Social media has whipped itself into a froth over contributing editor Rich Cohen’s cover article on Australian actress Margot Robbie in the current issue of Vanity Fair.
‘Sexist’ and ‘patronising to Australia’ seem to be the main objections, and certainly the article focused a lot more on Robbie’s physical attributes than on her talent. (She played Naomi in The Wolf of Wall Street – not bad when, according to Cohen, “An ambitious Australian actor views Hollywood the way the Martians view Earth at the beginning of The War of the Worlds.”)
Robbie herself is not in a froth. She thought the article was ‘weird’, but says she’s seen a lot worse.
Rich Cohen isn’t in a froth either. “I was mostly joking,” he’s quoted as saying. “It is a goof. Supposed to be funny.”
The trouble is that it isn’t. Funny. It misses the mark. For that sort of ‘goof’ to work, it has to be accurate, incisive and slightly OTT, and Cohen’s effort is woolly at best. But part of me can find it in me to be sorry for the poor man, although I’m sure he’d be highly insulted at the very thought.
Humour is elusive, and Australian humour, I gather, is more elusive than most to the rest of the world. It’s cynical, irreverent, often dry to the point of desiccation and delights in taking the piss, particularly out of us. And I wonder if this was what Rich Cohen was aiming for as an appropriate take on his Australian subject.
If so, it wasn’t a wise move. Australia might well be “America 50 years ago, sunny and slow, a throwback, which is why you go there for throwback people”, but even 50 years ago, Americans didn’t have the mindset that gives rise to Australian humour – and if you haven’t got it, mate, you don’t get it, and pretending you do makes you the goof.
But then again, what would I know? Richard Cohen is Someone and I am not. That’s the trouble with us throwback people. We don’t know our place.