Pop Culture #679

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Pop Culture #679

Having now seen the first two episodes of Romper Stomper, Stan’s new six part series based (loosely) on the original 1992 film that’s being released on the streaming service on January 1, it’s clear the producers (which include the movie’s writer/director Geoffery Wright) were faced with a dilemma.

The original film is notorious for its right-wing politics, but the film itself is more about action than trying to argue any coherent philosophy. It’s a string of high-energy scenes of violence and destruction (and dancing – it’s largely structured like a dance movie) justified by some racist slogans and Nazi flags. But trying to sustain that level of energy across six hours would clearly be impossible; the film barely manages it for 90 minutes.

So instead of following up on the original’s focus on a bunch of manic clowns trashing Footscray largely because they can, the series is all about the politics. The film trapped viewers in the world of its skinheads: we heard their music, we heard their views, and everyone outside them was seen as a subhuman target for violence.

For some – most notably David Stratton, who refused to give the film a star rating on The Movie Show – this forced the audience to identify with a group they should despise. For others (okay, me), it was more that by focusing so closely on them, we could see all their flaws: they were violent dickheads tearing their lives apart, and anyone seeing anything admirable in these brutal clowns needed to pay a little more attention to what was actually taking place in the film. But because the series – the first two episodes at least – is much more about the politics rather than the thrills (and cost) of violence, we have to have balance.

So opposing Lachy Hulme’s Blake and his right wing “Patriot Blue” organisation we have the Antifa, a group of left-wing uni students who’s mission it is to blunt the alt-right’s thrust into Australian society. Between them are a small group of Muslim bystanders, people who largely want to live their lives without being targeted by Patriot Blue. But the Antifa are opposed to Patriot Blue first and foremost, which leaves these characters trapped between two warring sides with no-one to stand up for them but themselves.

The idea that anyone would be attracted to the Patriot Blue characters here is laughable. Their leader is fat, impotent, and prone to boring everyone to death at barbeques by reading out “bush poetry”; his pious, Christian wife is equally boring, and happy to cast aside her cherished values to sleep around behind her husband’s back. The Antifa types are generic uni students, which is to say they’re smug, sneering, and heavily pierced. Whoever wins, we lose.

So where the film was all about the physical thrill of violence, this is much more about the emotional excitement of feeling like you’re in a life-and-death struggle, a war where your very way of life is at stake. Obviously it’s not: Romper Stomper portrays Patriot Blue as a bunch of easily manipulated blowhards. But in the same way the film showed how easy it was to be lured into one kind of violent lifestyle, this is doing the same for another – only this time, by showing us the people who suffer because of it, it may also show us a way out.

Written by Anthony Morris