A deep look at shallow news

April 5, 2000


A deep look at shallow news

The Shallow End
Written by Doug Lucie
New Theatre, Sydney
Showings until April 29
MCA Ticketing 9873 3575


Capitalism's new levels of aggression and ruthlessness are nowhere more evident than in the media, making Doug Lucie's play, The Shallow End, especially relevant and hard-hitting.

Lucie invariably portrays the social and moral decay of contemporary capitalist society and often the pretensions of Britain's class system. This play is no exception, focussing on the operations and direction of a Sunday newspaper, bought by a media mogul and left intact, as agreed, for a mandatory six months.

Now the six months is up, heads roll and the new order of values rides roughshod over all.

In splendid symbolism, the hatchet jobs are undertaken at a wedding — no ordinary wedding, but that of the media mogul's daughter at an English country home. Those sacked don't even get to stay for the wedding proper. They are whisked out the back door, unceremoniously and without any chance of organising or reflective thinking.

Outside, a bus is waiting to ferry the media discards and corporate misfits into their new life of uncertainty. The operation is all pre-arranged and performed so methodically and callously that it is itself a sledgehammer metaphor for the broader story of economic rationalism and corporate globalisation.

Through a series of dialogues, Lucie unleashes a broadside of stinging criticisms of this new style of newspaper. Although delivered with acerbity, there is an impressive balance between the build-up of condemnation and the equally sharp humour.

Cynically and articulately, the lives of those within the media unfold. For the most part, it is not a pretty sight, as the naive and blindly conservative are moulded in accord with the desires of the avaricious and the corrupt.

Two characters especially lay out the blueprint of modern media and the changes it has wrought. One, wife of the ineffectual and now superfluous political editor, lists the principles that a journalist should uphold, such as "Never confuse freedom of the press with freedom of the people".

But it is around the second that the play reaches its climax. The incorruptible overseas correspondent, the thorn in the side of the editor and owner, is called in to be sacked. He expects as much.

But rather than cower and compromise, he points his finger at events and motives behind this global media enterprise: "Pollute the market, distort it, drag the quality and the price as low as they can go and then, if there is still a market left after that, fine, because you're the major player. And if there isn't ... another outmoded product becomes history and, anyway, you control the alternatives".

It is a richly entertaining play. I only wish I could tell you it was fiction.

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