Article by AAP /
May 14, 2017 /
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The Schapelle Corby story had the makings of a telemovie from the beginning.
A pretty white girl.
A family soap opera full of interesting characters.
An Australian caught up in a foreign legal system.
A media circus.
And then there’s “the bogan element”, as social researcher Dr Lauren Rosewarne describes it.
The Corby story had something for everyone, says the senior lecturer in the University of Melbourne’s School of Social and Political Sciences.
“I think it’s a very Australian story. It captivated the nation when it happened.” And once this made-for-television tale actually became a mini-series, it became part of the national story.
One of the many reasons why Australians embraced the Corby story is that the pretty white girl and beauty school student represented a nice, easy package for the media, Dr Rosewarne says.
“The fact that she was white and pretty made her photogenic enough to keep selling her face on TV.
“Compare it to (Bali Nine drug mule) Renae Lawrence who got nowhere near the press because she wasn’t the ‘likeable’ packageable story for the media and the viewers to rally around.”
Dr Rosewarne says as well as Corby being a likeable or relatable victim, an entourage of weird and wonderful characters have helped pad out her story. “No one could have hoped for anyone better than her sister Mercedes and her wonderful outbursts at the media.
“And her parents — everyone involved was just a great character.”
Dr Rosewarne says the sustained interest in the convicted drug smuggler’s case is also partly due to the equally loved and loathed Australian caricature of a bogan.
“There are a whole lot of people who (a) are bogans or (b) have bogan-like qualities and see themselves — that ‘that could have been me’.
“You’ve got people who identify with this family, people who do go on holidays to Bali, who see themselves in this story.
“Then there’s a whole lot of people who look down on the family and get sort of schadenfreude pleasure from seeing their comeuppance or seeing them get ‘what they deserve’.”
The reasons for the fascination in the Corby story are the same as accused cocaine smuggler Cassie Sainsbury’s case, academic and former journalist Dr Denis Muller says.
“It’s at first blush a story about a good-time Aussie girl getting caught up with foreign ‘dodgy’ legal systems,” Dr Muller says.
“You lay over that the fact that it’s a girl and it’s an Aussie girl, so you import this sense of vulnerability, and up against some unknown but ‘probably pretty dodgy’ legal system and the associated appalling conditions of confinement.
“It appeals then to that emotion in people that they could imagine their own daughter or themselves getting caught up in this and they could just imagine what it would be like to be taken out of the comfort standards that we’re used to and plunged into these ‘grotesquely awful’ jails and so on.
“It’s a very strong emotional story.” Dr Muller, senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism, says it is only after the initial gloss wears off that the media starts to look at the legal issues.
“Sometimes by then it’s too late because there’s been so much material published about the emotional stuff that they’ve introduced prejudicial material, which is what is happening with the Cassandra Sainsbury story.
“There are all sorts of family statements made, boyfriend statements, general media speculation, talking to guards outside jails, all of which if the proceedings were occurring would be considered to be contempt of court or highly prejudicial.”
Dr Muller says the scrutiny of the assumed-to-be dodgy foreign legal process sometimes becomes a political story, with pressure on the government to do something at a diplomatic level.
He points to a fourth element of the story in Corby’s case — the family soap opera.
“There was enough stuff around what Mercedes was doing and the relationship between Mercedes and Schapelle, the relationship between Schapelle and her father and the relationship with her mother, and the relationship between father and mother.
“We got drawn into this whole sort of family soap opera element as well.” Dr Rosewarne also sees parallels between the cases of Corby and Sainsbury, the photogenic blonde whose back story also has the makings of a telemovie. She says the polarising nature of the stories adds to the interest and audience, as do “shared elements of ridiculousness”.
The Corby story had the prop of the boogie board bag full of drugs and Sainsbury the 18 headphone boxes bought in Colombia.
“It just sounds so ridiculous,” Dr Rosewarne says.
“But that almost makes the story in itself — the element of sort of humour in what’s otherwise a very serious story.” Corby’s return to Australia presents infinite angles for the media: What next for Schapelle? What will become of her? Where does she work? What is she wearing?
“There’s characters and there’s plot development and there’s where to from here, so there’s a lot of entry points for journalists to get a different angle,” Dr Rosewarne says.
“That makes the surround-sound type of story which is what often leads to the mini-series and the telemovies.”