December 2006 - January 2007

The Nation Reviewed

Jumblats Pty Ltd

By Charles Firth
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

It is a hard life bending to the whims of Sally Warhaft. Sally is The Monthly's editor - for the moment, at least - and she is a tough taskmaster who has been on a concerted campaign to drive this publication into the gutter ever since she arrived. It all started innocently enough with her appointment of Holly Valance as sub-editor, but lately it's been getting absurd. Last month, she was almost convinced by former Packeratchik (and complete loon) Richard Walsh to rename The Monthly ‘Big Brother Magazine', until Eric Beecher pointed out that it was possibly the only proven method of decreasing circulation.

Of course, my name-dropping of obscure members of this country's Small Media is not merely intended to provoke feelings of outsiderness and inadequacy amongst the immeasurably small percentage of this magazine's readership that has not been to at least one Walkley Awards night. No. It is also designed to justify the topic of this article, which I promise I'll get to as soon as I finish this inordinately long and unnecessarily adverbial preamble.

I distinctly recall the following conversation, which actually happened and is in no way a gross misrepresentation on my part, concocted to portray me in a positive light.

Sally: Charles, I want you to write about Hooters relaunching in Australia.

Charles: But Sally, that's so lowbrow. And anyway, what about feminism?

Sally: Stuff feminism; we're talking circulation here. I've got Morry breathing down my neck. We really need to pick up some more readers in Cronulla, and there's only one way.

Charles: Hooters?

Sally: Exactly. Now, excuse me - I've got to go and speak at a Family First event.

Sally was right, but the idiom was all wrong. Hooters in Australia? Wasn't this Americanisation taken one step too far? Surely the local version should be called something more Aussie, like Tits.

There, I said it: tits. That's probably the lowest-brow these pages have ever been. But that's what Sally wants. Tits. And the great thing is, because The Monthly pays so well, I get a dollar every time I write the word "tits". Watch closely: tits, tits, tits, tits, tits. I just earned $5, which is way more than Hooters' American waitresses are paid per hour. They're paid - and I swear I'm not making this up - $2.05, which is the minimum wage for service staff in the US, who make most of their money through tits ... I mean, tips.

In reality, most people don't earn $2.05 an hour, of course. In the US, in institutions less respectable than Hooters (such as dive bars, crack-houses and Congress), employers will not pay you anything and may even take a cut of the tips, and you choose to lump it or be fired. They can do this because of a legal practice known as Employment at Will, which is mainly about giving employers the right to fire at will. And because of Employment at Will, the land that brought us Hooters doesn't have any unfair-dismissal laws - but then again, neither does Australia anymore.

At this point, the astute reader - i.e. everyone reading this, except for recent appointees to the ABC board - will be thinking that I'm about to make an elegant point about the Americanisation of Australia's industrial-relations laws through the rubric of Hooters. But nothing could be further from the truth: I'm just here to talk about tits. Which is something that every working man can enjoy, no matter how badly he's paid.

On one level, the very idea that Hooters is all about tits is strange, because you never actually see any when you go there: they're always ever-so-slightly covered up, a nod and a wink to America's puritan past. I know this because, as part of my research for this article (which was carried out only with extreme reluctance), I went along to the Miss Hooters Arizona contest, and the whole night I did not see a single tit.

The contest took place in a grass field just outside the Arizona Center shopping complex, in downtown Phoenix. The 200 or so people in the bleachers included a father and his five-year-old daughter, and a pregnant woman who appeared to have come alone. It was a surprisingly family crowd; around a quarter of the audience was female. Perhaps, I thought, this is not as lowbrow as Sally had hoped.

My waitress was "Alex", a twenty-something with dark hair. She was wearing the obligatory low-cut tight white Hooters T-shirt, allowing her ample cleavage to radiate whatever effect it could, despite being stripped of those traditional tools of feminine allure, coyness and implication.

Alex was suffering, like the rest of us, from the increasingly cold and windy weather. The goose bumps across her chest and down her arms didn't make me want strip her bare so much as give her a nice warm coat. Nevertheless, I was there on assignment, so it was my duty to keep her cold cleavage heaving over my shoulder as long as possible. Romantic.

The guy sitting next to me, Justin, explained with some pride that his wife, Deborah, had won the Miss Hooters Arizona pageant eight years ago, and that Deborah's sister Shelly was in the contest tonight, so it was important for me to cheer loudly when she came out. When contestant 17 was announced, Justin jumped up and yelled, "This is her! This is her!" with slightly more enthusiasm than should be displayed for the younger sister of your wife. A woman with large breasts and blonde hair walked out and around. She wore jeans and a frilly red shirt. The crowd clapped. I didn't know whether to compliment Justin on having such a fine sister-in-law or not.

The clothed section of the competition ended and, after a short break, the women started trudging out again in bikinis. The chubby MC, who was shorter than most of the leggy contestants, asked them a question.

"Marie-Anne from the Arizona Center: what do you like most in a man?"

"Um ... his wallet."

A smattering of laughter came from the crowd.

Marie-Anne was wearing a two-piece white bikini that was sufficiently tight for us to see that in the cold night air, her tits were putting in a good effort at being the hardest thing in the entire park.

"Well, be careful, guys - she'll be expecting you to pay for the whole date! No, I'm only kidding. Marie-Anne, show them your ass."

The ten finalists were announced and, to Justin's barely concealed rage, his sister-in-law was not one of them. Not only that, but the women selected were the ten largest-breasted Hooters girls out of the 63 who had entered: the question and "poise" components were a complete sham!

Because of my commitment to serious research, I spent a huge amount of time over the following months (reluctantly) investigating Hooters, and the pattern remained the same. The aesthetic Hooters promotes can only be described as "bigger is better", and that's a very American way of objectifying women. In Australia, I like to think we give women of all cup sizes a fair go when it comes to instilling a lifelong body-image neurosis.

Frankly, in this importing-Hooters-into-Australia business, it's not so much the Americanisation that I object to; it's the lack of trying to hide the Americanisation. The federal government at least had the grace to change the title of their Employment at Will legislation to WorkChoices, to give it a more Aussie feel. Clearly, unless Hooters is prepared to fit in by calling its Cronulla branch Tits or, even better, Jumblats, it is destined to fail again. Australians - especially those of us who read The Monthly - are highbrow enough to see through such crass cultural imperialism.


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