Crime, money, drugs, violence, sex. That pretty much sums up each Underbelly series. Since its first season in 2008, Nine Network’s Underbelly has sparked national debate about its glamorous portrayal of criminal activity, the possibility of trials being influenced, disregard for victims, too much sex and violence and even the airing time.
The first season of this show was by far the most controversial depicting the Melbourne Gangland wars from 1995 to 2004 (Cummings, L 2008). It was prohibited from broadcast in Victoria due to trials of those involved in the crimes. Justice Betty King of the Supreme Court of Victoria was responsible for the suppression order on the first season of Underbelly saying “…every person charged with a criminal offence has the right to a fair trial” (2009). The court was concerned the jury’s perception would be clouded because of this interpretation of the gangland crimes.
The airing time of 8:30pm was also under fire from the Australian Family Association (AFA). On February 11th 2008 they threatened to take the matter to Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy. In 2009, AFA said the broadcast time was too early, that children and teens would still be awake to view the program. They likened the sex scenes to soft porn, to which Channel Nine’s Richard Lyle responded saying “Those people who say it’s soft porn have clearly never actually watched soft porn because you see actual intercourse” (2009).
Underbelly’s sexy, ruthlessly violent and drug-driven criminals are quite different to those the series is based on. Victorian Supreme Court Justice, Betty King, sums it up;
“Now as to the sex that all these criminals have – well really – prostitutes, mistresses, wives, girlfriends, doubles, swaps, girl on girl – two girls – three girls all in spas and all these sexy and beautiful girls – in their dreams. Has anyone ever had a good look at say Roberta Williams or Judy or Trish Moran or any other of the women actually involved with these men. Most of the males in these killings were seriously drug addled, fearful of being shot or killed, ripped off by other drug dealers, bad business men, who often when they died owed a lot of money despite turning over millions in drug sales. Not a group to be envied or admired…” (2009)
It wasn’t only the fictionalised glamour of crime that provoked debate in the mediated public sphere. Roberta Williams, gangland “kingpin” Carl Williams’ ex-wife, was a regular phenomenon on A Current Affair. She released her book “My Life – Roberta Williams” on September 24th 2009, over a year after the airing of the first episode of Underbelly. I don’t believe she would have written or released a book if Underbelly had not brought her to the forefront of the media.
Investigative journalist and true crime author, Rochelle Jackson, compares the Underbelly series to “…a sugary fix…we always want more” in an ABC radio program (2012).
Does that mean Underbelly and the glamorous criminality it portrays is addictive? What do you think?
Australian Family Association, 2011 “Nine on notice over offensive prime time viewing”, http://family.org.au/site2/?p=333
Benns, M 01/06/2008 Sydney Morning Herald online, Glorifying criminals a crime, says critics, http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/glorifying-gangsters-a-crime-say-critics/2008/05/31/1211654371079.html
Cummings, L 2008, The Daily Telegraph, Tv’s graphic new Underbelly sparks outrage, http://news.com.au/entertainment/television/uproar-over-graphic-underbelly/story-e6frfmyi-1111115531309
Findlay, M 21/04/2010 The Age online, Wobbly Underbelly hides criminal truth, http://theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/wobbly-underbelly-hides-criminal-truth-20100420-srk8.html
Herald Sun, 2008 Herald Sun online, Border towns require ID for dvd sales of Underbelly, http://heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/tv-radio/want-underbelly-id-please/story-e6frf9ho-1111116291729
King, B Jst. 2009, “‘Underbelly’ – A True Crime Story or just sex, drugs and rock and roll?” Medico-Legal Society of Victoria, speech, http://mlsv.org.au/files/2003-2010/Justice-Betty-King-Underbelly.pdf
McWhirter, E 2009, The Daily Telegraph, “Underbelly is just pornography”, http://news.com.au/entertainment/television/underbelly-is-just-pornography/story-e6frfmyi-1111118898387
Media Watch 2008 ep.June 9 2008, “Gangland – Goes Gangbusters again”, http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s2276506.htm
Soze, K 2012, The Underworld Blog, “Underbelly Series 1 real vs. cast comparison”, http://underworlduk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/underbelly-series-1-real-vs-cast.html?m=1
ABC Local Overnight, The Criminal as Celebrity, http://www.abc.net.au/overnights/stories/s3585541.htm