Ingredients: 1 part gender profiling. 1 part racism. 1 part bullying. A sprinkling of bad manners and hypocrisy to garnish.
Method: Chuck all your ingredients into a saucepan on high heat and stir until it blows up in your face! Serves: 1 nation.
You know, there was a time that I actually liked MKR. I haven’t been watching it from the very beginning, but have been giving it my time and emotion for at least three to five years. Right now it feels like I’ve been in an abusive relationship without knowing it.
The recent ‘blow-up’ of NSW contestants Sonya and Hadil put more than adult temper tantrums on display, it flashed the show’s true colours and I think Channel 7 has really shot itself in the foot this time. For those who don’t know Wednesday night’s show saw ‘villains’ Sonya and Hadil bait their rival team Jess and Emma with snide and derogatory comments in the hope of getting the girls to explode. Though they achieved their goal when Jess left the table the ‘queens’ didn’t stop there and continued to dig the boot in until they had threatened everyone at the table and called them all assholes. The night resulted –fittingly- in the girls being sent home without supper.
After this –as can be expected- social media pages lit up like bombe alaskas with both fans and trolls throwing tantrums and playing the Blame Game. Headlines have since informed us that the ladies were booted off the show and are suing Channel 7. Really?
As a singular viewer I realise that my opinion is not going to be a magic ripple effect that sets big things in motion, but I’m going to let it out anyway. My aim is not to offend it is just to share my thoughts on the matter, point a few things out, and get it off my chest rather than have it eat away at me because this is something that struck a place I can’t ignore.
So everyone’s playing the Blame Game now. People are slamming Channel 7 with tweets telling producers to hang their heads in shame that a display like this went to air. This is completely justified. What was on TV on Wednesday night was awful. It was a complete desecration of social etiquette that a large viewership -potentially including kids- were privy to. Spokespeople for 7 have commented that the drama was actually even worse than what went to air and audiences only got to see what was appropriate for a 7:30 time slot. I know TV producers and managers can’t have black holes in their schedules, but honestly it might have been nicer for everyone if they just didn’t air the episode at all.
It brought more to light than the show’s penchant to favour dinner party drama over interesting cooking challenges. Let’s not pretend that this season has consisted of practically nothing but instant restaurant rounds and elimination dinner parties because that’s where the drama happens. Having villains and team feuds became a thing when Ashlee and Sofia -of the famous gatecrasher round- had their feud with ‘Melbourne Housewives’ Angela and Melina and ratings soared. Since then the show has provided audiences with a smorgasbord of wicked teams and contestants to hate –and most of them have been women.
Let us not leave out the memorable dickheads that everyone couldn’t wait to see the back of: Josh the ‘Seafood King’ who couldn’t cook seafood to save his bacon and David aka ‘the Captain’ who practically did nothing on the show except make snide comments and make his partner use their prep time to iron his pants! But these guys were just dumb and –to my memory- I cannot recall a male-male team being the villains, it’s always been female-female. Here’s a few names to spark memory: Roula and Rachel (2018), Ashlee and Sofia (2013), Chloe and Kelly (2014), Ash and Camilla (2015). Even in coed teams the ‘ladies’ have tended to be the nasty ones.
Apparently people liked seeing the cattiness of female fighting a la Mean Girls, but now it’s turned into a one-trick, gender-profiling pony that’s turned and kicked the show in the groin. While they haven’t achieved any culinary awards since the beginning of the show, Sonya and Hadil have still made sure that all eyes are on them by dishing out whatever attention-grabbing spectacle they could. Aside from taking the spot of ‘Evil Queens’ on Wednesday the show has seen the two aggressively try to woo truffle farmer Henry and be the first to kick up a stink when they were ‘insulted’ by Olga when she compared Hadil to a rabbit. Seems all very hypocritical now doesn’t it? The two have become the poster children for women behaving badly, but not in an Absolutely Fabulous type way. Taking pot shots at Jess and Emma’s cosmetically enhanced appearance the girls have also lorded their financial status over the other teams by constantly bringing up their fine dining experiences in high-class restaurants. During one elimination round the two reduced Suong to tears with this (hypocrisy reared its head again on Wednesday when Hadil said “we respect Kim and Suong”).
If they’re not villainesses or nurturing mothers women on MKR are men’s sou chefs or the young girls next door: not really a range of flavours is there?
Let’s move on to the racism. MKR is not an incredible show for its writing or its exploration of important things within our community. It’s popcorn TV: something that you can mindlessly watch as you mindlessly eat your dinner. By 8:00 you’re lulled into the flow of it all and you don’t even question any underlying meanings or potential hidden agendas. But as with any fire alarm or loud bang when something explodes you sit up and pay attention. Wednesday night’s scandal along with the show’s gender-profiling tendencies brought into sharp relief its levels of racism too, as a lot of little ingredients suddenly counteracted with one another and blew up. The show has made a point about showcasing a diverse range of cuisines with teams from a range of backgrounds being encouraged to cook the food of their homeland. But just because it accepts food from other countries does not make it entirely multicultural.
MKR is an Australian TV show and just like our movies it’s also a depiction of our cultural identity. Which is why –in this season particularly- I’m getting a little annoyed with the way in which certain contestants are being portrayed. One thing that’s been happening a lot is the mispronunciation of international dishes. It’s fair that not everyone is bilingual and people tend to read phonetically, but there have been a lot of instances in this season where this has been highlighted and even laughed at. Typical ‘Aussie’ types have made language mistakes and while it’s been laughed off there’s still some issues left on the table. For a start it’s putting forward this idea that we’re not really a multicultural society, but just a bunch of people from different countries who live on the same land. There’s an exclusive aspect that doesn’t promote ideas of an accepting and cohesive national culture. Following on from that, the fact that contestants have been either innocently or deliberately mispronouncing dish names is exoticising them, indicating that they’re not part of our culture, which is absolute crap as everyone around the table are ‘Aussie cooks’.
We then need to consider the heritage of this season’s villains. Sonya and Hadil have been showcasing Arabic cuisine, being of Jordanian descent and while the food itself has been celebrated the two queens aren’t being hailed. Their performance on Wednesday night prompted a load of backlash on social media, which included insults about their gender and heritage. In more than one tweet the girls have been labeled as terrorists and 9/11 has even been brought up to make the insults really sting. We are currently in a heightened state of sexual, racial, and social sensitivity following the Weinstein Scandal and such so who on the 7 staff thought it would be fine to pull a stunt like this? The fact that the girls are strong personalities that fit the villainess role was obviously the driving factor, but it amazes me that no one bothered to think that making them ‘the team to hate’ could lead to exactly this. What do people do when they hate someone? They use everything they possibly can to tear them down including their gender, personal tastes, and heritage. So the racist ripple effect that 7 has created doesn’t really promote multiculturalism does it? And of course Sonya and Hadil are not the first ‘exotic’ villainesses: remember Ashlee and Sofia? This season alone as seen three all-female teams -aside from Sonya and Hadil- of mixed heritage depicted as potential villains: best friends Roula and Rachel, Asian sisters Georgie and Alicia, and Russian friends Olga and Valeria. Do I need to say more?
Alongside the accusations of gender profiling and racism Channel 7 and the MKR producers have been hit with allegations of promoting bullying to get ratings, which –as a number of people have already pointed out- is hugely hypocritical, as Sunrise launched an anti-bullying campaign earlier this year. This season it’s taken the prime form of body shaming with the cosmetically enhanced ‘princesses’ Jess and Emma being the central target for quips and abuse. While the girls have also been quick to laugh at themselves in this respect it doesn’t really make it ok to keep drawing attention to the fact. The series’ first villainess, Roula and Rachel were the first to start the blaze after Emma called Rachel a “cow” and she responded with “I can’t even look at your face!” And it just went on from there. The girls’ constantly touching up their lipstick quickly became a running joke and any mention of doctors would turn attention their way, but on Tuesday night it was taken too far. Wednesday’s ‘blow-up’ had been brewing for a while –we know- and the match was sparked as Hadil abandoned her quips about the sisters’ lack of culinary skills and opted instead for image-bashing and name-calling giving the girls the name ‘Honey Blowfish’.
Beyond the show of raised voices, bared teeth, and finger pointing that they gave on Wednesday night Sonya and Hadil have been continually building their image of table-bullies throughout the show. They’ve made points of showing off their knowledge of other cuisines and boasting about their financial status by constantly bringing up their high-class fine dining experiences- all of which has been nationally broadcast! It may not be as obvious as throwing stones or punching a gut, but it’s still a behaviour that creates feelings of inferiority and if that’s not bullying, I don’t know what is.
It’s true that we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes and that the ‘real people’ we see on the show are the product of cast direction and weeks of editing. MKR ‘villains’ have been saying for years that they’re not really like how they appear on the show. That’s fine. Sonya and Hadil have fallen in with all the other villainesses and come out saying that the show’s “insane editing” was a massive misrepresentation of them.
“Imagine how we feel watching the episodes back when the episodes have been extremely tampered with. Yes, we said those words and they truly don’t reflect our values and who we’ve grown up to be. Channel 7 should show the public the raw footage of what really happened.”
By now audiences are well aware that what we see is not truth. But the downside with reality television is that there’s a certain level of truth behind it. As a genre, it’s a way for people to become a celebrity overnight and this is certainly happening with the girls as they continue to make headlines and provide a large chunk of content for tabloid magazines. Yes Channel 7 could release the “raw footage” of the real show, along with the script that dictates what everyone has to say and how they must say it. My one problem with the continual oncoming shrapnel of this ‘blow-up’ is that fingers are being pointed towards the producers encouraging certain performances and the editors making it look a certain way, but at the end of the day you can’t edit content without content and the truth remains that these things have all be said in a hostile way and put out into the ether. The girls have owned up and there’s obviously a large level of acting involved in this whole charade of a ‘reality’ series.
By now myself- and others- wouldn’t be surprised if this whole thing: the hypocrisy, the girls being booted off the show, the charges with bullying, and the general furor came to nothing more than a way to try and boost ratings. I would not be surprised if Sonya and Hadil made their way in to Kitchen Headquarters. Of course, if that does happen the outrage will be cataclysmic. Considering that industry giants known the world over have recently been toppled from their perches and had the public demanding their heads, what makes the Channel 7 bigwigs think they can come out of this unscathed? It looks to me like MKR’s addiction to ratings –annoyingly still breaking records- has caused them to take an idea too far and now they’ve shot themselves in the foot.
Because after all of this shit who is going to have the patience with it?