Nasa above all

The film "The Dish" staged Australia’s successful participation in the Apollo 11 mission as a moment of national triumph – by seamlessly hitching a ride to the ubervater USA

"Will the people of India get to see this too??" It’s a brave question when directed at three self-satisfied men who, over lunch together, have been promoting the lofty ideals of the "rude enterprise of mankind" discuss. At least, that’s how Cliff Buxton, the director of the telescope antenna in the small town of Parkes, Australia, describes the Apollo 11 mission. Later, when Neil Armstrong takes his first steps on the moon, we will get the answer to the question.

In front of their TV sets we see people of all nations, Australians, Japanese and also Indians, staring in bewilderment at a small square where a man descends a ladder, steps on the ground and speaks a memorable sentence. It would be difficult to find a clearer image of the utopia of humanity united under the starry banner. What all Hollywood producers have always dreamed of is once again emphatically evoked here, in the film The Dish. The primal American act of land grabbing and expansion live on all channels. No more competition, no more difference, just one image, one message for everyone. NASA above all.

Everyone knows the pictures, but hardly anyone knows that the telescopic antenna in Parkes, which gave the film its title, financed entirely by Australia, was needed to transmit them. The work of director Rob Sitch and his colleagues from the production company Working Dog is certainly an attempt to rework a piece of Australian technological history for the international cinema market.

The story of the telescope antenna, its technicians and the burghers of Parkes, whose lives are thrown off course by the sudden appointment by NASA and the international attention that comes with it, is told as a comedy. From the first minute, the film leaves no doubt that Parkes is a backwoods place, whose inhabitants are capable of any faux pas. This of course gives some funny effects, when these figures try to adapt technically and socially to the standards of the Americans.

It is astonishing, with which renunciation of differentiation one makes fun of the Australian protagonists. All their idiosyncrasies, their linguistic and culinary extravagances, are portrayed as endearing, but nevertheless as deficiencies. This manifests itself primarily in the difference between the uncouth rednecks and Al Burnett, the only American on the team. The NASA man is a typical representative of the U.S. superfather, civilized, in control, and yet ready to improvise at the decisive moment and cheat the headquarters. In contrast to him, especially his two Australian colleagues seem immature. One of them can’t even manage to talk to a girl who regularly brings food to the men, and the other forgets to charge the auxiliary generator, which puts the mission in the outback in considerable danger.

The only Australian who has already assimilated to U.S. standards is Director Buxton. He is ideally cast with Sam Neill, who, due to his fame in the USA, functions as an ideal identification figure for cultural adaptation through assimilation. With his grayish hair and his phallic pipe he perfectly embodies the paternalistic world view of the film, a local representative of the rough father USA in the outback, so to speak.

In general, role assignments that are considered old-fashioned even in Hollywood are used in the film "The Dish" presented with a self-reliance that takes one’s breath away. Here, women are either still gossiping wives, food suppliers for the hard-working and thoughtful men, or bitches to be domesticated. One of them, Marie, the mayor’s daughter, is allowed to raise the question posed at the beginning of this article. But their curmudgeonly interjections are treated by the film as absurd puberty phenomena, as a running gag not to be taken seriously. Finally, she too, along with everyone else, will bow her head before the ultimate image of the manly American will to conquer and tolerate on her shoulder the hand of the clumsy soldier who has ensnared her throughout the film.

The need for Australia to be visible on the international stage at the moment was made unmistakably clear by the last Olympics. There, Sydney and Australia were presented as the global centers of the new millennium, and local athletes were showcased as highly visible icons of a national self-image. They were joined in the bombastic closing ceremony by further "typical Australian" figures that would show the world who they were, it was.

As Mark Freeman writes in his insightful article about the "The Dish" In addition to motifs from films that were also internationally successful, it was also "Strictly Ballroom" and "Priscilla" especially the good old Crocodile Dundee, which should provide a recognition value here. The characters presented were those who had already asserted themselves on the international, especially American, film market. Instead of searching for new identifications for one’s own nation, one simply circulated once again what had proved itself in other countries as "Australian" had preserved.

This strategy of making Australia visible by pandering to American standards and Family values drives "The Dish" to the top. As Freeman writes, virtually all the locals in the film are Dundee descendants in their mixture of backwoods charm and cuteness when it comes to adapting quickly to new and dangerous circumstances. The fact that this self-image is so successful in the USA is perhaps due to the fact that the virtues of a Crocodile Dundee do not differ too much from those of the cowboy in the Wild West. Both are as inhabitants of the border area between civilization and wilderness just a bit backwoods compared to the over-civilized "East" and at the same time reliant on its not yet dulled survival instincts. But their final destination is incorporation. At some point the "East" finds an appropriate task for the hinterland, even if it is only as a transit station. Whether as a Pony Express station or a transmitter for radio signals is only a minor matter.

In "The Dish" Australia is staged as one of the last outposts of a project of globalization that is under American domination. Instead of searching for its own images, themes and characters, the film makes use of U.S. standards. In terms of form and content, there is a good match. The adaptation of American narratives and stereotypes corresponds with the movement of the content to the transfer of images from the moon to the. The rough triumph of Parkes’ little people is when, after many technical problems, the pictures finally run: not Australian, but just American.

In the end, it is not the national or cultural difference to the USA that is celebrated here, but rather the attachment to it. If that was not the case, we were "The Dish" perhaps not even get to see, because with too rough cultural variance he probably had not found an international distributor. In this respect, the film can perhaps be considered a successful example of a step towards cultural autonomy. Something becomes visible. If perhaps it was not "Australia" but it does sharpen the view of the situation of the film industry in this country. And the importance of the switching points distributed all over the globe for the father USA is the subject of the entire plot of "The Dish".

What if the telescopic antenna had given up the ghost?? Then Neil Armstrong had to make his move quite unobserved. And in India the TV sets had remained off.

"The Dish" by Rob Sitch (Australia 2000), from 19.7. in the cinema

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