The Logie Awards is Australia’s annual celebration of excellence and popularity in the television industry. Like many showbiz ceremonies, the Logies is both distinguished and, in spite of its long 57-year history, widely derided. Television affects all our lives, and whether willingly or begrudgingly, we pay attention to the event every year, which never feels completely authentic, yet reflects enough accuracy for us to gain insight into culture as it stands. We are embarrassed by the comprehensive stupidity of our viewing habits, but also acknowledge the achievements by individuals working in a very competitive space.
The Gold Logie represents the single highest honour presented to the most popular personality on TV today. When this year’s six nominees were announced on 3 April, controversy was immediately sparked by the inclusion of panel show host Waleed Aly, outspoken Muslim of Egyptian heritage, and veteran journalist Lee Lin Chin, from an Indonesian-Chinese background. For a week thereafter, Australian media outlets and social platforms were abuzz with commentary, opinion pieces and trolling. Objections arose from conservative columnists (at, for instance, The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail Australia) who claimed that Aly and Chin’s inclusion was not about merit but was only about diversity, implying that the nominees in question are undeserving and that conscious inclusion of ethnic minorities is fundamentally unacceptable.
Significant backlash predictably followed, with outpourings of support for the two figures of contention from competing publications and the creation of #IStandWithWaleed and #IStandWithLeeLinChin going viral at impressive speed. While the Americans are complaining about the Oscars being so white, our Logies’ extravagant whiteness would probably render them speechless. All 56 previous winners of the Gold Logie have been of Caucasian appearance (none are known to have declared contradictory ethnic identities), yet the first big debate in the digital age on the event is about the inclusion of non-whites. Year after year, all nominees for the Gold were monoethnic and not so much as a whimper has come out of Australians. We might have become a multicultural society more than a few decades ago, but we did not wish for images on our screens to tell the truth.
Australians of all persuasions have resolutely maintained that false representation of colour (or lack thereof) in all our media. We think of the country as a smooth-sailing boat that no one would dare rock. The whites are happy to see blondes on every television programme, and just as they have kept England’s Elizabeth our Queen, Australia’s old ties to Europe are to signify our difference from our nearby neighbours, for God forbid we should ever be thought of as being more similar to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea than to Old Blighty, never mind that it sits on the other side of the planet. The rest of us have suffered a weakness in confidence, with many investing in the belief that Australia looks best in the form of the Kylie and Jason mythology, and any demand for alternative representations would cause a fracture no one can afford. It is a vulnerability familiar to our instincts, because minorities have always been made to feel left out. This is a country that calls white people “Aussies”, as though the term will never apply to anyone of a different skin tone, and an insult to our Indigenous peoples that is beyond comprehension. Many of us have arrived through challenging circumstances, and we are reminded constantly to keep being grateful for that warm welcome. A person could not possibly want anything more, after being granted citizenship to the best country in the world.
So we have become accepting of warped images that purport to be reflections of us, except the truth has a way of eventually making itself materialise. While the word “diversity” has connotations and resonances with which many are uncomfortable, its pervasiveness in recent times has brought us to a new juncture. The whitewash is finally beginning to fade. When Aboriginal actor Miranda Tapsell accepted her silver Logie for Most Popular Newcomer last year, she asked that we “put more beautiful people of colour on TV and connect viewers in ways which transcend race and unite us”. Her speech was met with great jubilation, but Tapsell was also accused of needlessly bringing the issue of race into discussion. It is not an easy fight in the land down under, but good things are beginning to happen, and 12 months after they were spoken these words have come to hold great meaning.
Lee Lin Chin has worked 48 years in news, and Waleed Aly is quite likely the most intelligent person anchoring a show 5 nights a week on prime time commercial television. They are nominated against a game show host and a renovation reality specialist. Of course the dispute about meritocracy is absurd, but what we discover in all this squabble is the discomfort with which Australians view people of colour on their screens. There are great efforts put into the obstruction of our progress, and that is all the evidence we require for pushing back with all our might.
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