WARNING : CONTAINS SPOILERS
Everything that needs be said about Stan’s new drama Romper Stomper has likely already been said, but for what it’s worth I thought I’d throw my two cents in.
To begin with, I suppose I should mention that I was contacted by the show’s producers back in August, asking me if I was interested in having a chat. I said yeah sure, but I never got a reply. In any event, I doubt very much anything I would’ve had to say would’ve made much difference to the final product, which adopts the conventional wisdom of liberal pundits: both neo-Nazis and anti-fascists are Bad because violence.
Among folks I know who watched it, most but not all thought it was Pretty Bad: ‘enough plot holes to trigger trypophobia’; ‘the acting was woeful’; ‘underwhelming’. Among the experts, opinion on the show seems fairly-evenly divided between fanboy enthusiasm (academic Troy Whitford describes it as ‘a compelling investigation into Australia’s extremist politics’) and severe reservation (television critic Craig Matheson reckons it ‘commits a fatal error by rehabilitating extremists’). On the whole, I thought it was reasonably entertaining, if somewhat daft in its pretensions to documenting recent political conflicts in Melbourne; I’m also a sucker for any show which depicts the city and enjoy guessing the location shoots (which in this case were kinda odd).*
Written by director Geoffrey Wright, James Napier Robertson, Malcolm Knox and Omar Musa, the first episode begins with a peculiar re-telling of a ‘real life’ incident which occurred in April 2016, when the Sydney-based ‘Party for Freedom’ organised a picket outside the halal expo in Ascot Vale. The reality was fairly mundane: a small group of anTEEfa clashed with the picketers, nicked some of their tat, and one white supremacist, Ryan Fletcher, fell over and hurt himself. The fictional account, on the other hand, features a very elaborate display on the part of the ‘Antifasc’ and a near-total absence of police. (IRL, all of the patriotik events of 2015–2016, especially those in Melbourne, witnessed very large and often overwhelming police mobilisations.) It was also amusing to witness ‘Antifasc’ retrieving rocks from a bucket and their primitive battle formation. While the scene serves to underscore the amateurish and para-military nature of ‘Antifasc’, it could be that the spectacular was inspired by a similar scene at an anti-Trump rally in November 2016:
Barista, Barista! Antifascista!
The clash outside the halal expo is also recorded by one of the ‘Antifasc’ and this data is then fwded to ‘McKew’, a politics lecturer who performs the role of the bRanes behind ‘Antifasc’. McKew maintains a site called ‘The Slacker’s Guide to Fascists’ which helpfully contains the byline ‘This blog is for all things Antifascist based in Melbourne Australia’.
No prizes for guessing who inspired that hottt take.
Described as ‘A high stakes drama that follows a new generation of far right activists, their Anti-Fascist counterparts, and its impact on today’s multicultural society’, the most sympathetic rendering is reserved for those:
Caught up in the conflict … three young Muslim characters, Farid, a nurse at an aged care facility studying at university, his girlfriend Laila, a student who will be appropriated as a media star of the left by the antifascist group, and Malik, Farid’s brother and a talented MMA fighter. The revolutionary zeal of the antifascist movement is embodied in the ruthless Petra, her boyfriend Danny, and the ideological ringmaster McKew.
Both Laila and Petra are students of the ideological ringmaster McKew, and indeed ‘Antifasc’ is composed exclusively of Uni students. ‘Patriot Blue’, on the other hand, are salt-of-the-earth types who attended The School of Hard Knocks and The University of Life; leaving aside their leader Blake Farron’s penchant for the poetry of Henry Lawson, the patriotik volk have scant interest in knowledge, but are very committed to acquiring (white) power. While this depiction has some merit, the reality, which is rather more messy, is obviously a little too messy for the show’s writers, and I suppose it makes narrative sense to squash it into more-easily digestible stereotypes. Kane, the troubled yoof who eventually displaces Blake as fuehrer of ‘Patriot Blue’, is presumably meant to be a typical patriot, though his motivations for joining the fascists is never really properly explored.
Other than collect rocks in buckets, members of ‘Antifasc’ also run some kinda street kitchen — the only indication that they’re involved in other political activities — in which they serve ‘Chicken or tomato?’ soup to the homeless. This, presumably, is a reference to Food Not Bombs, which has been providing free vegan food to the public at regular street kitchens for about the last 20 years in Melbourne, and for around 40 years across the globe. It’s at one of these kitchens that ‘Antifasc’ meet with Kane’s li’l sis (recently escaped from juvenile detention). Within the space of a day or two after this fortuitous meeting (the script teems with such coincidences), she suddenly finds herself at the heart of their operations. This is rather poor OpSec, as well as unbelievable, but it serves the story, and reproduces the compressed narrative that describes the arc of almost all the main characters.
The ‘Antifasc’ crew are also rather derelict in their revolutionary duties when in episode four, ‘The Dark Heart of Things’, one of their members, Danny (Petra’s boyfriend), is hospitalised and placed into an induced coma following a bizarre set-piece with ‘Patriot Blue’ on St Kilda beach (which also served as the location of the halal expo in the first episode). Again, police are absent from this scenario, as they are generally, with the exception of one spook working for the AFP. Neither is it front page news — which is also rather remarkable. The episode, written by Musa, also introduces African gangbangers, who run into the ‘Patriot Blue’ crew outside a convenience store (located on Sydney Road in Brunswick). Later, the gangbangers Hyjak N Torcha one of the men they encounter outside the store. Speaking of which …
The interaction between the fictional world of Romper Stomper and reality has been at the centre of many debates regarding it, both in its original iteration as a film (1992) and as TV (2017). Thus when twice-convicted racist Neil Erikson adopted the name ‘Patriot Blue’ in an attempt to capitalise on the publicity surrounding the relaunch, Stan and Roadshow initiated legal action against him for copyright violation:
Stan and Roadshow Productions would like to clarify that while our series does refer to a purely fictional group created for the series called Patriot Blue, there is no association between our organisations or the Romper Stomper production team and those involved in yesterday’s incident [ie, the racist abuse of Labor MP Sam Dastyari at a bar at Victoria University]. We strongly condemn the actions of this group and racial discrimination in all its forms.
Be that as it may, in the last few weeks the actions of so-called #AfricanGangs has once again been in the news, part of a campaign spearheaded by the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton. Dutton, Newscorpse, and numerous trollumnists obviously hope to create a wedge issue by which they further hope that the Andrews Labor state government may be defeated at the 2018 state election. The SCREAMING HEADLINES! have also naturally triggered the methgoblins of the True Blue Crew. (Note that, in episode two, the ‘Patriot Blue’ street patrol not only string up graf artists, beat African yoof and hand out blankets to the homeless, they also smash a meth lab. Remarkably, none of these activities result in police intervention. IRL, just a few weeks ago Nathan Davidson, a neo-Nazi United Patriots Front fanboy from Canberra, was arrested and charged — again — with possession of ‘600 grams of the drug ice, 1000 MDMA pills, as well as $90,000 in cash at his city home’, along with quantities of heroin, cocaine and anabolic steroids.)
Fourth Reich Fighting Men From Melton
Inspired by Dutton and the tabloids, the True Blue Crew has organised a meeting tomorrow to organise vigilantism directed at African yoof — the ones what stick guns in your face, kidnap and torture youse like what they do in ‘Romper Stomper’. Predictably, it’s received a ton of media attention, assurances from police that they’ll be keeping a close eye on the boys, and rapturous applause from the peanut gallery. If successful, the TBC (and the remnants of the UPF) will join the ranks of the Soldiers of Odin, A26A and Asolate Security in mounting street patrols and who knows, maybe even Avi Yemini will join the gang. And in another case of life-imitating-art-imitating-life, the same gang has refused to be SAD and have organised a BBQ for January 26.
On St Kilda beach.
Never Mind The Bollocks
Any body interested in the reality of anti-fascist activism should watch The Antifascists (2017).
* Kane and his sidekick Stix both reside at the Victoria Hotel in Brunswick, which also happens to be the favourite watering-hole of ‘Antifasc’.