Saturday, November 11, 2023

The Podcast

To mark the 60th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, I'm releasing a longform podcast this year, entitled Ghosts of Dallas, that will tell the epic story of Kennedy conspiracism. 

Why is it that more than half the American population has always believed there was a conspiracy behind Kennedy's death? Who were the pioneers who made JFK denialism into an industry? How did six decades of myth-making about Kennedy's murder set the scene for the conspiratorial presidency of Donald J. Trump? And why did Jack Ruby bring his favourite sausage dog along on the morning he shot Lee Harvey Oswald?

Episodes 1-10 are available now wherever you get your podcasts.


Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Martin Amis 1949 - 2023

When Martin Amis died in May, I caught the announcement at the tail end of a TV news crawl. Hoping I’d misread the flash, I Googled Amis’s name. The top search result offered the standard prĂ©cis of his Wikipedia entry. “Martin Amis,” it began, “is an English novelist …” 

The present tense was heartening. Maybe I’d been seeing things. Then I clicked through to the full wiki, which began: “Martin Amis was an English novelist …” 

So it was true. Wikipedia had absorbed the news and moved on, but Google’s webcrawler was still in denial. I therefore had one last chance to think of Amis as a living presence, before watching him vanish for good into the past tense ... [read more]

Thursday, July 20, 2023


Name one facet of Australian culture that has unquestionably improved over the last fifty years. Movies? TV? Popular music? Literary fiction? 

You could argue, if you wanted to, that some or all of these things are better than they used to be. But in each case the claim would be debatable, as such claims generally are. Cultural judgments are nearly always a matter of opinion, not of objective fact. 

But I think there’s one element of our culture that is measurably, and irrefutably, better than it’s ever been. Food. What serious human being would claim that food was better fifty years ago than it is now?
[read more]

Monday, June 5, 2023


As a rule, it’s a bad sign when multiple documentaries and podcasts about you come out simultaneously. A single documentary can be cause for celebration. Two or three at once is rarely a reason to break out the champagne. More than three and you’re really in strife. 

A few years ago, Lance Armstrong got the multiple documentary treatment. More recently it happened to Elizabeth Holmes, and the late Jeffrey Epstein, and the organisers of the hilariously disastrous Fyre festival. 

Now it’s the season of the Hillsong documentary ...
[read more]

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Read the Room: A Mantra for Moral Hacks

When Barry Humphries died last month, the ABC kicked off the 7pm news with his obituary. It was a generally fitting tribute. Nevertheless, I braced myself for the part where it would be made clear that as illustrious as the decedent’s achievements had been, a couple of things he said late in his life did not meet the exacting moral standards of the national broadcaster. 

The reprimand was duly delivered at the obituary’s end, courtesy of a young comedian who gravely told the camera that it was a pity that Humphries, in his declining years, “lost his ability to read the room.” 

What exactly does it mean to “read the room”? People seem to think it’s an awfully clever thing to say. And they’re beginning to aim this directive not just at public figures like Humphries, but at the rest of us too. We’re all expected to read the room now. So how do we go about doing it? ...[read more

Heartburn at 40

Last October, the Daily Mail ran a story with this lengthy yet cryptic headline: “When Harry Met Salad! Olivia Wilde LEANS INTO bombshell revelations about collapse of her relationship by sharing vinaigrette recipe from Nora Ephron’s book about divorce from cheating ex-husband.” 

There was a lot happening in that headline. To make sense of it, and to get every nuance of the Harry-met-salad joke, you had to be familiar with a backstory that spanned four decades and involved five different celebrities, living and dead. 

The backstory was this ... [read more

Alone Australia

In 1848, an unfortunate American named Phineas Gage had a nasty accident while overseeing the construction of a railroad in Vermont. Gage was packing explosive into a rock with a pointed metre-long rod called a tamping iron when a stray spark caused the charge to blow prematurely. Shooting out of the rock like a javelin fired by a rocket launcher, the rod speared into Gage’s face, passed through the left frontal lobe of his brain, flew out the top of his skull, and landed point-first in the earth 25 metres away. 

Gage survived the accident, but his personality was drastically altered by the damage to his frontal lobe. This was a stroke of luck for the era’s brain scientists. Long before the days of fMRI, Gage’s injury offered valuable information about which parts of the brain did what. It would have been grossly unethical for medical researchers to obtain this information by ramming a metal rod through somebody’s head. But since that had happened to Gage already, scientists made the most of his misfortune ... [read more]

Cocaine Bear

This seems to be a season for films with bluntly informative titles – titles that tell you precisely what you’ll be getting for the price of your ticket. At one end of the spectrum of respectability you have Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, a solid contender for this year’s Best Picture Oscars. 

At the other end of the spectrum you have Cocaine Bear. Released too late to be eligible for this year’s Oscars, Cocaine Bear isn’t the kind of movie that people give awards to anyway. On the other hand, the film deserves high praise for delivering, riotously, on the promise of its title. It’s everything you could wish for in a movie about a giant bear that goes on a killing rampage after snorting a ton of cocaine ... [read more]

Tuesday, January 24, 2023


My late friend Clive James was a prolific emailer. One of the trickiest things about corresponding with the great man was trying to recommend books to him that he hadn’t already read. It was like walking a tightrope, which you could fall off in two ways. 

One way was to recommend a book so well-known that you would look like a rube for thinking anyone hadn’t read it. The other danger lay in recommending something that was obscure for good reason – i.e., because it was tripe. 

I once thought I’d found the ideal needle-threading recommendation for him: Open, the 2009 autobiography of Andre Agassi. For starters, the book was freakishly good ...

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Creepy Dolls

When the first trailer for the film M3GAN dropped in October last year, it achieved the highest honour that any modern content-creator can aspire to. It went viral, thanks to a five-second sequence in which M3GAN, the expressionless robot doll of the title, performed a very capable and therefore very eerie dance. Reaction videos proliferated. M3GAN memes multiplied. Within a month, TikTok videos with the M3GAN hashtag had racked up 300 million views.

M3GAN is short for Model 3 Generative Android. In the film, her name is pronounced the American way, to rhyme with beggin’ rather than vegan. Whether the film will make a bigger splash than its own trailer remains to be seen. Philosophically, it has interesting things to say about the perils of artificial intelligence. More primally, it taps into a theme that’s been freaking people out since the dawn of cinema: the theme of the creepy doll ... [READ MORE]

Satire with Guts

Whoever decided to release Triangle of Sadness at Christmas time in Australia must have a sense of humour as wicked as that of the movie itself. Written and directed by the Swedish filmmaker Ruben Ostlund, Triangle is a bracing movie, but it isn’t your standard holiday fare. When it premiered at Cannes earlier this year, it won the Palme d’Or, and got an eight-minute standing ovation. It also prompted some audience walkouts, for reasons we’ll get to.

I knew I was going to love the film after an early scene set at a fashion parade ... [READ MORE]