[…screengrab from Sydney Morning Herald, January 4, 2010…]
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…and so it turns out that Ben Southall, who “won” the “best job in the world” (his assignment – to live in the lap of luxury on the islands of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef while writing a blog about his daily life) had to work a teensy bit harder than he expected.
In this article from the Sydney Morning Herald (via The Telegraph, London) Ben explains how he had to work 19 hour days, in a “gruelling seven-day-a-week grind of promotional events and official gladhanding”. (I love the term “gladhandling”.)
I must admit, when the “best job” was advertised nearly a year ago, I was tempted to throw my cap in the ring. Here they were (the Queensland government), offering the chance to be paid to do something I actually can do: go into an unfamiliar situation and blog each day about my experiences. Centrelink would have been proud – for once in my life, a near perfect match between skill-set and employment-opportunity had presented itself. Maybe…
In the end, I didn’t enter. As it turns out, the whole “submission” process was one of those reality-TV competition-type things, where you send in a video of yourself and get voted in (or not) by an internet audience. I had a bad feeling about it, and steered clear.
The finalists (you can see a photoset of them frolicking here) look like a selection from a Benetton advert: France, Ireland, India, Taiwan, Japan, UK, USA, NZ, Australia. Quite nationally democratic, eh?
Anyway. Hard work, competitive environment, politically-correct spread of contestants. Yadayada, nothing new here. But the worst aspect of the whole thing, dear reader – the thing I want to spent a moment moaning about – is that the blog which emerged from the “best job in the world” is actually a bit on the boring side.
Check it out – here’s one excerpt, chosen (sort of) at random, in which Ben and his best gal Bre pop off to Lizard Island and have some adventures encountering (amongst many other things) a bit of Aboriginal Culture:
Jeff and Danielle were there to meet us, and once weâ€™d collected our baggage from the carousel, made our way to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park for our first experience of indigenous ways and whys, a part of Australia which is very appealing to me after spending so much time in Africa learning about similar things. David Hudson and Ernest, the owner/managers of the Park have been at the helm for the last 26 years and theyâ€™ve created an oasis of arts, bushcraft and experiences all based around the ancient beliefs of Aborigines. The dancing and didgeridoo performances are exceptional.
Now, what’s wrong with this, you ask? Well, nothing really. It’s clear that Ben is a really nice guy. It’s just that, as a blog entry, it’s a bit… flat.
But why? What went wrong? (Sorry if the following seems a bit nitpicking, I’m just trying to get to the bottom of why I found Ben’s Best-job Blog Broadly Bland.)
First, there are some issues to do with his writing.
Loooong sentences. Cliched phrases, bland adjectives and generalisations: “very appealing to me”, “learning about similar things”, “performances are exceptional”.
If I am reading your blog, and you really want to grab me, you need to tell me why these things you’re encountering are “appealing”; what things in particular you found to compare between Africa and Australia in terms of indigenous culture; and in what way these performances you saw were “exceptional”. Otherwise, I’ve got nothing to connect to, nothing to agree with or be repelled by.
Second… it’s all good. I mean, all of Ben’s experiences are kinda good. Nothing not-nice ever really happens. Even when he gets stung by a potentially deadly jellyfish, as a reader, I never fear for him. It’s the way he tells the story: “this happened then that happened then this happened…” No drama, no musicality, no narrative tension to get the juices flowing.
Nor does Ben seem to have negative opinions about the stuff he encounters. No doubts, no worrying concerns, no niggling queries. Sure, he (quite validly) occasionally mentions the need to conserve the Great Barrier Reef from the dangers of coral bleaching. And every so often, he (quite rightly) mentions the importance of recognising Aboriginal culture and tradition. But he never really gets what’s going on around him. He doesn’t seem to experience the world with any depth.
Or at least, if he does, he’s not allowed to discuss it on the blog. Which, I guess, is exactly the point. With depth comes complexity, and with complexity comes icky stuff – like the possibility of criticising the place you’re being paid to promote…
Of course, the whole shebang is just a drawn out, (not even) thinly veiled marketing campaign to boost tourism to Queensland. You’re hardly going to permit your well-paid marketing spokesman to discuss the fucked-up, the corrupt, and the ugly sides of the product you’re trying to sell to the rest of the world, right?
So. Why am I bothering to write this diatribe at all? If, from the start, I had low expectations of the sort of thing a government marketing department might cook up, why then, in retrospect, do I seem so irritated by the whole thing?
Because, perhaps, I still feel like Ben’s blog could have been better. It could have been more ballsy. Less descriptive and factual; less hamstrung by the need to state official facts and figures; more judgemental; more independently opinionated and responsive; more genuinely conversational with its readers (even, perhaps, building up relationships with them).
In short, in my (evidently not very) humble opinion, the whole thing would have been a more punchy marketing campaign if Ben’s blog gave the impression that he had actually learned something significant from his experience in Queensland. Beyond, that is, the fact that, in the end, even the “best job in the world” is just a job.