Popular culture helps its audiences to play out their feelings and experiences against its mirror. Or, at least, it’s supposed to: that can be difficult when the pop culture you encounter doesn’t fit with the sensibilities of your context. Here in Australia, the market is saturated with US and UK television, which is much cheaper to buy than local television is to make. I love my US and UK telly, but, culturally and politically, the issues aren’t the same, and I find myself wishing for something more directly relevant to what I encounter in my life. In that vein, I wanted to share with you two examples of local television I’ve been very much enjoying of late. They’re Outland and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, both of which belong to the government-run Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Outland is a six-part series that has just finished up – although we’re all hoping for a second and longer series next year! It’s about a group of gay fans of science fiction. It’s therefore very possibly the best thing ever. It’s full of snappy dialogue and references to not only science fiction originating elsewhere – that is, in the US and UK! – but fannish culture specific to Australia, which is more refreshing than I can say. Even better is that it is a series that doesn’t feel the need to make queer characters secondary, or filter their experiences through the gawking of straight characters. The five leads all have their charms, but, for our purposes, let me highlight Rae. Rae’s the only woman in the group, and she’s also disabled and Indigenous. I was wincing slightly thinking about what could be done with a black, gay, disabled woman in a comedy series, but it was actually handed beautifully. Rae’s tough, the one who gets the group in gear, is allowed to be sexual, and is, in fact, not only a rounded character but a lovely, warm, and winning one. If you like your television with way too many Doctor Who references, or you want some gloriously sharp and Australian geeky goodness with a political conscience, Outland‘s the go.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is still airing, but I can already give it a great big tick of approval. Set in 1920s Melbourne, it follows one Phryne Fisher as she meddles in murder investigations, takes care of stray girls she meets during said investigations, and has sex with suspects. One cannot take one’s eyes off Essie Davis, whose Miss Fisher is magnetic. If you want a fiercely clever and immensely warm-hearted heroine, here’s one for you. Which is not to mention that I love a historical drama at the best of times, but one of the best qualities of this one is that the historical setting is used to comment on contemporary issues. One episode features intersecting cases concerned respectively with marriage law and sodomy, and there’s a pretty clear arrow pointed at the contemporary push for same-sex marriage in Australia. Plus, it’s simply a gorgeous production.
I love that frisson of connection when something you’re watching for fun connects with your political sensibilities, and it’s all the more marvellous when it’s something you can connect with that much more because of shared context.