing movements, Roy and H.G. are not naïve or innocent; however, they do display connections with the carnivalesque grotesque and fools. Furthermore, they combine aspects of the “rogue” and the “crank” as described by Docker (1994, p. 199). He describes rogues as “social explorers who can move through every part of society, low or high” while cranks are “impatient of usual conventions, grumping away at them” (Docker 1994, p. 199). The roguishness of Roy and H.G. is highlighted through their enthusiasm to tackle any and every issue. During The dream this ranged from ongoing discussions of International Olympic President Juan Antonio Samaranch and his likely successors, through to the famous and not so famous athletes, right down to the army of volunteers that enabled the successful running of the Sydney Olympics. Similarly also to Kennedy and Gunston, as carnivalesque fools, Roy and H.G. exhibit a degree of freedom and mobility in moving through, and thus exposing, the intensely hierarchical and controlled Olympics organisation as a system of power that regulates the behaviour and roles of all those connected with it. In doing so, Roy and H.G. also function as cranks. This results from their various blustering tirades about whatever they think is either wrong or right with the Sydney Olympics.
Such foolish movements are mobilised from bodies and faces that in many ways are indistinct from the targets of their satire. As the discussions of Gunston and Kennedy highlight, such complicity is a further characteristic of the carnivalesque fool. In The dream Roy and H.G. occupy a flashy set, complete with the large news desk at which they sit, and a background of television monitors, Olympic flame and Channel Seven logo. In this there is a clearly visible complicity with the target of their satire. They wear the sports jackets, shirt and tie of the other Channel Seven studio commentators and thus are without the continual visual grotesqueness that makes television images such as Gunston, or indeed Kath and Kim, which I shall address shortly, sites for the mobilisation of inhabited resistance. In this complicity Roy and H.G. engage in what Massumi describes as a productive mode of mimicry (1998, p. 61).4 Indeed, of the three examples discussed in this chapter Roy and H.G. are arguably the strongest example of the resistive power of mimicry, in that their absurd opinions and views are sometimes also taken seriously.
There are many other times, however, when Roy and H.G. do emerge as visually grotesque through disrupting the traditional attire and illusions of the serious televisual face. In this way, a scenic invocation of carnival produces a resistive inhabiting of the television image of control. For example, on a number of occasions H.G. plonks his feet up on the desk to reveal he is wearing the official platypus mascot fluffy slippers. Also, in the penultimate episode, instead of a dress shirt and tie H.G. sports the garish Mambo designed shirt that the Australian team is to wear at the closing ceremony, under his jacket. At another point, when discussing the rules and technicalities of race walking, Roy clambers on the desk to reveal jeans and sneakers worn in combination with his formal jacket and tie. These seemingly spontaneous episodes and actions interrupt the image’s construction of serious sporting authorities, producing images that resist the serious televisual mode of address through the carnivalesque practice of displaying the usually unseen lower body. This type of comic practice will also be discussed in more detail in regard to the vernacular of The dream.
Mostly, however, in the formality of their appearance and setting Roy and H.G. are not so far removed from the initial appearance of Bruce Gyngell on Australian broadcast television. And indeed, Gyngell’s suits and formality as a signal of authority have continued, as we have noted in the example of Graham Kennedy’s immaculate attire. The suit as a signal of authority continues to feature in contemporary television images as well. Gunston too was formally attired although, like his face and movements, his suit was resistant to the serious verbal discourse he attempted to produce, in its bright, shiny aqua blue. In spite of the instances described above Roy and H.G. are closer to the mode of operation observed in the Kennedy images. Their inhabited resistance is produced through the disjunctive synthesis of sound and image. Employing the mode of journalism and television news, they proceed to tactically resist the style of television image they also inhabit through their exaggerated gesture and verbal bluster. Similar to Kennedy’s practice of mugging, their faces are characterised by excessive reactions of outrage, shock, despair and joy. The two figures also exaggerate their physical gestures to further produce an excessive and resistive televisual face. In this way there are few stabilising, reassuring movements that can be observed. In their interactions with each other there is continual disruption and interference through sudden vocal changes in pace and volume, as well as opinions that can fluctuate wildly from one side of an argument to another, in swift, unexpected about-turns. Once again, we can observe a scenic iteration of the techno-materiality of televisual liveness and its capacity to accommodate interference and disruption. In comparison to the solo figures of Kennedy and Gunston, with Roy and H.G. the comic excess is literally doubled, intensifying further the force of these carnivalesque fools and their televisual configuration of resistance.
These points can be illustrated through specific examples from various segments of The dream. The first is in their commentating practice. Prior to Sydney 2000 Roy and H.G. were well-known in Australia for their commentating performances. Throughout the three matches each year of rugby league’s State of Origin, where a team from Queensland compete against a team from New South Wales, Roy and H.G. would provide a live radio broadcast of the games on Triple J, encouraging listeners to turn down the sound on the television coverage and turn up their radio. What ensued would be a riot of ridiculous nicknames and description, in what Batchen describes as “sexual innuendo and near libellous commentary” (2002, p. 187). Similar broadcasts take place annually at the end-of-season rugby league and and AFL grand finals. As Batchen describes:
They then offer a running commentary over the top of the TV broadcast, incorporating everything into their aural satire from the national anthem played at the opening ceremonies (which they replace with an Aboriginal pop song from the 1970s) to the aimless camera pans over the crowd. The result is an extraordinary phantasmagoria of images and sound during which the very form of broadcast television is held up to ridicule and critique. (Batchen 2002, p. 187)
As Batchen astutely notes, in these joyous sporting occasions Roy and H.G.’s satire is not only directed at sport, but also the way in which sport is produced as a television event. That is, they comment not only on the game, but also on the images of the television commentators and the images of the crowd, drawing attention to the comic potential of these television images as part of the overall sporting event. The duo carried these techniques through to The dream where night after night they would produce a re-commentary on many of the Games’ more marginal sports, as well as incidents that may have been overlooked in the mainstream media because of the lack of involvement of high-profile sporting nations and/or Australia.
As a practice television re-commentary can be described in terms of the technological operations of control. It encompasses the techniques of disciplinary surveillance and observation, which through the omni-presence of the television technology engages with the world of sport as an open and accessible field of operation. Some of Roy and H.G.’s favourite sports in The dream were water polo, Greco-Roman wrestling, judo, weightlifting, boxing and men’s gymnastics. For many of these sports, Roy and H.G.’s re-commentary exaggerated the sexualised discourses of sport to the point where innuendo was transformed into sexual explicitness. A potent brand of homoeroticism permeated their re-commentary and they produced a specifically grotesque vernacular to describe the sporting images. A connection can be drawn between Roy and H.G.’s re-commentary on these sports and Bakhtin’s description of the carnivalesque language known as billingsgate and the other forms of comic parody and composition of folk humour characteristic of carnival (1994, pp. 201-206). Specifically, billingsgate is a term given to the language of carnival that encompasses “curses, oaths, slang, humor, popular tricks and jokes, scatological forms, in fact all the ‘low’ and ‘dirty’ sorts of folk humor” (Stallybrass and White 1986, p. 8). In their re-commentary Roy and H.G. provide an excessive repetition and reference to male genitalia and bodily organs that resonates with Bakhtin’s description of “grotesque bodily billingsgate themes: diseases, monstrosities, organs of the lower stratum” (1994, p. 222).
As part of this in their re-commentary Roy and H.G. also emphasise the homoerotic connotations of men’s sports. This is particularly apparent in their re-commentary on judo and Greco-Roman wrestling with continual observations on the competitors “having a grope”, “going for a feel”, “going the back door” and “whack someone on his back and grab his tool bag”. Similar references to the male genitalia and homoerotic themes infused their re-commentary on the men’s gymnastics. In the floor routines a gymnast who falls flat on his front is “battering the sav”, legs open in the air is known as “hello boys” or “I’m expecting company”. Placing legs together is then referred to as “closing the door”, while the splits is known as a “flat bag”. Indeed, throughout these scenes there is a clear obsession and reiteration of the open bodily orifices, particularly of the lower body, characteristic of the grotesque realism of carnival. Using these terms to mimic the official technical discourses of televised sport, in the manner of sports commentary with the typical low tone of the voice, following closely the ebbs and flows of the unfolding event, Roy and H.G. produce re-commentary permeated by sexual themes which fits quite beautifully with the images as commentary should. In this way, a different image of televisual sport is constructed through explicitly sexual, homoerotic themes, mocking the heterosexual and homophobic culture of public sporting discourses in Australia.
It is the sexually explicit re-commentary that is also, in fact, engaging with the unfolding televisual scenes in the exacting, observational practice of the sporting commentator that constructs the images from The dream as actualisations of tactical, inhabited resistance. Roy and H.G. are complicitly engaged in the practice of sporting commentary as a technique of televisual control, however, what they say is so excessive and explicit that it highlights the difference between this sporting image and other images of television sport that do not grasp the opportunity for resistance as Roy and H.G. do. Here, then, is a different kind of television event. The sound in these images is not the reassuring, stabilising serious configuration of a Bruce Gyngell, but is closer to the complicit self-reflexivity of Kennedy and the flexible pragmatism of Gunston.
Another important aspect of Roy and H.G.’s work in The dream was their nightly interviews with both Australian and international sportspeople. Combining gentle flattery and persuasion with outright attacks, in the interviews the two would manage to quickly disarm their guests, often provoking surprising honesty in the responses from the interviewees. While Gunston would attack his guests through his naivety and innocence, producing bemused and confused reactions, Roy and H.G. are constructed as eminently knowledgeable. However, their expertise is exaggerated to the point where it mobilises an authority that is disrupted by the ridiculous excesses of their statements.
In their interviews it is usual that H.G. plays the straight man, introducing and welcoming the guests, and asking some more sensible preliminary questions. He then invites Roy to join the conversation, who asks the more pointed and direct questions. A regular theme here is Roy’s personalisation of his questions, often prefaced with “when I was being coached with my [insert any sport here]…”. This is a move that in many ways is similar to Gunston’s invocation of the personal, in the anecdotes of his childhood and life that he includes in his interviews. There is a flexibility and mobility then that configures Roy and H.G. as sporting authorities. They can adapt to any interview situation through their excessive authority and exaggerated sporting expertise, which is a comic articulation of the trend of contemporary television sports to employ ex-players as presenters and commentators so that they may offer personal, expert advice in their discussion of proceedings.5 There is an explicit historicising gesture in such televisual scenes, located at the site of personal memories and past glories. Roy’s invocation of his personal and vast sporting experience produces the television image as historical, as well as subjective and individual.
Throughout The dream memories of Olympic Games past are also scenically articulated through an excessive nationalist, historicising swagger. 1896, the year the Olympics were revived in the modern era, is constantly referred to as the “Edwin Flack Games” – the name of Australia’s lone competitor and medallist from that year. Also, many discussions are held around the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, recurringly and disparagingly referred to as the “toilet games”, in an explicitly grotesque image that also expresses anti-American sentiment. Atlanta functions as a constant point of contrast for Sydney which Roy and H.G. decide will be remembered as the “sublime games” or the “greatest games ever”. In the final episode of The dream of September 30, 2000 Roy and H.G. engage in a hyperbolic discussion of Sydney’s place in history asserting that Sydney has “thrown down the gauntlet”, “for the rest of games in eternity”, noting that future cities “will have to be bloody good to beat what we’ve turned on”.
The reconfiguration and construction of alternative Olympics history did not always have a national inflection. Every programme is introduced with a particular title for the day of the week for which Roy and H.G. then provide an historical explanation from past games. For example “Finger-lickin Friday” is so named from an incident in 1904 at the St Louis games where Americans dropped live chickens into boiling oil and then ate them – a tradition that Roy and H.G. assure the viewer continues today. “Supernatural Sunday” comes from an incident at the games in Antwerp where the ghost of an ancient Greek athlete appeared before the crowd. Through such televisual scenes history becomes a flexible, shifting and imaginative field of operation, akin to the open social field of control.
A nationalist bluster and swagger was mobilised through various continuing themes of The dream. There was an ongoing, sometimes sly, sometimes explicit anti-American sentiment, focussed through the denigration of Atlanta, as well as more open tirades addressing the stereotypical stupidity and arrogance of Americans.6 Similarly, ongoing comparisons between the success of Australia and the lack of success for New Zealand (a traditional sporting competitor) were a recurring topic of discussion. Also, frequent invocations of the Australian nation as a coherent sporting community were displayed through excessive generalisations regarding the effect of the Olympics on the community, such as “The whole nation wants to take up sport”, or, following a silver medal for Australia in the long-jump, “The whole nation has gone jumping crazy”.
As with Kath and Kim, Roy and H.G. produce and mobilise a creative Australian vernacular and language in their inhabited resistance of the television technology’s usual procedures of control. The aforementioned sexual innuendo plays a part in this, as do the constant nationalist invocations of Australia as a sports-mad television audience. This is also combined with Roy and H.G.’s inhabitation of televisual and media sporting clichés. They employ certain phrases and clichés to excess, and in doing so accentuate the hyperbole and ridiculousness of their usual employment in non-satirical sporting broadcasts. Indeed, in The dream episode of 27 September, H.G. explicitly acknowledges this process in reference to their continual use of words and phrases such as “tilt”, “throw down the gauntlet” and “cauldron”, stating that he and Roy are aiming to “devalue words of meaning by using them all the time”. That is, an excessive use of the traditional language of televisual sport is one way in which its established meanings can be resisted. Or, to put this another way, Roy and H.G. inhabit the world of televisual sport and in their carnivalesque practices of comic excess and exaggeration are at once complicit with, and resisting, the regulatory and stabilising controls of scenic television conventions of commentary and description.
The battler’s prince
This production of inhabited resistance is also clearly mobilised in one of The dream’s more memorable creations, the alternative Games mascot of “Fatso, the fat-arsed wombat” otherwise known as “the battler’s prince”. As a symbol of the Sydney Olympics, Fatso is indeed a grotesque, carnivalesque mascot. An excessive image of the lower body, Fatso slyly recalls former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating’s infamous comment that Australia was situated at the “arse-end” of the world.
The idea of a mascot can be understood as functioning as a metaphor, a sign that mobilises meanings and comparisons between what it is and what it is associated with. In Sydney there were three official mascots in the form of anthropomorphised cuddly Australian animals. They were Millie the echidna, Syd the platypus and Olly the kookaburra (Australian government culture and recreation 2000, p. 1 of 1). Small, cute, friendly and welcoming, these official mascots were designed to draw positive connections between these characteristics and Sydney’s hosting of the Olympics. The dream’s mascot Fatso took the form of the traditional plush toy, and was also exclusively presented to guests of the programme in the form of a collector’s pin.
A recurring theme throughout The dream was the failure of official mascots to capture the public imagination and the superiority of Fatso. Roy and H.G. were consistently disparaging of the Australian Olympic Committee’s choice of mascots and merchandising, continually referring to “Syd, Olly and Dickhead”. In one memorable scene Roy asks of Syd and friends in mock bemusement: “Why didn’t they work – they’re so cute?” to which H.G. replies, “but as I keep pointing out, this just stomps all over them”. And he uses Fatso to pummel the cute mascots all over the desk.
Like the official mascots, during the course of the Games Fatso (through the efforts of The dream) made appearances at various sporting events. In the first week he notoriously was carried by a number of Australian swimmers at their medal ceremonies. This prompted a swift and rather humourless response from the International Olympic Committee in the form of memo stating, “Fatso is not allowed to appear with athletes anymore”. After reading this proclamation on the programme Roy rejects the ruling saying, “we’re going to try it on and the IOC can get stuffed”. Following this episode Fatso continued to be displayed during the programme, being feted by athletes and discussed by the international media. Fatso also occupied centre stage in Roy and H.G.’s interviews with athletes, all of which concluded with a photo being taken of the guest holding Fatso.
Fatso’s circulation throughout the Olympics and the broadcast on this on television highlights again the operation of control. Fatso is an example of a shifting meta-product that can flow with the forces of contemporary capitalism. Yet, he also highlights the virtuality of inhabited resistance that is a potentiality of the televisual operation of control. Like his creators Roy and H.G., Fatso demonstrates how a movement of inhabited resistance can occupy the televisual event of control, while exploiting it to different effect. Once again this is the complicitly productive mimicry that has been noted already in this discussion. Fatso mimics the role of a mascot, and in doing so produces interference and disruption throughout the capitalist system of operation. The wombat mobilises a less cute and cuddly notion of the Sydney Olympics. By intervening in the Olympics’ capitalist field of operation Fatso produced a connection to Australia as fat, short-sighted and struggling to achieve anything at all. Just as Gunston inhabited the Whitlam televisual event and turned it into a joke, Fatso inhabits and resists the televisual event of the Sydney Olympics, transforming the event into an arse.
While thousands purchased tickets to be part of the crowds at the various venues and stadiums, for the majority of audiences, the Olympics is a television event that is engaged with through its television images. One of the increasingly rare episodes in the television schedule that is broadcast globally, the Olympics exploits television’s capacity for liveness in the technical sense. Also, in the broadcast of spontaneous and contingent events, the many scenes of the Olympics actualise television’s potential for disruption and interference in the techno-materiality of the television image. While there may be expectations as to the likely outcome of any sporting event in terms of winners and losers, produced as television images such events reiterate the televisual potential that things might not appear as planned. As a televisual event, then, sporting events such as the Olympics intensify the virtual contingency and spontaneity of the televisual technology, the connection between the techno-materiality of televisual liveness and the scenic operation of control and resistance. In the images of Roy and H.G., we once again can note the tactical processes of disruption and interference specific to the televisual processes, in scenic configurations of carnivalesque excesses. Just as we saw Gunston transform the Whitlam incident into a television event of a political joke, Roy and H.G. perform a similar operation in the field of television sport. By employing the carnivalesque tactics of excess and exaggeration they actualise television sport’s potential for comedy, resistively inhabiting television’s official sporting discourses. Their catchphrase, “when too much sport is barely enough”, neatly captures the possibilities of such movements of excess. Comic excess and exaggeration are employed to transform television sport into a creative and productive field that exploits and displays such resistance in the television image. As part of a technology of control, what Roy and H.G. demonstrate is the resistive potential a carnivalesque parody of Australianness and national identity can mobilise within the globalising operations of the technology. Here, the social field is reconfigured again through the operation of television.
As a final point of contrast we now turn our attention to the more recent Australian television comedy Kath and Kim. Unlike the blustering images of resistive tactical processes observed in Roy and H.G., Kath and Kim mobilises a feminine articulation of inhabited resistance to the televisual operation of control. Technologically and scenically Kath and Kim highlights the critical issue of resistance in the society of control, illustrating the televisual capacity for producing and mobilising a specific form of inhabited resistance.