Ja’mie King, the private school queen of the small screen, is back to tell us why she is ‘ just, like, soooo much better’ than us. But by highlighting her shortcomings could her creator Chris Lilley actually be pointing out ours?
Ja’ime: Private School Girl heralds the return of the character Lilley first created for his mockumentary series We Could Be Heroes, a comic search for Australian Of The Year. In that outing we learnt just how vacuous she could be but we didn’t really meet her inner shrew until she returned as a private school exchange student in the public school world of Summer Heights High:
“I think what happens is, like, out in the outer suburbs ugly people breed with other ugly people, so you end up with really fugly kids.”
Private School Girl is an ABC/BBC/HBO co-production that focuses on her final year in school and the all important events that lead up to Hillford Girl’s selection of their Student Of The Year. Ja’mie is now school captain and has lost none of her charms. She is the unchallenged leader of a beautiful brat pack that roams the school delivering soul-destroying commentary on the lives of boarders, Asian students, the disabled and anyone whose father couldn’t afford Schoolies in Bali. Her life is a mass of conscious contradictions. She oils up to the teachers, certain she is the best her form could aspire to, while presenting provocative, self-serving assembly items that make them shudder. She harries her mother with the foulest language then turns petulant in the company of her father so she can win his approval for a party. She delivers a mass of compliments to her friends, but only so long as they respond in kind. In short, Ja’mie is the sort of schoolgirl most students would fear and admire in equal proportions.
Watching Private School Girl with my wife was something of a trip down memory lane – but not for me. Neither of us went to a private school, but the Darling Girl reliably informed me that she had met Ja’mie more than once growing up. She was the ‘Alpha Girl’ that everyone knew it was much better to be on the good side of, even if you didn’t appreciate what she said or did. In this, the series once again displays Lilley’s brilliance at capturing the sort of characters we already know and love … or loathe. Lilley actually spent weeks following around senior students from the exclusive Ravenswood school for girls in Sydney and the show itself is shot on location at Melbourne Grammar. But I don’t think he’s simply delivering a withering attack on the sort of princess girl that privilege and private education risks creating.
The epicentre of Private School Girl’s humour is hypocrisy. The sheer ugliness of Ja’mie’s personality is enthralling. She takes mocking pictures of ethnic students while commenting to the camera:
“At school I’m pretty much friends with everyone. Like, everyone thinks I’m really nice. And I think that as school captain that’s a really good thing for me to be – the ambassador of, like, niceness.”
We’re alternately shocked and amused by the double standards she employs, which goes some way to explaining the pulling power of her character. Australians love to watch the downfall of a two-faced person and we’ll be tuning in anticipating hers in the weeks to come. It’s also interesting to me that a non-Christian comedian should hit on a topic Jesus has so much to say about. But will Lilley have the courage of Jesus’ convictions?
Jesus reserved his harshest criticisms for those who thought they could practice hypocrisy with God. If Ja’mie had sauntered across His path He would probably have responded with a cutting remark of His own:
“You’re like [a] whitewashed tomb that looks beautiful on the outside but on the inside is full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
But how Private School Girl concludes will say a lot about Chris Lilley’s bravery. If he’s going for the classic dramatic ending then Ja’mie will come within inches of gaining the student of the year award and miss out to a simpler, more deserving girl she fails to value. And while I’d appreciate the reminder that deep down we all believe evil should not be rewarded I’d find it a bit unrealistic. Sadly, Australians are happy to criticize hypocrisy but we’re not much good at rejecting it.
Personalities who shine on the public stage while displaying the most reprehensible private lives are still regularly rewarded – numerous sporting figures spring to mind. That’s because just as deep down we believe that a good bit of shine makes up for a lack of substance. In fact we’ve manufactured an entire public / private distinction so that people, including ourselves, can go on being whoever we want behind closed doors because others shouldn’t be looking. But we forget that the door makes no difference; we remain the same person on the inside regardless of what we’re showing on the outside. At least, that is what Jesus thinks, and in the end His is the only opinion that will really matter.
Release Date: Wednesdays, 8:30 PM