Life as a pizza: the comic of traditions of wogsploitation films: few protagonists of an Australian film are immediately as recognizable as that of 'The Wog Boy' (Aleksi Vellis, 2000), who drives a 1969 Valiant Pacer and grew up watching 'Skippy' in a Greek-Australian villa.
Contemporary humour and comic tradition
The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza can be identified as wogsploitation, or wog comedy, (2) films by their involvement of Australians from non-English-speaking backgrounds in humour that invokes ethnic stereotypes. These are Australian exploitation films, characterized by 'controversial content, bottom-line bookkeeping, and demographic targeting'. (3) Demographic targeting is evident, for instance, in the wogsploitation films' association with earlier successes. In particular, Nick Giannopoulos' work as producer, writer and star of The Wog Boy was preceded by his involvement in the successful stage shows Wogs Out of Work, Wog-a-Rama, Wogboys and Wog Story. Paul Fenech's fulfilment of the same roles in Fat Pizza is linked to his conception of the television series Pizza, which also spawned a stage show. As well as being profitable, (4) these films defy Australian cinema's tendency to follow international precedent. (5) For instance, The Wog Boy preceded the American hit film My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Joel Zwick, 2002) (6) and coincided with a cycle of British ethnic comedy films that includes East is East (Damien O'Donnell, 1999) and Bend It Like Beckham (Gurinder Chadha, 2002). The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza reflect a move away from the sensitive and serious portrayals of ethnic minorities in earlier Australian films, such as Kostas (Paul Cox, 1979) and Head On (Ana Kokkinos, 1998), towards market-driven entertainment.
The controversial content of the wogsploitation films is exemplified by their flagrant use of ethnic stereotypes. Much of the comedy in The Wog Boy derives from the racial epithet 'wog' and the protagonist's defiant assertion of his Greek-Australian identity. Similarly, the term 'chocko' is used in Fat Pizza to denote any person whose darker skin colour distinguishes him or her from the ethnic majority. Some viewers object to these films' use of ethnic stereotypes, pointing to the absence of a clear distinction between parody and the reinforcement of social prejudices. (7) A subordination of women is also evident in these often aggressively male-dominated films. indeed, the idea of the wog, like all stereotypes, is characterized by ambivalence, producing what Homi Bhabha calls an 'effect of probabilistic truth' that is ultimately 'always in excess of what can be empirically proved or logically construed' (italics in original). (8) Yet wog comedy's reclamation of ethnic stereotypes can also serve as a means of assertion through taking control of ethnic images. For instance, Jeanette Leigh notes that the term 'wog' is now worn as a 'badge of honour' which, although 'not politically correct', can be 'endearing'. (9) The success of wogsploitation reflects the increasingly active participation of ethnic minorities in screen comedy.
Film critic Megan Spencer sees wogsploitation as a sub-category of what she calls 'oz-ploitation', a style of Australian comedy that is exemplified by The Castle (Rob Sitch, 1997) and Siam Sunset (John Polson, 1999). (10) Lynden barber underscores this affinity between wog comedies and other Australian comedies: 'The Wog Boy is all the things we have come to expect from Australian comedies: crude, obvious, vulgar and unsophisticated, full of broad caricatures and send-ups of suburban kitsch.' (11) Undeniably, The Wog Boy's depiction of Mediterranean men who are simply too lazy to work is one of a range of social stereotypes in the film, which also parodies public servants, Italian lovers, Serbians, Croatians and female politicians. Social groups that are targets of humour in Fat Pizza include Jehovah's Witnesses, bikers, fast food restaurant employees, health Department workers, Italians with loud car stereos, Lebanese drug dealers and illegal immigrants, as well as women of various ethnic backgrounds. Indeed, I will argue that the abundance of social stereotypes in Fat Pizza and The Wog Boy is symptomatic of the films' persistently problematic relationship to ethnic and gender difference.
Inherent to the wogsploitation films is their use of low comedy, which coincides with an international resurgence of this style of humour in such films as The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, 1997), Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (Jay Roach, 1999) and Scary Movie (Keenan ivory Wayans, 2000). The term low comedy is variously defined as vulgar comedy, gross-out comedy and 'Animal comedy' (12) and can be understood on two levels. It alludes to an emphasis on the lower body (13) and also to an association between this type of humour and the lower classes. (14) This second level of meaning shall be addressed later in this article. The low comedy of The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza is evident in scenes that derive humour from references to genitalia and digestive functions, and they share with other recent films a tendency to equate vulgarity with social and comedic daring. in The Wog Boy, for instance, the character of frank (Vince Colosimo) reveals that his friend's rise to fame is 'the best thing that happened ... since I got three head jobs in one night at the Underground nightclub'. In Fat Pizza, Pauly's (Paul Fenech) attempt to siphon petrol from a caravan backfires when he finds he has attached the hose to the sewage tank. In wogsploitation films, low comedy is linked to the workings of satire.
Indeed, these films belong to an ancient tradition of satire. William Paul links late twentieth-century gross-out films to a history of low comedy that has its earliest origins in the ancient Greek plays of Aristophanes, (15) considered to be one of the first satirists. (16) For instance, Aristophanes' play The Frogs combines jokes about flatulence and sexual behaviour with references to the foibles of corrupt politicians and satirical portraits of prominent social figures. Equally, The Wog Boy includes playful references to Greek culture. For instance, the protagonist, Steve Karamatsis (Nick Giannopoulos), explains ironically that he was raised 'in a typical Australian home: double storey brick veneer, Doric columns, and concrete, as far as the eye could see'. Kitsch variations on classical styles are also parodied when Steve receives a wedding favour that is a miniature replica of Michelangelo's statue of David with a cluster of sugar almonds attached to its groin. The Wog Boy's irreverent references to Greek cultural tradition are consistent with the anti-authoritarianism of ancient Greek satire. In satire, vulgarity is commonly juxtaposed with contemporary political references, an underlying moral purpose and a fictional story that draws attention to 'some flaw or excess' in society. (17) The wogsploitation films satirise contemporary Australian society.
This satirical dimension is exemplified by the films' treatment of the theme of food. Both films place emphasis on the role of food in the characterization of ethnic minorities. For instance, Fat Pizza revolves around a pizza shop, and the protagonists of The Wog Boy use a pizza shop as a meeting place. Food is also associated with the protagonists' ambivalent attitudes to ethnic stereotypes. for example, food is emblematic of the discrimination Steve is shown to have experienced as a Greek-Australian boy at an Australian school, where he is taunted while eating his Mediterranean-style packed lunch. Accordingly, food is a leitmotif of his quest to advance himself as a self-described adult 'wog boy', who telephones an order for pizza when faced with small food portions at a formal business function. In Fat Pizza, the pizza business is both a source of ethnic stereotypes, such as the Italo-Australian chef who lives with his mother, and a basis for parody, when Indian-Australians open a rival pizza shop called Phat Pizza. In wog comedy, the theme of food draws on common preconceptions relating to ethnic minorities.
The significance of food in these films is linked to Western perceptions of immigrant cuisines. While food traditions are widely known to be central to migrant identity, these traditions are often misappropriated by the larger society. In an analysis of the role of food in Looking for Alibrandi (Kate Woods, 2000), Louise Hynes cites Ghassan Hage's 'critique of the way foods/diets/cuisines can be appropriated by the dominant Anglo population or, as he calls them, the "cosmo-multiculturalists"'. (18) Hage argues that cosmo-multiculturalism results in migrants being displaced by the 'cosmopolitan eating subject', who 'more often than not' belongs to the ethnic mainstream. (19) Similarly, Tseen Khoo has highlighted the problem of perceiving a migrant culture exclusively in terms of its cuisine. (20) Whereas the depiction of tomato sauce production in Looking for Alibrandi may be seen as cliched, (21) wogsploitation films defy the idealization of foreign peasant cuisines by incorporating food into vulgarly absurd and satirical scenes.
In The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza, a refusal to idealize any ethnic cuisine suggests an acute awareness of this socio-ethnic hierarchy. The restaurants that occupy the most screen time here are down-market, take-away outlets, not prestigious establishments. In The Wog Boy, Steve reveals that he lost interest in dining at his friend's Italian restaurant because the place 'got too trendy'. An aversion to the liberal idealization of national cuisines is also suggested by Fat Pizza's vulgar humour. For instance, food is rendered distasteful when the Italian chef, Bobo (John boxer), expresses his sexual frustrations by moulding pizza dough into the shape of a woman's breasts. The use of vulgar comedy to portray the rivalry between fat Pizza and Phat Pizza also tends to undermine stereotypes pertaining to ethnic cuisines. For instance, the portrayal of south Asians whose vulgarity equals that of fat Pizza's employees suggests an ethnic inclusiveness that is at odds with cosmo-multiculturalism. An example is a scene in which an Indian pizza delivery boy tries to seduce a woman by feeding her pizza, but is deterred when the food causes her to develop flatulence. Fat Pizza's aversion to the idealization of ethnic cuisines is firmly grounded in the material and bodily aspects (22) of the lives of its characters, for whom sexual acts serve as carnivalesque means of escaping tedious employment.
In The Wog Boy, the relationship between ethnicity and food underpins a satirical view of the social order. At a function attended by business leaders, Steve is asked to respond to the government's new employment policy. He replies with the following speech:
It's all about the extra prawns. Everybody wants them, but who's going to pay for them? I mean, you got them, but what about the people who can't afford a salami?... What this policy is all about is saying to people, 'Hey ... you! You can have the extra prawns ... But you gotta help us. You gotta help us build the base.'
Here, Steve's positing of gastronomic plenty as a solution to social inequality both exploits the idealization of Mediterranean cuisines and parodies political solutions. Having addressed his audience as cosmo-multiculturalists, his disrespect for them becomes further evident when, in voiceover, he subsequently dismisses the speech as 'bullshit'. Moreover, his insincerity is matched by that of his diegetic audience, whose applause for Steve seems to disavow the social inequality of which he sees himself a victim. The film thus refuses to take seriously the Australian financial and political establishment, suggesting a disgruntled moralism (23) that is characteristic of satire.
To summarize my argument so far, the Australian exploitation cinema of The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza employs a crude style of comedy that was formerly less available to Australians of non-English-speaking backgrounds. That these films relish this style of humour is suggested by the films' use of low comedy to express aversions to the liberal idealization of national cuisines. Wog comedy's relationship to Australian popular culture can be elaborated further with reference to a preceding cycle of Australian comedy films.
Ocker comedy and wogsploitation
Although the wogsploitation films belong to an ancient tradition of satire, this relationship is not unique, merely symptomatic of classical antiquity's influence on Western culture as a whole. (24) These films have also been linked to the Australian 'ocker' film cycle, which appeared in the early 1970s and is exemplified by Stork (Tim Burstall, 1971), The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (Bruce Beresford, 1972), Alvin Purple (Tim Burstall, 1973), Petersen (Tim Burstall, 1974) and Don's Party (Bruce Beresford, 1976). Nick Giannopoulos has expressed the belief that 'what The Wog Boy does is what Bazza McKenzie [sic] did in London in the seventies. Now it's wogs in Melbourne, fish out of water in their own country'. (25) This comparison is reinforced by reviewers' comments that the humour of The Wog Boy bears similarities to that of They're a Weird Mob, (26) in which an Italian immigrant emulates the behaviour of working-class Australians. The two cycles also have in common a degree of box office success (27) that signalled in each instance a precession of popular taste over middle-class notions of edification.
The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza share with ocker films the equation of one or more central characters with a stereo-type, the wog or the ocker respectively. In each cycle, the simultaneous centrality and denigration of the stereotype can be understood in relation to Homi Bhabha's comment that the 'fetish or stereotype gives access to an "identity" which is predicated as much on mastery and pleasure as it is on anxiety and defence, for it is a form of ... recognition of difference and disavowal of it'. (28) Similarly, David Williamson's definition of the ocker in a 1981 speech suggests a position of intellectual detachment from a social type that has, paradoxically, dominated Williamson's representations of his own class (29): 'the following ... attitudes [are] said to identify the ocker: [the] self-satisfied vulgarism [of a] beer-sotten slob [who is] uncouth in behaviour and thought'. (30) As anthropologist Harry Oxley notes, the Ocker stereotype is the Australian intelligentsia's 'disapprovingly slanted version of what has been lauded as the finest flower of authentic Australian egalitarianism'. (31) Yet although the Ocker and wogsploitation films both invite laughter at the expense of familiar social types, the social contexts of the two cycles can be contrasted.
An examination of these films' socio-political contexts throws into relief the oblique relationship between the ocker and wog comedy films. Whereas the ocker comedies were products of 'anti-establishment rumblings of the 1960s' (32) and of the social reforms of Gough Whitlam's Labour government, (33) The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza were released in the era of economic rationalism, when little or nothing remained of Whitlam's Australia. Whereas the sexual themes of the ocker films can be linked to a liberalization of censorship practices that preceded feminism's international (34) and domestic (35) influence on Australian cinema and society, the wogsploitation films appeared at a time when feminism's achievements had become often taken for granted. Although I will argue that the wog comedy films display little evidence of feminism's influence, these films' success was made possible by the Whitlam government's move away from 'assimilationist' thinking and concomitant founding of Australian multiculturalism. (36) With multiculturalism and the parallel impact of feminism, the white, male-dominated Australia of the ocker films seemed to recede into the past.
Wog comedy films' affinities with the ocker cycle distinguish the former from films made by European Australians in the 1970s. For instance, Freda Freiberg and Joy Damousi note that Kostas (Paul Cox, 1979) dissociates European men from 'the ugly face of Australian masculinity'. (37) However, the ocker comedies rarely address ethnicity, except to marginalize minorities. An example is The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, in which the protagonist alludes to the mercenary habits of 'gypos' and dubs an English taxi driver a 'hungry Arab'. Despite issuing from different social contexts, the ocker and wogsploitation films have in common a focus on Australian society and masculinity, and a tendency to celebrate the Australian vernacular 'in speech, content, or action'. (38)
The wogsploitation films, like the ocker cycle, affirm 'the "Australian"' (39) by highlighting issues of local significance. References to Australian politics in Don's Party and to the legacy of 1960s radicalism in Stork prefigure allusions to current political events in The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza. in particular, the wog comedies convey ambivalent attitudes to Australian public institutions through invoking policies of John Howard's government. For instance, The Wog Boy's focus on an unemployed Greek-Australian alludes to the Howard government's stigmatization of welfare recipients. Steve's simultaneous reliance upon and distrust of social security is evident in his attempts to distance himself from a Greek-Australian perpetrator of welfare fraud, while himself resisting employment. A cynical view of government policy is also evident in Fat Pizza's depiction of Pauly's detainment in a refugee detention centre, a reference to the Howard government's policies on immigration. Although Pauly lacks respect for government authorities, he also believes he has little in common with the other inmates, directing half of them towards Mecca and the other half towards spurious financial gain. Ironically, this sequence recalls the racism of the protagonist in The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. Yet the racism of characters in the wogsploitation films is more bitterly ironic, because it is inseparable from the films' implied quest to discard their own ethnic marginality. Wog comedy's implication that Australian ethnic minorities are treated as outsiders by their own government reprises the satiric bent of the ocker cycle.
However, the most conspicuous similarity between the two cycles is their emphasis on the ocker as a stereotype of Australian masculinity. In The Wog Boy, for example, television show host Derryn Hinch announces to the protagonist on air: 'You're a little Aussie battler, trying to do your best in a hard, cold world. ... if that's what it means when you call yourself a wog boy, then I'm a wog boy too and maybe what this country needs are a few more wog boys.' here, the likening of the title character to both the Australian archetype of the battler and to an opinionated talkback radio host (hinch) is not far removed from the ocker stereotype. Equally, the behaviour of protagonists in wog comedy films has clear affinities with ocker masculinity, suggesting the latter model of Australian identity has been assimilated by diverse ethnic groups. (40)
The wog protagonist's broad Australian accent defies his non-English-speaking background. The narrators of The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza use such terms as 'mate' and 'chicks', wield profanities with defiance and drop consonants from the tail-ends of words. Wog comedy's appropriation of the Australian vernacular has been linked to the use of this humour to 'defuse ... prejudice'. (41) As if to match the virulence at times of such prejudice, the central characters in The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza are inclined to be outspoken. In The Wog Boy, for example, Steve tells the Minister for employment (Geraldine turner) to 'give people some warning before you stick that face out in public'. In Fat Pizza, Pauly complains that the refugee detention centre has no cappuccino machine. In other aspects of behaviour as well as speech, the wog stereotype also resembles the ocker.
Self-satisfied vulgarity, uncouthness, bigotry and male chauvinism--traits associated with the ocker (42)--also characterize the protagonists of wogsploitation films. Although beer consumption is less prevalent here, The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza invest nonetheless in a style of masculinity that relishes vulgarity and uncouthness as sources of bravado. For instance, the 'consciously exaggerated male chauvinism' of the ocker (43) is equalled in The Wog Boy by Steve's inordinate attachment to his car. Steve's overvaluation of his power-enhanced Valiant becomes evident when he is detained by police and produces from his glove compartment an album of photographs of the car, which he then proceeds to exalt. In Fat Pizza, Sleek's (Paul Nakad) strategy of pursuing 'fat chicks' in order to meet their slender friends is redolent of the superficial assessment of women by male characters in Stork, The Adventures of Barry McKenzie and Alvin Purple. This chauvinism is also evident in Fat Pizza's marginalization and caricaturing of female characters on the basis of ethnicity, obesity or sexual attractiveness.
Behaviour associated with the ocker is linked to both sexes in wog comedy. On one hand, the absence from The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza of a significant female ethnic minority character is not an entirely accurate representation of wog comedy in general. For instance, the larger phenomenon of wog comedy has produced such female comics as Mary Coustas, whose comic alter ego, effie, has an outspoken and unsubtle demeanour that invokes a female configuration of the ocker. On the other hand, women of non-English-speaking backgrounds in The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza are simultaneously peripheral to the narrative, bereft of coherent dialogue and reduced to physically unattractive caricatures. In Fat Pizza, Lebanese-, Asian- and Italo-Australian women are presented as dependent on men and preoccupied with the domestic entrapment of them. The films' only acknowledgement of feminism's impact is The Wog Boy's ambivalent characterization of Anglo-Australian women.
In this film, female ockerism has ceased to be the deviant activity that Max Harris described in 1974, when the 'sheilah' was seen as the Coker's 'natural enemy' and female ockerism was associated with 'bingo and pokey [sic] players, the grating stridencies of the delicatessen lady, [and] the butch gaucheries of the sad ones who mimic the male'. (44) In The Wog Boy, the ocker traits of chauvinism and outspokenness are associated with upwardly mobile Anglo-Australian women. For instance, the character of Annie (Abi Tucker) is shown to appraise men primarily on the basis of their sexual attributes. Similarly, the Minister for employment is depicted as seducing younger male staff members and making corrupt deals with corporations. Wogsploitation films' marginalization and masculinization of ethnic minority and Anglo-Australian women, respectively, is an extension of the Ocker's fundamental chauvinism.
These regressive portrayals of women can be contrasted with the cycle's utopian remodelling of relationships between males. for instance, the traditional association between the myth of ocker mateship (45) and white, Anglo-celtic masculinity is modified in The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza. The Wog Boy posits as an alternative to ethnic divisions the development of a friendship between the Italo-Australian character of frank and two Vietnamese youths, Tran (Hung Le) and Van (Trent Huen). In particular, an outlandish variation on the myth of mateship is suggested when Tran and Van don curly wigs in attempts to emulate frank's ability to seduce women. in Fat Pizza, a comically homoerotic view of male friendship is presented in the form of Bobo's tendency to mistake his male friends for attractive women. Both films also assert the possibility of friendship between ethnic minorities and the ethnic mainstream. This occurs when Steve and Pauly, respectively, strike up friendships with Anglo-Australian male workmates whose laziness equals their own. In wogsploitation films, traits associated with the ocker form common ground between men of diverse ethnic backgrounds.
To summarize further, this article has identified and explored affinities between wogsploitation films and the Australian ocker comedy cycle, affinities that exist despite each cycle's distinct socio-historical context. To examine elements the two cycles have in common--a satiric orientation, a celebration of the Australian vernacular and a focus on stereotypes of Australian masculinity--is to gain an enhanced understanding of developments in Australian society and popular culture since the 1960s. Central to the relationship between the wogsploitation and ocker cycles is a linking of vulgarity with social class.
Low comedy and social proximity
The wogsploitation films, like the ocker comedies, implicitly address class themes. Indeed, both the ocker and wog stereotypes can be perceived as means of denigrating members of the working class, while avoiding explicit references to class identity. As Harry Oxley wrote of the ocker stereotype, 'it implies underground snobbery for a system which outlaws snobs.' (46) Significantly, both the ocker and wog stereotypes achieved prominence after social developments that threatened the status of the Australian middle class. Changes wrought by increased affluence and immigration after World War two prompted the inception of stereotypes that served to distinguish perceived interlopers from the (then seemingly monolithic) Anglo-Australian, middle-class establishment. (47) In this context, the ocker and wog comedy cycles allude to emerging divisions in Australian society. The stereotypes of the ocker and the wog allude to working-class identities, but the ocker films were made by middle-class people and wog comedy coincides with the ensconcing of many post-war European immigrants in the Australian middle class. (48) It is this progression that enables the wog comedy films to depict class-infused ethnic stereotypes as objects of humour.
Through obscuring class identity, the wogsploitation films facilitate spectator identification with characters that might otherwise be perceived as socially marginal. As I have noted with reference to the ocker films, Australian low comedy has been linked to the working class. (49) However, vulgarity's purported association with the lower classes is belied by the enormous popularity of The Wog Boy, Pizza and other recent vulgar comedies that attracted middleclass as well as working-class viewers. this juxtapositioning of the middle class with vulgar comedy may be attributed to young, middle-class viewers' defiance of their parents' tastes. Similarly, audiences for the Wog stage shows were dominated by young Greek- and Italo-Australians. Although Greek-, Lebanese- and Italo-Australians do not necessarily identify with the Australian working class, the wogsploitation films succeeded in attracting general audiences through appealing to a sense of social exclusion among diverse sections of society. In this way, a class perspective is implicit in the vulgarity of wog comedy.
These films use comedy as a means of exacting revenge for past social injury. (50) Critics' observations that the humour in The Wog Boy has affinities with They're a Weird Mob (51) is pertinent here. In replicating ethnic stereotypes from the past, The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza signal a return of the repressed ethnic 'other'. (52) This argument draws on Robin Wood's assertion that monsters in American horror films represent entities that society ignores or seeks to eliminate through surplus repression, 'the process whereby people are conditioned ... to take on predetermined roles within [a specific] culture'. (53) However, entertainment's capacity to express that which society represses is not restricted to the horror genre. (54) For instance, bill Nichols draws an analogy between comedy and horror, in terms of Freud's argument that jokes and dreams can express 'hostility [relatively] safely, in a socially acceptable manner'. (55) The wogsploitation films' revival of ethnic stereotypes can be read as a veiled attack on the former centrality of assimilation to Australian immigration policy.
There are two ways in which the wogsploitation films suggest a resurgence of identities that Australia sought previously to render 'safe' through assimilation, a common strategy for surplus repression. (56) On one hand, these films' assertion of the wog stereotype conveys a refusal among ethnic minorities to discard their original cultural identities. On the other hand, the wog's resemblance to the ocker suggests a resurgence of a stereotype of Australian working-class identity that is usually suppressed by middle-class notions of propriety. These films present the wog stereotype as a hybrid of traits associated with European immigrants and those of another suppressed entity, the vulgar proletariat (57) in the form of the ocker. In wog comedy, the assimilationist period of Australian immigration appears not only to have failed to repress ethnic cultural difference, but also to have prompted members of ethnic minorities to adopt behaviour associated with negative characterizations of Anglo-Australian masculinity.
This simultaneous defiance and assimilation of the Australian is redolent of a paradox that Meaghan Morris has identified in earlier Australian culture. In particular, Morris observes in the ocker cycle the 'co-existence of images of an Australia of sexual freedom and diversity, with those of a society characterized by repression and conformity', noting that 'the anguish caused by the latter often generat[es]--and limit[s]--the ways in which the former is imagined.' (58) In The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza, this paradox is reflected in the ultimate banality of each protagonist's stereotypical identity, a combination of migrant shiftlessness and Australian vulgarity. Although each film's final, disrespectful church scene might have been used to mock organized religion--a traditional object of satire (59)--the ultimate failure to achieve this tends to affirm the limitations of the films' merging of characterization and stereotype. Issuing from past social injury, the wogsploitation films' purported affirmation of ethnic difference is ultimately constrained, despite itself, by conformist stereotypes.
The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza reflect the changing forms and uses of the Australian vernacular. Although these films have tended to be lauded for their popularity rather than for their intrinsic merits, much can be learnt from their portrayals of Australian popular culture and society. As with the ocker cycle, responses to wog comedy are usually divided into 'those who would declare it a noxious pest and those who ... would declare it a protected species'. (60) Yet the wogsploitation films' portrayals of multiculturalism, masculinity and public life are relevant to all Australians. While wog comedy may not be an endangered species, to ignore this cycle would be to discount an original, energetic and highly visible subcategory of contemporary Australian culture.
This article was refereed. The resources of the Australian Film Institute Research Collection and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image Lending Collection have been invaluable to the development of this article.
(1) The term wogsploitation derives from reviews and industry commentaries on The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza. See, for example, Steven Aoun, review of Fat Pizza, Metro issue 139, 2004; David Dale, 'Wogsploitation Makes Its Mark in Mainstream', Sydney Morning Herald, 17 May 2003 http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/05/16/1052885398860.html. accessed 20 January 2005; Megan Spencer, review of The Wog Boy, The Eye, 9-22 March 2000, p.72.
(2) As David Dale notes, wogsploitation is an Australian equivalent of American 'blaxploitation', a term that denotes a cycle of crime/action genre films that appeared in the 1970s and centre on African-Americans. However, wogsploitation is associated with comedy.
(3) Thomas Doherty, Teenagers and Teenpics: The Juvenilization of American Movies in the 1950s, Unwin Hyman, Boston, 1988, p.10.
(4) The Wog Boy is one of the most profitable Australian films on record, Pizza is one of SBS's most successful television series and Fat Pizza was the third most successful Australian film of 2003. See, respectively, 'top Australian films at the Australian box office, 1966 to 9 august 2004', Get the Picture, Australian Film Commission http://www.afc.gov.au/gtp/mrboxaust.html accessed 20 January 2005; Annie Lawson, 'How SBS is learning to Pay Its Way', The Age, 28 September 2002 http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/09/27/1032734324585.html accessed 1 April 2005; From Reel to Unreal: Future Opportunities for Australia's Film, Animation, Special Effects and Electronic Games Industries, House of representatives Standing Committee on Communications, Information technology and the arts, the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, 2004, p.40 http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/cita/film/report.htm accessed 11 April 2005.
(5) See, for example, Rolando Caputo, 'Street Hero', in Scott Murray (ed.), Australian Film 1978-1994, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1995, p.157; Tom O'Regan, 'the enchantment with Cinema: Film in the 1980s', in Albert Moran and Tom O'Regan (eds), The Australian Screen, Penguin, Ringwood, 1989, p.120.
(6) Wogs out of Work was based on a sketch that was originally performed at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 1987. See Peter Thompson, review of The Wog Boy, Sunday, 20 February 2000 http://sunday.ninemsn.com.au/sunday/film_reviews/article_436.asp accessed 1 October 2004. By contrast, the stage show on which My Big Fat Greek Wedding is based was written in the 1990s. See Jason Buchanan, 'Nia Vardalos Biography', Yahoo! Movies, http://movies.yahoo.com/shop?d=hc&id=1804536542&cf=biog&intl=us accessed 1 April 2005.
(7) Freda Freiberg and Joy Damousi, 'engendering the Greek: the Shifting representations of Greek Identity in Australian Cinema', in Lisa French (ed.), Womenvision: Women and the Moving Image in Australia, Damned, Melbourne, 2003, p.220; Bronwyn Coupe, Andrew Jakubowicz and Lois Randall, Next Door Neighbours: A Report for the Office of Multicultural Affairs on Ethnic Group Discussions of the Australian Media, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1993, pp.29-30.
(8) Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, Routledge, London and new York, 1994, p.66.
(9) Jeanette Leigh, 'the author of Bestselling novel Sparring with Shadows laments the Watering Down of "Wog" Culture', Italy Down Under, Winter 2000 http://www.italydownunder.com.au/issuetow/fusillo.html accessed 6 January 2005.
(10) Spencer, p.72.
(11) Lynden Barber, review of The Wog Boy, The Weekend Australian, 26 February 2000, p.20.
(12) William Paul, Laughing Screaming: Modern Hollywood Horror and Comedy, Columbia University Press, new York, 1994, pp.3,5,86.
(13) Paul, p.46; Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1984, pp.20-1.
(14) Bakhtin, p.4.
(15) Paul, pp.50-2.
(16) Ashley Brown and John L. Kimmey (eds), Satire, Charles E. Merrill, Columbus, OH, 1968, p.2.
(17) Brown and Kimmey, pp.2-3.
(18) Louise Hynes, 'looking for Identity: Food, Generation & Hybridity in Looking for Alibrandi', Australian Screen Education, issue 24, 2000, p.32.
(19) Hynes, p.32.
(20) Hynes, p.32.
(21) Hynes, p.31.
(22) In Rabelais and His World, Mikhail Bakhtin describes lower body humour as 'deeply positive' in its unpretentious embrace of 'material and bodily roots of the world', from which bourgeois culture seeks to distance itself (19). this argument is central to Bakhtin's analysis of the carnivalesque defiance of official authority.
(23) Brown and Kimmey, p.3.
(24) Robert M. Torrance, The Comic Hero, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Ma, and London, 1978, pp.1-5.
(25) Stan James, 'Walk into Wog's World', The Advertiser, 24 February 2000, p.45.
(26) Barber, p.20; Des Partridge, review of The Wog Boy, Courier Mail, 26 February 2000, p.10.
(27) Alvin Purple grossed $4,720,000 at the Australian box office, in current dollars (i.e. not adjusted for inflation), and is ranked as the 36th most successful Australian film. Alvin Rides Again (David Block, Jr. and robin Copping, 1974), grossed $1,880,000, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (Bruce Beresford, 1974) grossed $1,407,000 and Petersen grossed $1,363,000. See 'top Australian films at the Australian box office, 1966 to 9 august 2004', Australian Film Commission. The economic impact of the ocker cycle was so great as to precipitate the rebirth of local feature film production. See Phillip Adams, 'appendix', in Max Harris, Ockers: Essays on the Bad Old New Australia, Maximus, Adelaide, 1974, p.35; Stephen Crofts, 'The Adventures of Barry McKenzie: Comedy, Satire and nationhood in 1972', Continuum, vol. 10, no. 2, 1996, p.124.
(28) Bhabha, p.75.
(29) Katharine Brisbane notes that Williamson's plays 'bring to the surface the working class qualities of our middle-class society'. See Brisbane, 'Introduction', in David Williamson, David Williamson Collected Plays, vol. 1, Currency, Sydney, 1986, p.xiii.
(30) David Williamson, 'the Australian Image', Counterpointforum, Murdoch University, 27 October 1981 http://www.murdoch.edu.au/vco/secretariat/ records/murdoch_guest_lectures/formated_speeches/Counterpoint/ CounterpointforumOct81.doc accessed 1 October 2004.
(31) Harry Oxley, 'Ockerism, the Cultural rabbit', in Peter Spearritt and David Walker (eds), Australian Popular Culture, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1979, p.192.
(32) Crofts, p.123.
(33) Max Harris attributes ockerism as a 'cultural condition' to the rise of the Whitlam government. See Harris, p.viii.
(34) See, for example, Molly Haskell, From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies, Penguin, Harmondsworth and Baltimore, 1974.
(35) See, for example, Jennifer Stott, 'Celluloid Maidens: all teched-up and nowhere to Go' in Annette Blonski, Barbara Creed and Freda Freiberg (eds), Don't Shoot Darling: Women's Independent Filmmaking in Australia, Greenhouse, Melbourne, 1987, pp.5-24.
(36) Freiberg and Damousi, pp.212-3.
(37) Freiberg and Damousi, p.213.
(38) Tom O'Regan, 'Cinema Oz: the Ocker Films' in Albert Moran and tom O'Regan (eds), The Australian Screen, Penguin, Ringwood, 1989, p.76.
(39) O'Regan, p.76.
(40) In The Wog Boy, this can be attributed to the fact that the protagonist was born in Australia. It is not clear whether the other characters in the wogsploitation films are second-generation Australians, but ethnic humour in this country has tended to be fuelled by second-generation Australian comedians.
(41) Lynden Barber, 'Comedy Community Declares: the race is On', The Weekend Australian, 26 February 2000, p.6.
(42) Williamson, 'The Australian Image'.
(43) David Williamson, 'Don's Party', in David Williamson Collected Plays, vol. 1, Currency, Sydney, 1986, p.179.
(44) Harris, pp.28-9.
(45) In an essay entitled, 'the nasty notion of Ocker Mateship', Max Harris defines mateship as 'a social imperative which calls for blind aggressive loyalty to your tribal group, whether they be ... criminals, thugs, or theologians.' See Harris, p.22.
(46) Oxley, 'Ockerism', p.193.
(47) David Williamson has said that ocker comedy was a response to 'the post-war surge of affluence, which dispersed Australians of working-class backgrounds into the affluent suburbs of the big cities, [which meant] that ocker values were ... exhibited by people living an apparently affluent, middle-class life-style. [sic]'. See Williamson, 'the Australian Image'.
(48) For instance, nick Giannopoulos is a graduate of the Victorian College of the arts in Melbourne and studied film and acting at Rusden College, Clayton. Source: Internet Movie Database www.imdb.com the transition of second-generation Australians of non-English-speaking backgrounds to tertiary education, including humanities courses that do not necessarily lead to high employment prospects, can be read as a manifestation of upward social mobility.
(49) this is underpinned by vulgar comedy's longstanding association with the marketplace, 'in which ... speech patterns excluded from official intercourse could freely accumulate'. See Bakhtin, p.17.
(50) the idea of social injury is drawn from Oxley, pp.190-209. 51 Barber, review of The Wog Boy, p.20; Partridge, p.10.
(52) robin Wood, 'an Introduction to the American Horror Film', in Bill Nichols (ed.), Movies and Methods Volume II, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1985, pp.198-9.
(53) Wood, p.197. Surplus repression is an idea put forward by Herbert Marcuse in Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry in Freud (Sphere, London, 1969). This form of repression is distinguished from basic repression, which is defined as 'the "modifications" of the instincts necessary for the perpetuation of the human race in civilization' (Marcuse, p.42).
(54) Wood, p.199.
(55) Bill Nichols, 'Introduction to robin Wood's "an Introduction to the American Horror Film"', in Nichols, p.195.
(56) Wood, p.199.
(57) Wood, p.199.
(58) Meaghan Morris, 'Personal relationships and Sexuality', in Scott Murray (ed.), The New Australian Cinema, nelson, Melbourne, 1980, p.140.
(59) Examples include Aristophanes' comic depictions of gods, and films as diverse as those of Luis Bunuel and Terry Gilliam.
(60) Oxley, 'Ockerism', p.192.
Lesley Speed is a lecturer in humanities at the University of Ballarat, Australia.
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