Joe’s $1-a-week cinema: The Tony Abbott tribute edition
The 1950s was an extraordinary decade. It produced John Howard’s values, Tony Abbott’s existence and Marty McFly’s parents.
It was an age in which men were men and women were women and Supreme Court judges were white. People knew who they were back then and if they didn’t people were friendly enough that you could ask somebody and they’d tell you. Back then you could take all the drugs you wanted, as long as you were a housewife and had a prescription. You do that these days and people say you’ve got a problem.
Yet into this staid world exploded a force with such style, dark good looks and raw sexual energy that the cultural landscape of the entire western world was to be changed forever. I speak of course of the DeLorean DMC 12, a sports car whose fame is only eclipsed by its poor on-road performance and sudden withdrawal from production.*
In fact the only benefit of a DeLorean DMC 12 is that it is able to travel backwards and forwards through time. Sadly this feature was only available on one of the 9000 cars produced.
But it was what was inside the car that really mattered: A man by the name of Michael J Fox. Michael J Fox was an incredible TV and film star who played a host of roles, including Michael J Fox in Family Ties, Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf, Michael J Fox in The Secret of My Success and of course Michael J Fox in Back to the Future. He later went on to star in Spin City, in which he played Michael J Fox.
The thing was that back in the Eighties Michael J Fox didn’t need to play anybody else because he was, well, Michael J Fox. This phenomenon is difficult to explain but easy to prove. He is so familiar that even just saying his name without the middle initial seems horribly wrong: “Michael Fox.” Makes you feel like a pervert doesn’t it?
Michael J Fox was so squeaky clean you could use him as soap so it’s little surprise that his best friend Doc – and can someone please explain to me the precise nature of that relationship? – chose him to go back to the 1950s.+
Here he found a simpler, more civilised world of white picket fences, good manners and teenage mothers trying to seduce their offspring (albeit in perfectly understandable circumstances). It is also a world without skateboards and, as everybody knows, no skateboards means no crime.
Yet despite these idyllic surrounds Michael J Fox decides he would really prefer to live in 1985, and spends a great deal of his time trying to get there. This is in direct contrast to John Howard, who spent a great deal of his time trying to get to 1955 and a couple of times almost made it.
While the film presents many wry observations on social affairs and the subtle tides of inter-personal relationships, the best part is unquestionably when the DeLorean goes so fast that it leaves a trail of fire. There is no real explanation or apparent need for this to happen. It was more a case of a bunch of people sitting around a table until one says: “Hey! What if we made it so when the car went through time it left a trail of fire?” and everyone instantly realises it’s the best idea ever. Then they call the art department and tell them that no matter what the trail of fire has to go on all the posters and the art department says “What trail of fire?” and they say “Shut the @#$% up, you’re just the Goddamn art department. Just put the @#$%ing trail of fire on the poster.” And then you look at the poster and you know. You just know it’s so right.
Indeed, it’s a bit like that with Tony Abbott. A lot of what he says is kind of right on without really making any sense. Just like he’s strong on old-fashioned decency but does nothing but swear all the time and have illegitimate children who don’t even turn out to be his. Just like the 1950s he is upright and picture perfect, while underneath lurks a sense of heat and danger. He is the dark and fiery animal of reflex and instinct straining against his nature for careful and high-minded morality. The guard dog by the white picket fence.
Michael J Fox spent a very short amount of time in the 1950s yet he achieved an incredible amount. And yet the sum total of that achievement was that everything went back to just the way it was and he disappeared in a bolt of lightning. In all likelihood this will be the same experience Tony Abbott has as Liberal leader – a brief Herculean struggle to get the party back to its right-wing resting place and then a sudden combustion and he will be gone.
Because that is the natural order of things. If Tony Abbott became Prime Minister and achieved his dream of turning Australia into an idyllic community of upstanding citizens the world would be unbalanced and he would be cease to exist. He would have no hippies, no socialists and no moral turpitude upon which to direct his supernatural energies. He is a warrior, not an emperor; a preacher, not a pope. Like Michael J Fox he would be caught in a world where he did not belong, and soon his escape would be marked by a path of righteous fire.
*Anyone who thought the next words after the previous sentence were going to be “Elvis Presley” should deduct 10 points. Anyone who thought they were going to be “Tony Abbott” should add 20.
+Pedants will no doubt claim that it was Marty who accidentally sent himself to the 1950s while Doc was lying down dead, however I think we can safely assume that he knew what was going to happen all along.
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