Bingefest – Part 1 @ The Opera House, Sydney (17 December 2016)

Bingefest is probably one of the biggest risks the Sydney Opera House has ever taken.  A festival predicated on television, podcasts, snacks, video games and the dredges of internet humour doesn’t necessarily align with the brand of Australia’s most distinctive, cultural icon, home to the likes of Opera Australia, The Australian Ballet, the Sydney Theatre Company and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

“Dicks out for Hamlet” has yet to catch on.

But what is tremendous about Bingefest is that the Opera House actually pulled it off.  The event was a huge success, and brought a massive array of presenters, performers, audience members (Viva could help bring even more of course), and whacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men, to a venue one could never imagine would host events like a Cat Video fest, Street Fighter arcades or a Harmontown podcast (there was even a “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” midnight binge and some weird Shia LaBeouf performance art).

But look:

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And:

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And:

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All at the Opera House.  Insane.

My journey at Bingefest begun with a message from my friend Julia, who offered free tickets to four events (thank you, Jules!).  I said I’d do a write up on these for Viva, so below are my thoughts on each of those events (plus a fifth event that I was gifted by Neil, of SBS Comedy – thank you Neil!).  This Part 1 will explore the two events I attended on Saturday, 17 December 2016, with Part 2 covering the remaining 3 events on Sunday, 18 December 2016.

A final word of warning – some of these sessions went to weird places.  I accept no responsibility for anything recounted below that you might consider strange, disturbing or just plain wrong.  It’s Bingefest after all, and anything can happen on a binge.

***

PART 1

Harambe Memorial Service

A most bizarre event.  The Harambe Memorial Service paid tribute to all of 2016’s dankest, spiciest, freshest memes.  If you don’t know what a “meme” is, then stop socialising and being fit, and take sedentary journey through the dark recesses of internet humour and comedy: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes.

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Our panel of speakers consisted of a sort of “Ship Of Lost Souls” collection of internet “celebrities”.  We had a Buzzfeed editor (“Texts from my vagina”), Twitter character (“Woman against feminism”), Celeste who does funny pictures modelling in the same poses as real celebrities, Superwog, and a lady who wrote her thesis on memes.  The questions they were answering were hard hitting:

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Thankfully there was a decent degree of self-deprecation and an appreciation of how ridiculous the subject matter of this panel was.  What is the difference between something that’s viral and something that’s a meme? Why do we refer to memes as alive or dead? How does one define “dank”? What is the true meaning of “dicks out”?  All of these were answered (believe it or not, “dicks out” refers to getting an extended clip pistol out, not your actual penis.  Huh…) and it was actually rather insightful.  The panel explored the bizarre online phenomena of memes like “Damn Daniel”, “Chewbacca Mum”, “Sad Affleck”, “Trump Your Enthusiasm”, “KenBone”, “Obama Biden”, “Ted Cruz Zodiac Killer?”, “Here Come Dat Boi, Oh Shit Whaddup” and lastly, Harambe, with a great deal of scrutiny around why a meme gets popular, why a video goes viral and the organic, living nature of the internet.

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What was effectively a review of trashy comedy actually illuminated a lot of the subtle, unwritten rules of the internet too.  The absence of a joke is sometimes what makes something funny.  People are punished for making a big deal of small things. Anyone who tries too hard or is earnest on the internet is immediately shot down.  It is not for you to decide if you are dank.  It was engaging to flesh out what makes the internet tick, particularly when you start to consider people make a lot of money out of being famous on the internet (Superwog noted he was now receiving funding from Screen Australia – Fat Pizza 2.0?).

I enjoyed this strange eulogy to the year (and the gorilla) gone by.  There’s a definite annual event in this particular session.

When TV Got High

Television is in a very special place right now.  We’re in what was described in a number of Bingefest sessions, including this one, as the “Peak TV” era, an era full of so much decent television that there simply isn’t enough time to watch everything we really should be watching.

Christopher Borelli, arts critic and entertainment reporter for the Chicago Tribune, outlined as much in his informative session (almost lecture) on the transition of television over the past half century, and particularly the last 30 years.  Despite speaking for an hour with no visual aid on what is a visual medium, Borelli had the audience captivated as he navigated the timeline of an era of poor, predictable, repetitive television through the 70s and 80s, up to the turning point of television in the 90s.  Borelli touched on the key moments where he believed television transcended its low brow, idiot box status to be come revered, respected and, in some instances, worshipped.  For Borelli, at the helm of this metamorphosis were shows like “The Sopranos”, “The Simpsons” and “The Larry Sanders Show”.  I was surprised to hear (several times over Bingfest actually) that Buffy The Vampire Slayer was another show attributed with redefining how people made television.  These are the shows that birthed the “Peak TV” era.

I was particularly interested in “Mr Burns, A Post Electric Play”, a piece of theatre mentioned by Borelli (apparently coming to Australia in 2017 – keep an eye out for this event on Viva!) set in a post-apocalyptic world where human survivors share episodes of The Simpsons as tales passed down by generations who have forgotten everything else about an old way of life. Would these shows one day be almost scripture or historical documents for life in the 19th and 20th century?  That would make for a really awesome sacred text…

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Another interesting note was how the changing way we consume television altered the structure and format of television.  The business model (eg placement of advertising) does effect the format and structure of any given episode, and dictates how television is made and consumed. So while we previously had a model structured around advertisements every 8-10 minutes, Netflix lets us watch as much as we like, at a time convenient to us, for as long as we like, uninterrupted.  Television can run more smoothly now and not be concerned with disengaging the viewer at distinct intervals for ad breaks.  It’s more binge-able – the consumer’s attention can be purely maintained by providing all episodes at once (instead of on a week by week basis).

Altogether, a fascinating talk that illuminated the commercial reality of TV, and provided some excellent insights into why TV has more attention and respect now than ever before.

***

A terrific first day of memes and TV, with tomorrow bringing an in-depth look at the TV creative writing process, more TV and podcast goodness.  Keep an eye out on Part 2 of my Bingefest coverage for thoughts on those experiences!

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