SAS Australia 2021: Reality show reveals the worst of toxic masculinity
Sam Burgess made his debut on SAS Australia on Monday but the moment he opened up about his affair revealed a double standard.
“I really don’t like this,” said my 15-year-old about ten minutes into the first episode of season 2 of SAS Australia, which debuted on Channel 7 last night.
Brynne Edelsten, described on the show as a “troubled socialite”, was almost vomiting while being tear gassed in an enclosed chamber.
“The moment you take that first breath, it suffocates you from the inside out,” explained Ant Middleton, the show’s chief instructor, former soldier and current sadist, with something that sounded suspiciously like glee. Overcome, Edelsten finally stumbled to the door, heaving up phlegm and barely able to stand.
I looked at my 15-year-old. I didn’t much like this either. The premise behind SAS Australia is that a bunch of lily-livered D-grade celebrities are broken down and dehumanised into hardened, heartless soldiers, using methods on par with those apparently used in the army’s Special Forces. Those methods consist almost entirely of humiliation, abuse and cruelty.
Considering Australia and its allies have just been defeated in a dirty, shameful and morally bankrupt 20-year war in Afghanistan a few short weeks ago, several members of the ADF are currently under investigation for war crimes and an Australian veteran dies every two weeks from suicide, it’s difficult to see how army recruitment counts as entertainment.
This isn’t entertainment. It’s the horror plot of a Stephen King novel.
It got plenty worse after the gassing. Middleton, who was axed from the UK version of the show because of “personal conduct” problems (he reportedly made repeated inappropriate comments to female staff members, called Black Lives Matters protesters “scum”, and advised his social media followers not to be “sheep” when it came to coronavirus), took great pleasure in degrading the ‘recruits’. They’re forced to strip entirely naked in front of each other. Women are called “Barbie” and told to fix their hair. Singer Bonnie Anderson has her fingers pried off the edge of a helicopter so she plummets into a lake 10 metres below. “It sounds like a labour ward in here,” mock the instructors as the celebrities heave out a round of push-ups.
The pinnacle of nastiness is saved for ex-tennis star Alicia Molik who dares pump a single fist in victory after she successfully completes a challenge. This, bellows Middleton, is “showboating” and therefore unacceptable.
He screams so close to her face she would have been able to eyeball his tonsils. My mind flashes to the National Summit on Women’s Safety that took place earlier this month, convened to end violence against women and the culture that allows it.
It’s never OK to scream abuse at women, I suppose, unless it’s on prime time television and she deserved it (apparently, Molik is told, “celebrating” during combat could get you shot).
In fact the only moment when Middleton and his team seem to soften is when they bring ex-NRL player Sam Burgess in for a gruff man-to-man talk. Burgess opens up about cheating on his ex-wife, and his subsequent battle with drugs, DUIs and assault charges.
Middleton almost gets misty eyed. For a moment at least he seems to see Burgess as equal, a friend even. It’d be touching if it weren’t so twisted.
I struggle through to the end but by the time it’s over I feel like I’ve been a few rounds with the tear gas canister myself.
This is just gross. War and warrior culture is the worst of toxic masculinity and it’s not something I need in my loungeroom on a Monday night, nor is it something I need my 15-year-old son thinking is normal. I’m switching back to The Block.
Alex Carlton is a freelance writer | @Alex_Carlton
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September 14, 2021 at 04:18PM