Going swimmingly

When I swim, it tends to attract notice: a triumphal progress from the changing rooms in my bathers (the Dawn French specials); a stately procession down the slow lane doing my personal stroke (the one that reminds you that the old name of freestyle was the Australian Crawl). It all looks rather special, partly because I hate putting my face in the water, which, though smelling hygienically of bleach, has always had someone else’s bottom in it quite recently. I know that you are supposed to dive your head under and create less resistance and all that, but for good or ill, my swimming style feels comfy to me even if my head does stick up like the Loch Ness monster. My beloved, who was a champion swimmer in his youth, still cleaves the water like a swordfish, head fully submerged, arms in smooth powerful arcs, feet flipping in an idle-seeming way that gets him there and back and there again while I splosh up one length. He says my swimming is vulgar without being funny and that he will overlook it for the time being because it offsets part of the chocolate that gets eaten round our house by someone who isn’t him. Yet despite all, I enjoy it: swimming is actually fun, unlike walking the dogs, who pull me briskly, ruthlessly, around the park like a pair of boot-camp sergeants.

When I saw Dawn Fraser on Enough Rope (ABC, Mondays, 9.30pm) in early August, looking grey and grandmotherly, it was hard to remember that she had been the greatest swimmer in the world. Being in hot water has always been her style and she is still talking out of turn. ‘Disinvited’ to the Athens Olympics after telling the truth about drug use by Australia’s athletes, she must have felt the familiar sense of being an outcast again. For those of us who can remember, she is no stranger to official nastiness, to being the target of unfair reprisals. When she was punished for pinching the Japanese flag in 1964, the penalty was to ban the world’s greatest swimmer for ten years. Today’s sports bureaucrats were no more magnanimous towards her this August than were yesterday’s batch of faceless, vindictive nobodies, uncaring of the ultimate fate of Australia and its reputation as an open, honest sporting nation. It goes deeper, and wider than just sport: there has to be better support for truth in public life, not just whatever slippery plausibilities that can be got away with.

We need another satirical program, one that will be as fearless as America’s The Daily Show. ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing had a really interesting program on 1 August, Seriously Funny Politics. In America, it seems that despite all the power of big media, there is plenty of articulate comment on public affairs. Satire is flourishing in a climate of increased suspicion since September 11. It comes mostly from the left, partly I think because there is more imagination in that direction and partly because there is so much more to laugh at from that perspective. There are in fact some right-wing comedians, but from the examples I heard, Michael Moore needn’t worry because they just aren’t funny. Good old radio: TV may be moribund here, but radio is still making us think, still talking to us where we are after all these years. If you want to sample The Daily Show, (and I do suggest you give it a try) the official website is at www.comedycentral.com/dailyshow/

You can actually download clips of some of the most sharp and hilarious bits of the show. Look under ‘d’ in the video index of  Lisa Rein’s wonderful weblog: www.lisarein.com/videoindex.html. My personal favourite is ‘Daily Show on Condi Rice’s 9/11 Testimony’.

So while faux-reality TV has taken all the joy out of goofing off in front of the telly, real TV like The Daily Show can still engage, can still make us demand something better from the duplicitous dullards who rule us. It might also interest you, when you are on the ABC Radio National website, to check the 18 July Background Briefing program entitled ‘Psychopaths in Suits’. It might just get one pondering about how the country has been run largely by school bullies and their sucks for a very long time.

At time of writing, TV and the whole country are in limbo, waiting for the Olympics and the election. All the regular programs are so tired right now. Frasier, Angel, Friends—so many big series finished over the last year that it is hard to imagine what can charm us to the couch again when the Games finish. Televised Olympics are the ultimate irony, with the inactive many watching the active few. In a world full of extremes, how will we balance ourselves?        

Juliette Hughes is a freelance writer.

 

 

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