All that we perceive is a constructed representation of reality. This representation is comprised of stereotypes, prior experience, and any and all pieces of information that we may have heard or inferred about that reality. One of the most common things that help to shape this representation is the media. Specifically, this essay will be examining how a representation of Australian culture is formed by comedy. This will largely focus on a study of the iconic 1997 Australian comedy, The Castle, and the ways in which it presents the Australian everyman – a blue-collar worker and his family. This will focus on the understanding the film presents of the Australian working class, and also on the way the movie represents gender relations in Australian comedy, as well as rural community and the Australian legal system.
The representation of the Australian working class is one of the most prominent features of The Castle. This theme is apparent in the origin of the title. Repeatedly throughout the movie, the main character, Darryl Kerrigan, cites the English phrase, “A man’s house is his castle”. The use of the word “castle” already sets up the idea of the class system, juxtaposing the working class and unsophisticated Kerrigans with this abstract reference to aristocracy and the upper class. Even the notion of castles and such high-class living seems out of place in this context and adds to the comedy of the movie. This humour operates on two levels: in the first place, it clearly sets up the working class as the focus of humour based on financial status, as it emphasises their lack of money and class; secondly, it shows the immense pride of Australian people of their possessions, however small.
Darryl Kerrigan first introduces his house by saying “Dad bought this place 15 years ago for a steal. As the real estate agent said, location, location, location. And we’re right next to the airport! …Dad still can’t work out how he got it so cheap. It’s worth almost as much today as when we bought it” (qtd. Buckmaster, 2014). This description of the ramshackle house is intended to be viewed with dramatic irony, as the house itself is falling apart and apparently worth incredibly little – its proximity to the airport is of course a detriment to its value, rather than a benefit of location. The humour of this is not only in the poor state of the house itself, as this would likely be a very derogatory humour, but rather in response to the family’s immense pride in something of so little value. That they bought it “for a steal” indicates that they believe the house has been undervalued by society, and shows their own high value of it. Furthermore, the mocking script, “It’s worth almost as much today as when we bought it” is intended as a jibe at the uneducated nature of the Kerrigans. Especially given the vast number of quirky ‘improvements’ they have made to the house, one would expect that in any housing market, value should rise over a period of 15 years, even in a tough economic climate. The fact that they are claiming that it is worth “almost as much” as it did 15 years ago as though this is a real achievement to be proud of is therefore ironic, as it betrays their ignorance as well as their well-meaning optimism.
In this way, The Castle is representing the working class of Australia as an extremely ignorant culture. When introducing his family, Darryl Kerrigan reinforces this point by demonstrating his pride in his daughter for being so clever as to have attained the family’s first ‘tertiary education’: she has been educated in the city as a hairdresser. This is again ironic, as it shows the limited scope of the family’s imagination: having a high level of education to be proud of might generally be considered significantly more academic than hairdressing, involving college or university education. It seems that his daughter’s status is elevated as much by having been educated in the city as by having attained the qualification itself. This represents rural communities as a very restricted, close-minded people.
Finally, then, it is worth considering how this iconic comedy represents the role of women in Australian society. The format of the movie and even the phrase “A man’s house is his castle” demonstrates the patriarchal values represented in the movie. Darryl’s wife, Sal, plays a supporting role in the legal battles and indeed in their family life, although it is worth also noting that her relationship with Darryl is otherwise a positive one. Every evening, Darryl asks what his wife has cooked, and is always ready with an excessively positive response. When she tells him that there is seasoning on the chicken one evening, he replies, “Seasoning! Looks like everybody’s kicked a goal” (Ebert, 1999). Darryl is at least a supportive husband, although this relationship does still represent Australian ideas of marriage as somewhat of a caricature of the old-fashioned.
The Australian comedy The Castle therefore creates a representation of Australian rural communities that is stereotypical and enforces many derogatory beliefs about the working class. Their lack of sophistication and education is heavily emphasised, while their lack of monetary possessions is also the source of much humour. However, this representation is tempered by the way in which the Kerrigans are presented in relationship with each other, as they are first and foremost an honest and loving family.
- Buckmaster, Luke. (2014). The Castle: rewatching classic Australian films. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/
- Choate, D. (Producer), & Sitch, R. (Director). (1999). The Castle [Motion picture]. Australia: Village Roadshow.
- Ebert, Roger. (1999). The Castle. Roger Ebert. Retrieved from https://www.rogerebert.com