The Aussie Battler Personified: Why Everyone Loves Kenny

By Huijser, Henk | Post Script, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

The Aussie Battler Personified: Why Everyone Loves Kenny


Huijser, Henk, Post Script


There's a smell in here that will outlast religion (Kenny, 2006)

The Jacobson brothers film Kenny was one of the biggest Australian box office successes of 2006, which is unusual for a mock-documentary. This chapter will explore the reasons for the film's success, and in particular for the central character Kenny's popularity. Whereas the strength of the mock-documentary mode is often argued to be its ability to sharply critique dominant social and cultural values, and it tends to achieve this in an 'in-your-face' manner, Kenny is much more subtle in its critique. Indeed, on one level it can be read as a classic Hollywood-style class-based morality tale, in which Kenny ultimately 'keeps it real' and therefore gets rewarded with 'the girl'. In many ways, Kenny is the personification of the white Australian working class man, otherwise known as the Aussie battler, but much less flawed than what he would be if he was in a conventional documentary rather than a mock-documentary. He appeals directly to the Australian egalitarian myth and ultimately gets his revenge on those who do not respect this myth. Interestingly, Kenny's appeal has crossed over to the 'real world' and the actor (Shane Jacobson) now makes frequent 'in character' television appearances in current affair shows as Kenny, as well as being a presenter and participant in numerous television shows.

Through an in-depth reading of Kenny, this chapter will argue that the mock-documentary mode is perfectly suited to advance the Aussie battler myth, as the fundamental class/gender basis of Australian national identity, as it allows for the removal of the ambiguity and volatility of 'real' battlers paraded on Australian reality television screens on a daily basis, both in drama and current affairs. In short, Kenny provides a risk-free opportunity for its audience to wholeheartedly embrace this myth. Unlike many other mock-documentaries, it does not 'punish' its audience for buying into its inherent 'deception', but instead 'rewards' that audience for doing so. Thus, while Kenny steers the mock-documentary into unusually conservative waters on one level, the ambiguity inherent in the 'genre' itself ensures a raft of subversive readings that potentially undercut the myth it apparently celebrates.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

CONTEXTUALISING THE MOCK-DOCUMENTARY IN WIDER

DOCUMENTARY DEBATES

Although certainly not a new phenomenon, the mock-documentary has become increasingly popular in recent years, which can partly be attributed to its inherent playfulness and humour. According to Middleton, "the increasing use of humour in documentary film-making since the 1980s is part of a broader set of transformations in the documentary mode" (55). Central to this broader set of transformations is the rapid rise of reality television during the 1990s, and its obvious links to the traditional documentary mode. "In Australia (as is the case elsewhere) documentary has become a televisual form with shorter-length programmes, and short-series formats now dominating production" (Roscoe, Television 288). Furthermore, "primetime slots are now routinely filled with popular factual formats and various reality hybrids that have taken over from traditional long-running dramas and current affairs programming" (289). This in turn is part of wider changes in the television environment with a perceived movement away from public service ideals towards an increasingly commercial focus in the context of ratings wars, which has caused great anxiety amongst many critics. In short, it is frequently seen as a 'dumbing down' of the public sphere, by removing the role of experts in favour of an 'unmediated' foregrounding of ordinary people (McKee; Hartley), or a "triumph of emotional sensationalism over serious issues from politics to science" (Kronig 47). This in turn is seen as having much wider and important implications. "Commentators are concerned that the public sphere is becoming tilled with trivia; too downmarket and entertaining; not logical or rational enough; too fragmented; and that it's thus creating a population who are apathetic and disengaged from politics" (McKee 205). …

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