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Australia, Bitten By a Filthy Dog

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It seems like it's been quite some time since our National Endowment for the Arts has shocked the public with an outrageous grant for a ridiculous "artist" whose art flourishes only when the taxpayer is forced against his will to subsidize it. Sadly, that means these "artists" must take their talents elsewhere in search of public funding.

Subsidizing sleaze apparently is not shocking to Australia. Siobhan Duck of Melbourne's Herald Sun reports, "A television comedy about a bong-smoking dog that has sex with a cat and a teddy bear has received $1.5 million of federal and state taxpayers' money."

Wouldn't you be so proud if you were a taxpayer Down Under? The federal agency Screen Australia contributed $400,000 to the first season and $580,000 to the second. The state agency Film Victoria contributed $210,000 for the first set of shows and $294,048 towards the second.

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Not every politician is thrilled. Sen. Steve Fielding of the Family First Party said edgy comedy wasn't the best government expenditure: "I don't think taxpayers' money should be used to finance film projects that display acts of bestiality." Ya think?

The headline of this story was "Plenty of bong for your buck." The name of this TV show is "Wilfred," which we're told is "also peppered with profanity, full-frontal nudity and jokes about rape." The plot centers on a woman named Sarah, her boyfriend, Adam, and her dog, Wilfred -- who's actually a man with a three-day beard in a dog suit and a painted-on black nose.

The dog "chain-smokes and talks about his penchant for having sex with dead animals, a stuffed bear and the neighbor's cat." It's edgy enough that the dog makes jokes about the healing magic of licking his own rear end. The first episode of the second season, which airs at 10 p.m. on Monday nights, featured 35 swear words, including the especially line-crossing C-word for females.

So how do the feds in Australia defend funding this garbage? Pretty much the same way they do it in the States, it turns out.

Jane McMillan, a spokeswoman for the SBS network, which runs the naughty-doggie comedy, unfurled a series of lame rationalizations about how it was admittedly "not a show for everyone," but nevertheless was a justified recipient of government backing. Consider these empty arguments:

1. It's won awards from prestigious judges. "This is an (Australian Film Institute)-award winning comedy made by the winner of the Tropfest short film festival," she said. Speaking as an American, I derive comfort in knowing we are not alone. It's not just our film critics who have no taste.

2. It's in the right time slot. "We know that it will not be to everyone's tastes, but it's in the appropriate timeslot, with the appropriate rating and comes with the appropriate warnings." This woman should enter politics. It isn't -- and she knows it isn't -- an appropriate timeslot. Rather, it's the least inappropriate timeslot. And even with appropriate ratings and warnings, a display of artistic feces remains artistic feces.

3. This is about Australian patriotism. "We want to tell Australian stories with an Australian voice. We want to encourage local talent." This came in response to several Aussies who complained that it's cheaper for their local TV executives to pick up the smutty American sitcom "Two and a Half Men," but then the sex jokes come with a different accent.

4. It's a bargain for taxpayers. "The money that has been invested by the state and federal government bodies is in no way outlandish. 'Wilfred' would cost far less to make than your average drama." At least that part sounds correct. How much money would it cost to sit in a living room in a dog suit, smoke a joint and swear your face off?

A TV critic offered one more predictably lame point:

5. "Thankfully Screen Australia recognizes that not everybody wants their comedy safe and predictable."

That line often emerges from critics who really are looking for shock comedy, for plot twists that inspire gasps and, hopefully, indigestion and nausea. That's certainly true of their Australian SBS network that told the "Wilfred' makers to "Go as far as you like -- the more bent, the better." The "artists" in charge found that opinion to be "a great relief and really helped us flex our muscles as writers."

If that sounds a lot like Hollywood, it is. The show's manufacturer, Renegade Films, is currently in negotiations to sell the format of this doggy-comedy for an American version.

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