It really is a load of old...
THERE’S an idea that’s been tapping on the back of my brain for quite a while now, just scuttling around in the shadows back there and until now I’ve only caught the most random of glimpses of it. But then it came to me in a sudden flash of realisation, and now I’ve seen it, I cannot unsee it.
You know how there’s all this stuff on the internet? Vast quantities of said-tobe information about weight loss, celebrities and mystery illnesses? You know that none of it is new, don’t you? It’s all been recycled and given and extra spin of modernity, but it all originates from old publications like Truth, Life and True Crime magazines – the sort of publications our parents tried to protect us from when we were kids. It’s the potboilers, the sweaty Betty books, the hanky-panky magazine, the pulp, the putrid pap.
It’s all the shit music and crap novellas and cowboy comics – all of them recycled and re-imagined in cyber-age lycra suits, but now missing that somehow indefinable charm of old-fashioned tawdriness.
When I was a kid, we were aware of this stuff at the fringes of our consciousness. You’d see the magazines at other people’s houses, or at the hairdresser’s, or even at the newsagency. I remember finding old magazines in the postshearing clean-up of the shearer’s quarters and being fascinated by this brand new genre of writing that I’d never encountered before. True crimes, true confessions... To quote Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan, “Overheated romance, continued from page 17”.
And I don’t know why, but it is all somehow inextricably linked in my mind with Peter Stuyvesant cigarette advertising. It’s something to do with that aura of manufactured sophistication. I saw a cinema advertisement featuring footage of glamorous people on the crappy beaches in the South of France, with a voice-over that claimed the cigarettes were your passport to smoking pleasure. Since that day I have subconsciously linked those cigarettes with a certain raffish glamour, with world-weary chic and style.
Then, years later, a work colleague from Melbourne revealed her passion for Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes, and in particular those that came in the soft packets. I reckon she had seen the same advertisements in her childhood. She said it had more to do with someone she referred to as the Stuyvie Fairy. First I’d heard of it. The Stuyvie Fairy is apparently a little creature who always came through with an extra dhurrie, even when you were sure the soft pack had yielded its last... There it would be, just when you were completely desperate, rifling through the deflated package. From my recollection, the fairy was more active late at night in pubs and clubs than it was during the day.
Those crazy Melbourne women and their imaginary friends...
However, I digress. It was a revelation, looking at all that is out there, in this brave new world of connectivity and communication, and realising that the content has not caught up with the medium. All they’ve done is bit of judicious top and tailing, retelling of old stories and cobbling together some bits of old tat to keep the punters happy.
Speaking of raffishness and retro, I have recently discovered the works of Elmore Leonard, and I am rationing my forays into his writing. He is prolific and brilliant, but I am making my way through his catalogue with some restraint. Which is unusual for me, given my predilection for immersion and gorging on writers and then finding myself with no more to read and a virtual hangover.
But what brings Elmore Leonard to mind in the context of today’s rant is the fact that his early break in fiction writing (while making his living in a day-job in advertising) was producing the sort of pulp fiction I’m referring to. He wrote the sort of paperbacks that were grist to the mill of the cowboy comic consumers. They were truly paperbacks in that they were printed on the sort of paper hitherto only used for ablution blocks; they had lurid covers with images that vastly oversold the salacious qualities of the stories within. They were in that milieu known as the “penny dreadful”. Except they were written by a writer, and that makes all the difference.
I spent a large chunk of last weekend at home, nursing what is either a summer cold or some ridiculous allergy, and watching Blue Murder for the first time. I can’t remember why I didn’t watch it at the time. I think it had something to do with my intense dislike of Richard Roxburgh.
You remember Blue Murder; it was the series done by the ABC, which looked at police corruption and the somewhat chequered career of Sydney police officer Roger Rogerson. And for those of us who thought Underbelly broke new ground and was great television, it was interesting to see how well this much older show stands up to the test of time. I found myself watching it and wondering how old it actually was. You could tell from the film quality and the style of the camera work that it was getting long in the tooth but I was amazed to see that it was actually made in 1995. I have work colleagues who weren’t born by then. Blue Murder still looks pretty good – it’s good television – and I found it interesting to try to analyse how much of a footing it provided for the producers of Underbelly.
Perhaps I need to read a little more Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and a few less tightly worded gritty novellas or dystopian futuristic visions of the future.
It certainly held my attention until the bitter end. And when I say bitter, that’s pretty much what I mean.
So, my weekend intake of Blue Murder may be accounting for my rather jaundiced view of the world this week. Either that, or the fact that I’m reading Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last. Perhaps I need to read a little more Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and a few less tightly worded gritty novellas or dystopian futuristic visions of the future.
Gritty is good, but it does leave stuff on your liver.
Weekender regular Sally Bryant was born with her nose in a book and if no book is available, she finds herself reading Cornflakes packets, road signs and instruction manuals for microwaves. All that information has to go somewhere...