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If It's Okay To Play Footy On Anzac Day It's Okay To Play Rock Music Too

For a nation that has spent most of its young life working to establish a brand identity based on our laid-back nature, Australia sure can be uptight.

You might almost think that “laid-back” thing was made up deliberately as a smokescreen given how good we are at getting our knickers in a twist about almost anything.

And at no time of year are our collective knickers more elaborately twisted than around Anzac Day, when patriotism and national myth-making clash with reality and the innate human urge to have a good old-fashioned whinge.

This year, in the absence of any publicly-funded broadcasters to harangue, the target of the noble self-appointed guardians of Australia’s soul is the decision of the AFL to book the Australian band Birds of Tokyo to play before this year’s Anzac Day game.

The announcement brought a torrent of fury from those who see the decision as a slap in the face to whoever it is who gets slapped in the face every time someone doesn’t do exactly what they’re supposed to do on Anzac Day.

We’re not talking any old football game, of course: the Anzac Day match between Collingwood and Essendon is a proud tradition that goes all the way back to 1995. 

The idea is that to show respect for our most hallowed day and the fallen whom it honours, the raucous clatter of a rock show cannot be countenanced. Anzac Day, the critics insist, is a day for remembrance and reflection, not mere “entertainment”.

The problem here is, basically, that the critics are confused about what actually happens on Anzac Day. Far be it from me to accuse anyone of not seeing the wood for the trees -- or not seeing the goal for the posts -- but did you notice that the topic under discussion is a football game?

Did any of the other critics stop to consider that they are objecting to performers providing entertainment to a crowd because it will impact on the solemnity of… performers providing entertainment to a crowd?

Because that’s what the Anzac Day game is: it’s entertainment. It’s put on for the amusement and diversion of a hundred thousand or so attendees and a few million TV viewers. During the game you’ll see quite a few instances of players kicking goals and then engaging in “joyous celebration”. The crowd will roar and cheer and boo and make one hell of a ruckus for two hours straight, having gotten all the “quiet reflection” out of their systems before the game.

A day of quiet reflection? (Image: Getty)

But somehow the hype and hoopla of a footy match is respectful and sober, while a few songs from Birds of Tokyo is not. Well, guess what, the set from BoT is nothing more outrageous than a tiny little bit of entertainment being added to an event that is being staged entirely for the purposes of entertainment.

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This isn’t the dawn service: it’s footy. If you can handle a match being played on a sacred day you can handle a few tunes being played beforehand. Revering Anzac Day football while rejecting Anzac Day rock music is nonsensical: believing the sacred gravitas of the football will be corrupted by the rock music even more so.

The set from BoT is nothing more outrageous than a tiny little bit of entertainment being added to an event that is being staged entirely for the purposes of entertainment. (Image: Getty)

Some have objected not just to the introduction of rock to the day, but to the fact the band in question is called 'Birds of Tokyo'. Why? Well, in the words of RSL Victoria president Dr Robert Webster, “In terms of the band’s name the word 'Tokyo' definitely still springs fear into the minds of some of the Japanese prisoners of war from World War Two”.

I mean. Doctor Webster. With all due respect to your service, come the eff on. If the word Tokyo is in itself enough to terrify the POWs, then we’re going to have to introduce some extremely idiosyncratic censorship laws to news organisation and textbook publishers everywhere. If the band name “Birds of Tokyo” is conjuring up images of kamikaze pilots plummeting onto the MCG, then maybe our entire nation needs to head straight into therapy.

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It’s a band. They’re not Japanese, they’re Australian, and they didn’t name themselves in honour of the imperial aggression of the first half of the 20th century. Anyone afraid their set on Anzac Day will be a musical tribute to the fall of Singapore can rest easy. They’re a band that the AFL thought could give the punters a bit of entertainment before the game. That’s all.

If the band name “Birds of Tokyo” is conjuring up images of kamikaze pilots plummeting onto the MCG, then maybe our entire nation needs to head straight into therapy. (Image: Getty)

We Aussies, laid-back and laconic and easygoing as we keep frantically telling each other we are, really need to relax with all possible speed. One band playing before one footy game won’t cause the collapse of national pride or see the deeds of the ANZACs erased from history.

And if you’re going to put on family entertainment to mark a day of remembrance, squealing because a different kind of entertainment is also being put on is a terrible look.

Australia, it might be time to get a grip.