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

Article excerpt

At the box office and in television ratings, Australian comedy reached a high point with this film and the television series Pizza, which spawned the film Fat Pizza (Paul Fenech, 2003). These 'wogsploitation' (1) films were created by Australians of non-English speaking backgrounds and eschew the sensitive and dramatic portrayals of ethnic minorities seen in earlier films. While The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza have been accused of a return to outdated ethnic stereotypes, these films differ from previous comic depictions of Australian ethnic minorities. Far from being positioned as victims, the protagonists of these films simultaneously assert their ethnic identities and reconfigure the Australian stereotype of the 'ocker'.

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. …

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