So, I’ve just finished watching the finale of the SBS series, The Family Law. It’s over. Sob. Gasp. Sniffle.
For those of you who missed it, here’s a little redux/wrap up of some social media nonsense, to bring you up to speed. Read at will. This way we’re both on a similar page. Once you’re done, I’ll know that you know something about what I know. It was a TV show, with some Asians in it. It’s over now. Australia will probably never be the same again.
Firstly, let’s get some thanks out of the way. Thanks to Benjamin Law and his entire overly talented, generous family, especially, his mother. I cannot high five you all hard enough. Jenny – you are basically my new spirit animal (I’m still recovering from my complex feelings about the Lee Lin Lamb situation). Thanks especially for the pregnancy advice. HUGS AND SMOTHERING KISSES to people like Debbie Lim and Tony Ayres and the crew at Matchbox for having the energy to bring the story to our little boxes, WET WILLIES OF DELIGHT TO to writers like Marieke Hardy for making a hilarious book into moving pictures, and CIRCUMSPECT TAX PAYER BASED RESPECT to broadcasters like SBS for giving the viewing public a chance to quote #shitasianmothersay and experience Queensland in all its daggy glory. Seriously, on my knees, THANK YOU.
Suffice to say, many here over in Asian Australia land (wherever and whatever that is) have been watching. And laughing.
Now, and it’s worth stating that I am alone in my house, it’s late at night, and I’ve just finished crying at the television, thinking about my parent’s divorce, which took place in a not dissimilar time and period, while my mother sported a not-dissimilar spiral perm.
So, naturally, this is not the best time for a few truth bombs. Probably, I should just go to bed. I’m tired and she-motional.
And yet, even as the last episode of The Family Law has just wrapped in a saccharine and somewhat confusing slip and slide moment, I can’t seem to let the whole thing go.
You see, over the last six weeks (perhaps understandably so because we’ve been hosting the series of me-views on The Family Law), several non-Asian Australian friends/acquaintances/people have spontaneously brought up the show to me, asking if I am watching it and then… in almost hushed voices:
“So… what do you really think?”
“About the show, you know? Do you think it’s good? Like, does it actually do anything?” The person looks awkward. As if they’ve just eaten chicken feet for the first time and they can’t believe “my people” do this sort of thing.
Right about this time, I usually want to throw my hands up.
Instead, I say something courteous like, “well, it depends on your taste.”
What I’ve really been wanting to say, however, is what are you actually asking me? Ok, maybe a few people are just asking if it’s actually a good show. I know I’m utterly paranoid about this stuff. And yes, The Family Law is good. It’s perfectly fine television. It’s well-produced, well-enough acted on the whole and has a nice bubbly sense of timing. Some moments are actually epic. I laughed. I cried. I clutched my chest a couple of times with awkwardness. I wished my mother could watch it with me. That sounds “good” to me. Did you even watch it? Why are you talking to me about something you didn’t even watch?
Oh wait? Is it like the time you tried to involve me in that Gallipoli miniseries over farewell cake at the office? Or asked Home and Away before home room at school? Or Neighbours? Or Family Feud? Wasn’t there something VITAL I missed on Help, I’m a Celebrity?
These are all good shows, right? They all make it to air, run for multiple seasons and become a part of our social vernacular, don’t they?
I wonder, sometimes, what people’s expectations are. Are they asking me if The Family Law an Asian Australian version of Under Milkwood? Is it luminous, incendiary, writing? Is it taking story-telling to The Next Level? Is this hard-hitting television that proves at last that cinema is dead? Is it Breaking Bad meets Mad Men feat. Deadwood cum Game of Thrones meets The Wire? Jeebus. On what budget? When you ask me if it’s “good”, I want to reply “compared to what?”
The Family Law is a comedy drama about the suburbs, divorce, family, adolescence and love. When we collectively consider works that represent non-dominant minority representations, I wish we would reflect not so much on whether “ethic stories” can be “good”, but whether our existing definitions of value have been culturally confined to dominant values of worth and success. Then I wish we would consider those works against a “refreshed” consideration of “good” and ask ourselves – What did that work try to do? How well did it achieve its intentions? How worthwhile was the realisation of that intention? The Family Law has approximately 6 x 22 mins to occupy the flea-like attention of the Australian public and you want me to tell you if it is “good”? Pfft. Make up your own mind. Watch it. I dare you to resist #jennypowa
This from people who watched four seasons of Winners & Losers. #givemestrength
Sometimes I wish I had Benjamin Law’s PhD on hand to quote, so I could remind them:
With such intense anxieties and frustrations surrounding the quantity and visibility of on-screen ethnic minority representations, it is understandable that, consequently the quality of existing on-screen representations is subject to fastidious scrutiny (Chan, 2000; May, 2003).
Are specific representations of minorities “simplistic and/or patronising” (Chan, 2000)? When there are simply not enough representations, the few that do exist bear the brunt of the attacks.
As always, Benjamin Law is smarter than me, better dressed than me, and more aware of the issues that really matter. Bastard.
Is The Family Law a revolution? Does it really “change everything” or even “change anything”? Of course not.
A revolution is a very specific and very dramatic notion of a change in social order and I really wish we would stop using the term when all we mean is “something we haven’t noticed before”. Because there have been a great number of Asian Australians on Australia’s – and the world’s screens before. The Family Law is neither a revolution, nor is it required to be. Consider for a moment the Asian Australian Film Forum Network, and any of the number of projects that they profile and review. This only touches at the tip of the iceberg in terms of the creativity, energy and “goodness” of the diverse communities of Australia. Perhaps you just haven’t been watching.
And while a second season would be nice, I secretly hope that Trystan Go also moves on to new, exciting projects in whatever chosen sphere of the arts he desires, because no one wants to be the ethnic version of Home and Away’s, Sally (no disrespect intended, Sal). Although maybe Fiona Choi could star in a musical version. Perhaps Anthony Brandon Wong will play Trigorin in some complicated badass action reworking of The Seagull. We’re all gunning for Bethany Whitmore’s spin off. Personally, I’m thinking George Zhao should be involved in some sort of celebrity campaign for GQ. Like, on the cover. #whodafugisryanreynolds.
I think I’ve calmed down now. And it’s getting late. Really, I have to go back to the “real world” tomorrow, where only insurance companies and banks and the like have noticed that people with links to non-white identities live in Australia.
Instead, the greatest “revolution” of The Family Law is probably that, for six weeks there in 2016, members of the general public felt able to start a reasonable, reasoned, gentle conversation with me about the role of television in representing – or otherwise – the people in the world it expects to consume its media. TV provided the imagined family that provided the primer vocabulary for a more complicated discussion of race and representation than I’ve been able to have outside of diaspora and migrant circles. And we got to be in it together. Via the magic of social media and mediated mass communications, people like me, or at least a bit like me, and maybe a bit like you, were able to experience the heartbreaking terror that comes from knowing what it must be like to be accepted, and acceptable in Australian mass culture.
And that, my friends, felt good.