About six weeks ago I watched my first 10 minutes of Masterchef. I had recently moved in with three girls and hence have rapidly had my horizons broadened in regards to the wretched depths that television can stoop to. Having said that, it seemed a bit silly to write off a show based entirely on the flimsy premise that I had no interest in the subject matter and hate every other example of the genre, so I guess it was only fair for me to give it a go.
The basic set up of the show is eerily similar to an episode of Spy vs Spy, with a few minor differences. Masterchef forgoes the awesome booby traps in favour of cooking food, and instead of the age old tale of black vs white the producers had gone for the more politically correct red vs blue. Also, now there were whole teams involved, rather than two lone saboteurs. The similarities are so obvious and numerous that I won’t insult your intelligence by listing them all.
In this instalment, the spy chefs were charged with cooking bread. An angry little man named George kicked off the show by breaking into the contestants’ apartment at exactly 11:33pm and waking them with the aid of an industrial strength flashlight. There is then a small montage of various contestants explaining that George just woke them up and that they are tired because they were sleeping and one of them claims that they are not even in a state to boil an egg, let alone do some mastercheffing which, frankly, is pretty fucking pitiful. I don’t really buy that they were all fast asleep at 11:33pm. Surely at least one of them stays up to watch South Park repeats or, considering the subject matter, masturbate over the soccer mums in late night Magic Bullet infomercials. Anyway, Furious George goes on to explain around the kitchen table that bakers keep late hours and that in order for fresh bread to be ready for customers in the morning then it needs to be cooked even earlier in said morning. One contestant has their mind explode and slumps dead into the fruit bowl, while the rest brush off the entrails and pile into a minivan.
Sane man and Masterchef host, Furious George
At the bakery, it becomes evident that Kumar, 61, is really looking forward to baking bread because he really enjoys it because he says so directly to the camera. Dani, 25, hypothesises on the importance of bread because cracking open a dinner roll is the first impression you get of a restaurant, not the service or the menu or the decor or the reputation or the Fevola pissing on the window or the overheard musings of the lone and sad looking couple sitting in the corner of an otherwise vacant premises bitching about the consistency of their creme brulee.
The owner of the bakery, Andrew, then turns up and the contestants applaud him like schoolchildren, while Furious George and some other guy get on their knees and fawn at his magnificence, drooling all over the floor in the desperate hope that they’ll be able to catch a glimpse of his reflection in the resulting lake of salivate despite their respectfully averted gaze. Andrew folds his arms like the culinary badass he is and introduces himself over the top of some equally badass rock music, going on to explain that his bakery is different to all the others because they like to make good bread. Also, their sourdough is naturally leavened, which as far as I know could be good or bad but judging by the pride in his voice it is probably good.
It becomes evident that the masterchefs are to bake bread for some restaurants in their teams. Some of the contestants tell the camera that they want to win, which seems reasonable if unnecessary. The arbitrarily chosen captain of the red team explains that if his team wins it will look good for him but if his team loses it will be bad for him and I begin to feel myself getting a bit lost, wondering if the rampant intellectualism on display means that much of this show’s content is whizzing right over the heads of some of the more casual viewers unschooled in the complexities of good being good and bad being bad.
Furious George asks Andrew about the things that could go wrong as the masterchefs begin their onerous task. First problem is the mixing of the dough. Dough is inherently sticky, claims Andrew boldly, and if it is not done correctly then whole species will be wiped out and the colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices will be exposed as merely oregano and airplane glue. Andrew does not say this directly but it is heavily implied. The second possible hurdle was something else, I think baking, though I’ve just been told it might have been something called proofing. Having now watched it again on the Internet, I can confirm it was baking, and thank Christ for that as I don’t think Channel Ten can risk alienating too many more simpletons with all of these technical terms. “Wow!” exclaims Furious George. “There’s lots of processes, and it seems like every process has to be right, and time’s ticking.” Well, two processes George, but whatever. You’re just there to intimidate viewers to an extent that they’re too afraid to switch off, lest you break into their homes at night and force them to bake and deliver superfluous monologues at camerapoint.
Roars like Cthulhu
The guy that I previously described as some guy suddenly roars like Cthulhu, explaining that it is 1am as the camera pans to a clock to confirm his story, exclaiming that he is loving the fact that they are learning and that it “is all touch and feel” and that “you never know, we might get some great bread at the end of this. Time to move it!” He is just yelling this at no one, everyone’s baking and he’s screaming at the cameraman. Some lady seemingly unworthy of having her name displayed on screen declares that “baking bread is a total gamble. We’ve followed the recipe so it should turn out right, we’re not going to know until they come out of the oven.” Clearly cheffing is not for the faint of heart.
At this point my attention was drawn by something else. I don’t recall what. Perhaps thoughts of self mutilation, or the necessity of shoe horns. I do not know, nor particularly care, though I am grateful to whatever thought it was, as I’m sure the reader is. I could write an essay on how terrible this show is and why it is unworthy of being on television and drawing millions of viewers and how much Furious George reminds me of my friend whose voice doesn’t echo. And maybe I will. Maybe me writing the essay will be be turned into a reality show that people can relate to because, like cooking, everyone has used a word processor at some point.
People can watch me banging away on my laptop, and I won’t even need to enter the diary chamber of secrets for my monologues because I have a webcam. Then there’ll be a competing show on a rival network about some other guy writing a thesis, then another channel will go one up again in the pissing contest by green lighting a show about four couples who need to renovate someone else’s poorly written thesis and correct all of the grammatical errors and spelling mistakes with a budget of $5000 and only one gigantic bed between them all, and one couple gets voted off each week though there are random celebrity wildcard couples that enter the compound for a weekend at a time just to shake things up by getting wasted and criticising sentence structure. But everyone still needs to do a nightly cooking challenge, because cooking fucking rules and just makes for compelling television.
Make Dodgeball Great Again
Dodgeball is not an ‘unethical tool of oppression’ and to label it so is both ludicrous and dangerous. Have we lost our minds?
I remember it as if it was yesterday. The recently completed gym floor was crisp, clean, and squeaked with almost every step of the overpriced sneakers that graced it. Battle lines had been drawn and there I was, locked and loaded in the far right corner of the gym. I had scanned the battlefield ahead, and saw that the opposition numbers were dwindling- falling like the cannon fodder they were. My fellow combatants were more than capable, some in fact, excelled like this game was art, like it was real battle.
Then I saw my target, arms to her side, nervously looking across from her side of diminishing numbers. Her eyes screamed ‘fear’ (or maybe indifference, but in my mind, it was fear) and I knew that there was only one thing to do. I gripped the foam of the ball with a vengeful firmness, loaded my arm with the fury of a Nolan Ryan fastball and let loose. My memory says the sound of the noisy gym was broken, and that all the fellow combatants and fallen brethren fell silent, stopped and followed this one moment as the ball left my hand to its intended destination. It was a glorious moment. Glorious because unlike most times, the ball flew through the air with unmatched grace. Unlike most times I threw the ball, there was no deviation, no broken flight plan. And unlike most times, where I’d luckily hit my target on the leg, or on the arm, it zeroed in with laser-like precision and exploded itself right in Annie’s* face. Bullseye. Like a bird exploding from a Randy Johnson fastball.
Did I revel in the glory of that standstill moment? Was the brazen destruction of a fellow combatant as cinematically award-winning as a Spielberg movie? The truth is, that wasn’t the case. Amongst the fleeting chaos of the game, no one saw. No one stopped and watched my moment, and that in reality, it was a split second that remains animated only in mind. I recoiled in shock, partly because it was not my intention to hit someone in the face, no matter how unintentionally glorious it was. But partly because my gut instinct was to slink away into the back of the pack to hide unseen- like a cowardly saboteur responsible for the wreckage, eager to hide from the blame. I didn’t even look back at what I had done.
I don’t remember who won this particular game (safe to say it wasn’t Annie), but it was all part and parcel to the wonderful school-time game of dodgeball.
One that has come under scrutiny, and under the threat, by the researchers discussed in this National Post article, who have labeled it an “unethical tool of oppression”. With such hyperbole, you’d think they were talking about a population who lived under a military dictatorship, or a segment of that population threatened during mass rioting. Not surprisingly, I lived through both of the latter, and no, dodgeball is nothing like either. They are talking about dodgeball- a mostly harmless game (unless you are Annie) played by children during recess and PE class.
The article goes on to say how dodgeball, along with other forms of games played during PE class are sports of “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation” and that dodgeball in particular, is “not just unhelpful to the development of kind and gentle children who will become decent citizens of a liberal democracy. It is actively harmful to this process.” Sounds like it was written by someone picked last in gym class.
We can argue endlessly about the participation-trophy culture that has permeated the discourse of children’s sports (they couldn’t even settle on a winner at the Spelling Bee). But the truth is, I fear greatly for the future of democracy if we equate the game of dodgeball to actual, real oppression. Sure, Annie probably doesn’t like dodgeball all that much, but I too was hit plenty on the dodgeball court. Like I was on the basketball court. But it’s all part of growing some thick skin in this very real world where people don’t throw soft, red balls at you. The truth is, most kids would probably benefit from getting hit in the face with a dodgeball a few times, it’ll be good for them in the long run. This I’m certain of.
I had a lot of fun playing dodgeball as a kid. It’s an absolute shame that there are “scholars” and “researchers” who equate it to very real life issues this world faces. Teaching kids that life isn’t fair from a young age is a good thing. Participation-trophy culture is not. I don’t need a Ph.D. to know so.
Dodgeball teaches you a great deal in a simple game. And if dodgeball supposedly teaches children lessons of democracy, then I sure as hell would want the future leaders of whatever world we venture towards to be able to dodge a wrench when someone throws one at their heads.
*Annie is not her real name. C’mon, how much of an asshole do you think I am?