‘If you don’t buy this record I’ll jump out of these speakers and rip yer bloody arms off’
– Aunty Jack –
The stage persona of Aunty Jack, a long forgotten 1970s Australian television comedian and recording artist, was a cartoon version of anti-conscription, anti-Vietnam War, feminist era (?) cross-dressing, making a parody of commercially and threatening violence. There is nothing but harmless humour in his/her performance, a pantomime figure in a scene where everyone knows the musician cannot jump out of the speaker and force you to buy a record, or make you do anything much at all. Sure, this played on parental fears of the susceptibility of youth to get caught up in the latest crazed anti-disestablishmentarian stunt (Aunty rode a Harley Davidson Motorcycle, was a sort of renegade pirate type, swore on prime time tv, etc). But such pathetic fears had, I would argue, little to do with the fears that are presented to us in the mainstream media of today, deflecting any alternative discussion of politics, meanings and issues in the world of performance as such. Panto has turned much more brutal. I want to examine this and take the figure of Panto seriously. Is it merely a conceit to think that, for mine, it is a good thing that comedy music novelty acts could cross borders and tests limits, could take risks and suggest (im)possibilities that challenge, that sometimes had a life of their own, irrespective of the boundaries some might prefer to erect so as to confine or control? I used to think the counter-establishment charge of renegade panto made a lot more sense than the antics of those in power, but now I have to recognise that its just as much the case that Panto has changed, that its become the News.
In the present era, Aunty Jack is no longer remembered (see here, and do not miss the classic ‘Fish milkshakes’). Nowadays new figures of fun have a more sinister underside, and yet the underside does much more politically than the mischief of my beloved fat rebel Aunt. Aki Nawaz is portrayed as a cartoon ‘suicide rapper’ in newspapers like The Sun and The Guardian, but he also gets across a previously unheard and unwelcome message about the hypocrisy of the so-called ‘war on terror’. Soon he is invited (and invited back) onto BBC news roundtable discussions. I think this visibility means there is no danger of him being arrested anytime soon. But that he has taken it a step further, and managed to raise some issues, does not mean that other pantomime events have been displaced. The spectacle (lower case) of Mr and Mrs Bush placing a wreath in a wading pool at the base of former WTC last evening was bizarre. This is not cross dressing, but crocodile tears – the bombing of the Towers was of course reprehensible whoever did it (conspiracy theorists here here and everywhere) but, rather than offer more pics of Bush looking edgy, I think its more important to listen to Gore Vidal and his concern with the ‘the destruction of the Republic’ as inaugurated after 11 Sept 2001 in the guise of Homeland Security; Guantanamo; Rendition; endorsement of torture etc., (Vidal quips re ‘Homeland Security’ that the term is reminiscent of the Third Reich – ‘Der Homeland’ was not a phrasing he had heard from an American before ‘it was forced on us’ by the Government). This was on BBC radio today – Vidal self-styled as ‘spokesman for Carthage on Roman radio’, defender of ‘the Constitution’ against the oil and gas tyranny, and against the collusive ‘dreadful media’. We have not just lost some buildings, far worse is that we lost the Republic.
Well, perhaps the Republic was also always a Panto scene in the USA anyway. But the Panto wreath-laying of Bush and Bush makes me think also of Alain Badiou, in Infinite Thought, pointing out the non-equivalence of terror directed at a couple of buildings by a non-State entity (‘the terrorists’), and the retribution that is visited on all of our lives by the State Terror directed by US Forces; directed first at peasants, villagers and the dispossessed everywhere, but also directed at those in the ‘we’ through security legislation and so on. (Badoiu’s essay on terror in that book is one of the best I have read). That the terror extends to covert activity by secret service agencies; includes surveillance operations; plethora of dark underworld gadgetry etc; removes all vestige of civil liberties; and prepares us for perpetual war is only the logical consequence of – face it – our anti-war demonstrations, even when 2 million, being also only a kind of panto. We marched to hide in Hyde Park (‘he’s behind you’) and sat down tired to rest, when we should have sat on Blair and not moved till he resigned. He’s still there, clinging on in a rerun of Punch and Judy forever.
This does not man I want to bring back the days when Panto was just a cute summer entertainment.
Nor do I want to mock the city of New York today. There is a hole in the heart there, and its gives me pain to think of that place, and my lost friend and comrade Imogen too – we discussed this so often after she left for New School, and we once walked together to the site debating wars of terror, organisational questions, the purpose of demonstrations and the limits/betrayals of the Stop the War coalition (but our debates were never panto, no no). I cannot but think of personal pain and this place together, and then extend it to the pain endured throughout the world on behalf of those who want retribution. The Oil court of King George being the most dangerous terror cell of all.
The picture to the side here is of Kid Eager (Garry McDonald), Aunty Jack (Grahame Bond) and Thin Arthur (Rory O’Donoghue).
(and the song below even comes with guitar chords – strum along).
Farewell Aunty Jack,
We know you’ll be back
Though you’re 10 feet tall
You don’t scare us at all
You’re big, bold and tough
But you’re not so rough
C D G D
There’s a scream as she plummets away (‘allo me little luvlies) .