Have You Been Paying Attention is nothing revolutionary – comedians joking about the news! Shock! Horror! – but there may actually be something revolutionary in the way we’re responding to it.
Have You Been Paying Attention is the brain-child of Working Dog Productions, the team that brought us televisual gold like Thank God You’re Here!, Frontline and The Hollowmen. This series for Network Ten is far less ambitious. Tom Gleisner hosts what he jokingly refers to as ‘the least rich quiz show’ where a panel of TV’s funniest are challenged to see how much they remember from the past week’s events in front of a live audience. The format shifts a little as the show goes on, switching to a Mastermind setup at one point where guests can pick their own specialty pop culture topics but since they never become more challenging than ‘The Musical Stylings of Justin Bieber’ the result is largely the same: news as the starting point for wry one-liners.
This is such familiar ground for Australian television that one article would find it hard to list its precedents. However recent history would have to include Paul McDermott’s Good News Week, Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell and, of course, Working Dog’s own The Panel. Is Have You Been Paying Attention any better than its ancestors? Well, it’s not rude (thanks probably to the time-slot) and it’s stocked with the usual suspects (Glenn Robbins, Jane Kennedy etc.) so the verdict is inoffensive, not too inane, and possibly even informative. So why are Australian audiences rejecting it?
Firstly, Ten has done the program no favours launching it on its re-run digital channel, Eleven. Furthermore its 6:00 PM slot has been strongly contested by Nine’s Australia’s Got Talent and Seven’s Dancing With The Stars. Earning 301,000 viewers on its opening night might sound dismal but it’s probably all Working Dog could expect against those two juggernauts. There is, though, another factor that has to be taken into consideration.
In the 1990s polls were revealing that Australians no longer relied on traditional news programs for their view of the outside world. Instead ‘infotainment’ had filled the shoes formally worn by nightly bulletins. Rove McManus was doing more to set the agenda for Generation X & Y than Brian Henderson. Ten years later it appears the highly personalised views produced by Internet services like Google, Twitter and Facebook are the sources we’re turning to now. Certainly infotainment isn’t faring well; the dwindling fortunes of Ten’s farcical news bulletin The Project are as good an indicator as any. Viewed as a multi-decade process, I think this trend says something significant about how we are shaping up as a nation.
The Christian worldview requires the believer to place God at the centre of his or her life. The needs of others – our spouses, our families, our spiritual brothers and sisters, the world around us – radiate out from this core like the rings of a tree. As Jesus summarized it:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Our personal needs, desires, interests are layered at the outer rings, somewhere near the bark. They’re not undervalued by God. Rather we’re encouraged to trust Him with them, knowing He cares for us, and instead concern ourselves with others.
Of course this viewpoint is anathema to a world that has come to value the individual as the supreme unity of society and the contradiction of free will as its greatest crime. You will even find plenty of Christians who will acknowledge Jesus’ teachings but finish by saying, “Of course, you can’t practically live that way.” Instead we’re encouraged to encourage ourselves, take care of ourselves, bless ourselves at every opportunity – as though there were no-one we could trust with these tasks but ourselves.
Is it any wonder then that we would see the members of an increasingly secular society choose to curate their views of the world to only those things that amuse, and finally only those that relate directly to themselves? The title of Have You Been Paying Attention only contains the first question we should be asking. If not, the second is ‘Why not?’ And if the only thing we end up asking of a program like this is, ‘Is it funny?’ then the chances are the centre of our life needs re-examining.
Release Date: Saturdays, 6:00 PM