Anti-intellectualism is rife in this country, asserted one of the panelists on last night's edition of the ABC's new prime-time arts and culture programme, Vulture. Having sat through this mess of self-satisfied nonsense, I think I'm beginning to see why. Eddie McGuire may not be feted as a top intellectual (as was "ironically" posited by those funsters at Vulture) but at least his shows are coherent and have an identifiable point. They also don't feature Helen Razer, which is always a bonus.
Vulture gets it wrong in almost every department. The opening credits are a meaningless retread of the Enough Rope formula; host Richard Fidler looks distinctly uncomfortable; the panelists (last night, at least) are an irritating mix of the verbose and the practically mute. The show's brief is too inclusive, the discussion barreling from topic to topic, without really stopping to fully consider any of them. The alleged comedic element is disastrous. In one sketch, which petered out without so much as sighting a punchline, we were introduced to a (fictional) fan club of the poet Les Murray. In another, a reporter visited a garden show for a spot of vox pop hilarity, including a Wil Anderson-esque comparison between garden weeds and the invasion of Iraq. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the reason we remain under Howard's yoke.
These problems may well be ironed out in coming weeks, but I feel that the show's tone will be its downfall. Instead of insight, Vulture's panelists serve up cliche; instead of rational debate, they shout over one another. Always, there is the sense not of conversation, but of performance. Similar criticisms could be made of Vulture's predecessor, Critical Mass, but at least it was a genuine arts discussion programme, not some hybrid panel/sketch show that simultaneously decries the dumbing down of Australian culture while actively embracing it. Critical Mass also benefited from having a host, Jonathan Biggins, who was personable, intelligent, and skilled at directing the conversation to a point. Vulture is a waste of air time. Chalk up another point for the enemies of Aunty.