Is the determination of some politicians to play the xenophobia (fear of foreigners) card as the election nears a dumb thing? Well, yes, obviously. But Masterchef could be the proof we needed to show opportunistic policy makers to re-think their anti-foreigner rhetoric. That’s the fascinating theory posed by Fairfax pop culture writer David Dale that caught my attention last week.
David Dale talked about attending a seminar called “The MasterChef Phenomenon” which suggested that the show is actually causing a cultural transformation (or echoing one that’s already happening). And that is the celebration of cultural diversity. Through food and people in a totally non-threatening, apolitical and inclusive way. He wrote:
The crystallising moment happened two weeks ago when Adele, a contestant of Italian background, served up little pastries called crostoli to George, a judge of Greek background, watched by contestants Jimmy, of Indian background, and Alvin, of Malaysian background, who were the other finalists in a challenge to make the dish they remembered most fondly from childhood.
George frowned and remarked that there was something missing. Adele looked worried. What they needed, he said, was a cup of espresso made in a macchinetta [small percolator], “so we could sit over these crostoli and chat for hours”. Everyone beamed in agreement.
Pauline Hanson doesn’t stand a chance after MasterChef. Its worshippers embrace a powerful belief system: Australia is the most entertaining place to live on earth, because our history of immigration has created an endless array of pleasures.
It would only take a few challenges involving the preparation of Tamil food (such as kotthu rotti, lamb curry with chopped pancake) and Afghan food (such as chapli kabab, spiced minced beef patties) to make boat people the most welcome of new arrivals and destroy Tony Abbott’s election campaign.
Here’s the interesting bit. Despite blitzing the ratings every night in virtually all key demographics, there’s one demographic who aren’t buying the Masterchef hype and stubbornly refuse to watch: the over 55s.
…..on Sundays, the geriatrics watch repeats of Border Security while the rest of the country is watchingMasterChef. On Mondays, the gerries watch Find My Family. On Tuesdays they watch Australia’s Got Talent; on Wednesdays, Dog Squad; on Thursdays Catalyst and on Fridays, Better Homes and Gardens. So they have nothing against talent quests, nothing against reality shows, and nothing against cooking, but everything against the show everyone else adores.
For heaven’s sake, why? What’s not to like about a finely crafted comedy melodrama in which charming people strive to achieve their dreams?
Here’s the theory. MasterChef celebrates diversity. It could not exist without the national obsession with multicultural cooking. Could it be that the oldies are the last bastion of xenophobia in this otherwise generous land? Are the over 55s responsible for the opinion polls that suggest Australians are opposed to immigration? If so, are the politicians who pander to what they imagine to be the racist underbelly of this country actually wasting their time trying to please people who won’t be around to complain about the effects of greater diversity?
Many over 55s got rather cross with the suggestion that there could be xenophobic (fear of foreigners) reasons for their refusal to embrace the Masterchef phenomenon. In a follow up column this weekend, David Dale wrote about the 55+ readers who told him the real reason they didn’t watch Masterchef after reading about his theory. According to them:
“It cynically manipulates the emotions of contestants and audience; it overdramatises to the point of nausea; it turns what should be a relaxing pleasure into a tense competition; it is tediously repetitious; it emphasises esoteric ingredients and techniques that are irrelevant to family cooking; there are too many ads; judge Matt is pompous and pretentious; judge George is crude and eats with his mouth open.”
So there. Do you think there’s an argument to be made about Masterchef inadvertantly (or perhaps deliberately) giving multiculturalism a good name? Is it about the casting? The food? The drama and tears?
If I had to say why I loved it, I think it would come down to the following:
1. Watching a cooking show when you can’t cook is somehow soothing and inspiring at the same time.
2. I watch it with my son – there are few programs on TV we can watch together without one of us wanting to grab the remote control and run screaming from the room.
3. The people are real. This word is hugely over-used, I know but they genuinely don’t seem to conform to the usual white-bread boring casting that characterises every other reality show on TV. The judges aren’t the usual TV stereotype. Neither are the contestants. I LIKE learning about food from other cultures, even if I will never cook it.
What do you think? Are you a Masterchef fan? Why? Loving it as much this year?
And if not? Why not?
UPDATE & CLARIFICATION: While I can’t speak for David Dale, I was not in any way suggesting that those who enjoy Border Security are necessarily xenophobic. Let alone racist (defensive and paranoid? me?).
I’m saying that watching that type of show can stir those feelings of “why are these people coming into our country with their weavil-infested bean curd! How dare they!”
I’ve experienced this feeling myself and I am the most racially tolerant person you’ll ever meet. That’s what the producers are trying to do. That’s how they make it dramatic. Because if you strip all that away, weavils aren’t really that exciting on their own…..