Were the Giants at the Perth Festival a gigantic waste of money?
Yes. No. Not really. Perhaps? I don’t know.
The Perth Festival and Fringe World are now over for another year. Perhaps the highlight, or the lowlight, well the brightest light was definitely reserved for the Giants. Who that stumbled through Perth’s streets on February 13, 14 & 15 at a cost of $5.4 million, and with several accompanying road closures.
So was it worth the money? Well anyone could do far more good with $5.4 million. Education, health, foreign aid, etc. Then again, the federal government is spending $12.4 billion on a whole bunch of jets, proving that there are also far worse ways to waste Aussie dollars.
I mean imagine the size of the puppets you could buy with $12.4 billion? That’d be truly memorable, and I reckon they’d do plenty to scare off any invaders.
The arts in Australia are chronically and increasingly underfunded, so I’m extremely hesitant to be critical of anything that money is spent on, for fear it’ll stop going anywhere. However, isn’t art supposed to stimulate healthy debate? So the fact that I’m stopping to contemplate this art is a good thing, right? So why do I feel like I’m the only one?
Now to the Giants themselves.
Why the hell did they speak French?
Maybe they didn’t speak French, maybe just the voiceover director guy did. Regardless, very few people in Perth speak French. With $5.4 million spent to get them here, surely someone could’ve shouted for a translator? Even a ‘giant’ marionette translator would’ve been pretty cool.
Then there was the storyline. All the papers and everyone else went on about how interesting and compelling it was. Rubbish. They were big puppets, and the only reason for a storyline was to justify the road closures. If anybody was that worried about sticking to a particular narrative, it would’ve made sense, and wouldn’t have been delivered in French.
To me, the whole thing smacks of the Emperor’s new clothes. Everyone was repeatedly told how monumental, unforgettable and amazing it’d be. So everyone who went said that the whole thing was monumental, unforgettable and amazing. With sunburn.
People were told it shouldn’t be missed. As a result, very few missed it.
Parents were told that this event would be remembered for years to come, and was the sort of thing that provides lasting memories of every child who attends.
So every parent felt compelled to take their children to see the Giants. Since, well what sort of parent denies their children something that’s both unforgettable and free? The implication is that it’s a bad parent, that’s who.
All of which leaves very little room for criticism.
I went along. Twice. It’d be rude of me to write this if I didn’t.
It was pretty cool, for about five minutes. Honestly, I thought they’d be bigger. I think my toes were crushed by no less than thirty attack-prams. If you’re too young to walk, maybe you’re too young for the Giants?
Then for all the thought and creativity jammed into every event of Fringe World and the Perth Festival, what gets the biggest attendance? The big free thing.
Things that explode also often draw a crowd, reminding us that perhaps, for all our posturing, humans really are incredibly simple creatures. Who like big free exploding stuff more than anything.
Well the people of Western Australia still paid for the Giants, but through their taxes. So by turning up, maybe they were just getting their money’s worth?
It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands turned out to see the Giants. Which is fantastic, but I can’t help wondering how much better the world would be if the same crowds turned out to march for action on climate change, asylum seekers, or to protest against war.
Maybe that’s what the climate change movement really needs. Forget about the facts, stats and celebrity spokespeople. If they really want people to give a stuff about the planet, what’s needed are some massive French puppets.
With an event like the Giants, I suppose what matters most to me is the legacy it leaves.
If people who went along feel like they’ve ticked off the Perth Festival and Fringe World by attending this event, then don’t attend anything else for years to come, well that’s terrible and the whole thing was a waste of money.
However, if even a small proportion of those who went along develop a new taste for the arts, and this raised level of awareness creates a new audience, well that’s undoubtedly a tremendous plus.
Like everything, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, and still nobody’s talking about climate change.
Oh and I do realise that the Giants had nothing to do with Fringe World, and were a Perth Festival event. The reason I mention both is that these events overlapped in so many areas, they both exist in the wider sphere of the arts, and people drawn to the city for the Giants likely noticed that both festivals were happening, if they indeed noticed anything apart from the road closures, puppets and killer prams.
Lastly, whether or not the Giants were the rampaging, runaway success that the wider media repeatedly told us they were, I believe that anytime art is thrust onto the front page, and into the front of the community’s collective consciousness, well that’s a wonderful thing.
Unfortunately, what seems to have been forgotten is that art never stands alone. It exists for so many reasons and one of the main ones is to cultivate healthy debate, and with the Giants, I feel that’s something their modest wooden frames, countless strings and flying puppeteers have completely overshadowed.
Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian
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