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7 Things You Might Like to Know About Australia Before Watching TERROR NULLIUS

by Soda_Jerk

blog intro

I first came across Soda_Jerk's face-melting animation and snarky humor several years ago at the Ann Arbor Film Festival where they presented their feature-length work Hollywood Burn(2006), a fast-paced disjointed narrative built from a highly creative remix of iconic Hollywood movies. Not only is Hollywood Burn laugh-out-loud funny and obviously required a stupefying amount of digital labor, but as its eight-minute credit sequence of sources attests, it demonstrates an encyclopedic love for movie-going. Their ability to scramble an archive of mainstream movies to create counter-narratives is why I asked them to be the first offering in a new cinema series I am working on at the MCA and, over the coming months, we hope to share works that expand our experience of movie-going and benefit from the act of collective viewing.

Since Hollywood Burn, Soda_Jerk has only gotten more sophisticated and hilarious in the last decade. TERROR NULLIUS(2018), which we are screening on Friday at 6 pm, is an unapologetic exploration of the colonial, racist, and misogynist artifacts of the Australian cinema cannon.

Below, Soda_Jerk clues us in on some of the specific points of that country's political and cinematic history, which often overlaps heavily with our own.

—Christy LeMaster, Associate Curator of Public Programs

First tidbit

1. Girls in White Dresses

<img width="100%" height="auto" alt="A close-up of female wearing straw hat screaming is interspersed with the words TERROR/TERRA NULLIUS flashing over a barren landscape." src="https://assets-production.mcachicago.org/media/images/W1siZiIsIjIwMTgvMDgvMjMvMjAvMzUvZDA2YmI3Y2MtYTU5Zi00MWVlLTg4MjMtYTc5NjdlNzA1MzZhIl1d/GirlsInWhiteDresses_TerrorNullius1.gif?sha=5386ce03fd0db4a7">

In 1975, Peter Weir directed the film Picnic at Hanging Rock based on the novel by Joan Lindsay. In it, three white schoolgirls mysteriously vanish while frolicking about a rock formation. Ever since, Australians have lost their sh*t debating what happened to these girls. There have been forums, books, and TV specials, and just this year, a serialized reboot of the original film. Yet the narrative is pure fiction. Meanwhile, what's been less debated and interrogated is the monumental vanishing act performed by colonial settlers when they arrived in an already occupied country and declared Australia terra nullius (nobody's land).

Second tidbit

2. Sons of Beaches

<img width="100%" height="auto" alt="Four topless males get into a fist fight in front of a large body of water." src="https://assets-production.mcachicago.org/media/images/W1siZiIsIjIwMTgvMDgvMjMvMjAvMzUvY2I1ZWY3OTAtZjJjMS00YzAwLTgwN2YtM2Y5MTlhOWVhMzJlIl1d/SonsOfBeaches_TerrorNullius2.gif?sha=a2944331e0ef5cf8">

Other countries have race riots, but it's a special Australian innovation to combine violent clashes with a day at the beach. The Cronulla riots were a series of race-based outbreaks of mob violence on Sydney's southern beaches in 2005. And that's certainly not the only time Australia's immigration debate has exploded at the water's edge. Australia doesn't have to build walls to buttress refugees, it has a whopping big ocean around it. Instead of yelling “build the wall,” the chant of racist Australia has long been “stop the boats!”

Third tidbit

3. Swamped by Hanson

<img width="100%" height="auto" alt="Pauline Hanson is inserted into a scene from Mad Max: Fury Road. She stands stoically, facing out to our left." src="https://assets-production.mcachicago.org/media/images/W1siZiIsIjIwMTgvMDgvMjMvMjAvMzYvNTJhODhlZjYtZWVjZS00YzIwLThlNTMtMTUzYjU1Y2U0NTFlIl1d/Swamped-by-Hanson_TerrorNullius3.gif?sha=a1d02b80d74c5022">

Who says Australia doesn't have strong women in parliament? For better or worse (read: worse) Pauline Hanson is one of the most notorious and divisive figures in Australian political history. One minute she's running a fish-and-chip shop, the next she's in parliament decrying that Australia is being “swamped by Asians.” In 2003, she was imprisoned for defrauding party funds, only to get out, and straight back into the spotlight on the reality TV show Dancing with the Stars. The real kicker is that she's in parliament once again, only this time with warnings that the country's being “swamped by Muslims.”

Fourth tidbit

4. Mad Mel Gibson

<img width="100%" height="auto" alt="A close up of a tape inserted into an audio recorder switches to a scene of Furiosa looking questioningly at Max from Mad Max: Fury Road." src="https://assets-production.mcachicago.org/media/images/W1siZiIsIjIwMTgvMDgvMjMvMjAvMzYvMDJkODBhN2UtYzE1MC00ODVmLThhZGItZWY0Y2FkM2IzYTllIl1d/MadMelGibson_TerrorNullius4.gif?sha=a82fffd5ebe661ab">

Mad Mel likely needs no introduction. As a “road warrior” of the Californian highways in 2006, he unleashed an anti-Semitic tirade against police officers when they arrested him for drunk driving. His violent misogyny is also well recorded, literally. In 2010, tapes were leaked of an obscene phone call made to his ex-partner Oksana Grigorieva. The fact that he was never held accountable for these obscenities is infuriating, and made us wonder: what would Fury Road's Imperator Furiosa do to Mad Max if she heard Mel's rant tape?

Fifth tidbit

5. It’s My Birthday, I’ll Cry if I Want To

<img width="100%" height="auto" alt="From behind a podium, Bob Hawke chugs a beer and tosses the empty cup forward as a red-suited guard looks on." src="https://assets-production.mcachicago.org/media/images/W1siZiIsIjIwMTgvMDgvMjMvMjAvMzcvMjVmY2YxMjAtNGQ5Zi00NmE0LWFjNDUtMDg0ODE1OTY5M2QyIl1d/ItsMyBirthday_TerrorNullius5.gif?sha=0764705beb3d6e47">

That feeling when your country has been occupied for over 60,000 years by one of the oldest civilizations on earth, and your government holds a party to celebrate its 200th birthday. That’s right, in 1988 Australia put birthday candles on its bloody history of invasion, with bicentennial celebrations stewarded by then–Prime Minister Bob Hawke. And Bob’s qualifications for the top office? He once held the Guinness Record for skulling 2 1/2 pints of beer in 11 seconds.

Sixth tidbit

6. The Babadook Is Totally Gay

<img width="100%" height="auto" alt="Essie Davis reads a pop-up book featuring the Babadook with rainbow-colored teeth." src="https://assets-production.mcachicago.org/media/images/W1siZiIsIjIwMTgvMDgvMjMvMjAvMzgvN2QzMWVlMmYtMjc5Mi00YjdmLWJhMTctNDdhOGUzYTYwOGQ4Il1d/TheBabdookIsTotallyGay_TerrorNullius6.gif?sha=5ae2638681f70c3c">

In 2017, the monster from Australian horror flick The Babadook was outed when the film was accidentally listed in Netflix's LGBTIQ category. A screenshot went viral on Tumblr and so did the internet's newest queer icon. So is The Babadook really about a white suburban household haunted to the point of hysteria by the spectre of queer Australia? Well that just sounds a lot like real life to us. In 2017, the Australian government held a postal survey in which citizens could vote on same-sex marriage. In doing so, it spawned a vicious campaign of bigotry and hysteria, and a rise in hates crimes against the queer community.

Seventh tidbit

7. That’s Not an Icon, This Is an Icon

<img width="100%" height="auto" alt="" src="https://assets-production.mcachicago.org/media/images/W1siZiIsIjIwMTgvMDgvMjMvMjAvMzgvYjUyNjRmNzYtMzYzYS00NzQ1LTgwMzAtMDM1NmIwNTAxMjQ3Il1d/ThatsNotAnIcon_TerrorNullius7.gif?sha=663cd72c76594804">

Remember that adorable Aussie crocodile hunter from the 1980s film, and how his casual misogyny and uncouth cultural ways were kind of funny? Revisit that film now and you probably won’t be laughing. Among other acts of violence, Dundee derides a transgender person and assaults them by grabbing their crotch to “check” their gender status—which makes it all the more horrific that Tourism Australia recently sunk $36 million into rebooting Mick Dundee as the contemporary face of Australian tourism. Personally, we would have preferred to see the character of Dundee shot and ravaged by a crocodile, so that’s precisely what we did.


All gifs courtesy of Soda_Jerk.