Is the new lamb ad the solution to Australia Day?
IT'S a sign of both our consumer society and sensitivity around Australian nationalism and how and who best expresses this that the Meat and Livestock Association's (MLA) annual Australia Day advertisement has become almost as controversial as the day itself.
The most recent ad, released last week, while designed to encourage us to buy lamb, has already been accused of starting "wars" and "battles" as it harnesses Australian history and a political message of inclusivity, cleverly using comedy and cliches to impart it.
It stars three young indigenous Australians who have organised a barbecue on the beach. Swiftly, the "guests" arrive. In a salute to those who mourn "Invasion Day" and what might be a middle finger to those who claim it never happened, early white explorers and settlers in the form of the Dutch, British and then French land upon the shore, all bringing something to contribute to the gathering.
They're followed soon by the Germans, Chinese, Italians, Greeks and Serbians - including a brief appearance by "lambassador" Sam Kekovich. Our "neighbours", New Zealanders, join in and, in a cheeky wink and nod to last year's controversial lamb ad (the most complained about advertisement ever), vegans are greeted.
This year's offering also features a range of cameos from prominent Australian celebrities and sports stars such as Cathy Freeman, Wendell Sailor, Adam Gilchrist, Rhys Nicholson and Poh Ling Yeow.
Reminiscent of 1986's satirical film BabaKiueria, a reinterpretation of European settlement and indigenous land rights, the MLA's ad embraces gentle humour and a range of stereotypes to address important issues.
The most significant one is that the date is a trigger for heated polemic as the calls for it to be changed grow.
In what is either a gesture of political correctness, or more likely an attempt to circumvent it because it's completely unnecessary, the advertisement avoids all reference to Australia Day, with the hosts of the barbecue claiming we don't need an occasion to celebrate being together.
What a lovely, schmaltzy sentiment. I'll have another serve of that thanks.
As Poh asks when someone observes another boat arriving, "Hang on, aren't we all boat people?"
Look back far enough and most of us are - and, if not boats, then other forms of transport.
Then "float people" are cheered.
Finally, for all those stubbornly refusing to recognise the fact that indigenous Australians were here long before white people and what that signifies, former cricketer Gilchrist, in a gesture of appreciation and acknowledgment says, "Thanks for having us, guys. Great spot for a barbecue."
While some have reported the approach the producers have taken as "un-Australian" (cue eye roll) and as a "fail", there are many who disagree and consider the ad and its subtle and overt points a win.
Surely it's more productive to view the advertisement and the responses it engenders as an opportunity to engage in significant conversations - that, like the ad, allow everyone, no matter how early or late to the party, a voice.
Addressing as many stories as possible in the time allowed, the ad uses comedy and a potted history of our country to demonstrate what an Australia Day, not only shifted to another date could be, but what inclusiveness looks like. Where race, culture, religion and sexuality are not as important as involvement.
Comedian Dave Hughes has even seen fit to produce his own riposte on YouTube, taking mock offence at the campaign's suggestion that only "real" Australians eat meat. He says, "It doesn't need to moo for you to be True Blue."
There are always those who wail and gnash their teeth about the dialogues and analysis ads like this facilitate; who refuse to accept how far we've progressed as a nation precisely because we've welcomed others and their contributions to the "BBQ".
Instead, they mourn a past that never existed and choose to adopt an exclusive and white patriotism, becoming part of the problem, not the solution.
Understandably, not everyone is laughing. ABC journalist, Jonathan Green tweeted, "Of course the missing element in the lamb ad is the bit where the arriving europeans (sic) kill everyone and then strip mine the beach."
Whatever politics and messages you do or don't enjoy or read into the ad, it's also important not to overlook the fact it's been created to sell meat.
But in doing so, the MLA and the agency The Monkeys, have also created a gem of an ad that, while it has its faults and detractors, also manages to showcase the diversity of our history and the potential inclusivity of an unsettled modern Australia and in doing so, offer us something worth celebrating.
Dr Karen Brooks is an honorary senior research fellow at the University of Queensland.