Thursday, 8 October 2009


“Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own.” - Jonathan Swift

The newspapers today are full of the public reaction to a TV show last night. The show was a blast from the past, the highly popular “Hey Hey It’s Saturday”, which has its second reunion special. The show was a fixture on Saturday nights in the 70s and 80s and its evergreen host Daryl Somers was a popular TV personality for decades. The show, which went off air in 1999, was resurrected for these comeback performances and this latest instalment attracted an average national audience of 2.3 million viewers (100,000 more than watched the first reunion special last week). The show obviously has nostalgia value for many, although personally, I was never a fan of this inane frivolity…

However, it appears that times have definitely changed and the show really overstepped the boundaries of good taste. In a segment of the show called “Red Faces” there is a talent quest-like competition and contestants front up to showcase their special gifts. The show was accused of being racist after a skit featured a group done up in black face paint (à la black and white minstrel show) re-enacting a Jackson Five song. The same group performed the same act on the show 20 years ago. Harry Connick Jr, was one of the segment judges, and he took offence at the act and gave it a zero. He said if the skit had appeared on television in the US, the show would have been terminated.

This sparked off a furious controversy here in Australia (and abroad, especially the USA!). Australia has been accused of being racist, backward and redneck, while Australia has said the people offended have no sense of humour, are over-reacting and are representing political correctness gone crazy. Anand Deva is the frontman of the skit, and he is a prominent Sydney-based plastic surgeon. He together with the host Daryl Somers apologised on Thursday morning, but said it was ironic that he’d been called racist, given his Indian background.

I seem to recall a 2004 movie called “White Chicks” in which two black men were made up to look like white, blonde women. This did not raise any ruckus and while the film was quite bad, nobody screamed racist or sexist or blondist. I found it an inane and unwatchable movie, just as the concept of the black skit on the TV show leaves me quite cold. However, the Harry Connick Jr over-reaction is also offensive and way over the top. I would agree that political correctness nowadays has gone over the top.

Some of the best Irish jokes are told by Irish people (who are successful, smart and resourceful), blondes tend to laugh most at blonde jokes (while themselves being very clever and astute), Jewish jokes are made up by witty, successful and entertaining Jews, Greeks take the mickey out of themselves because they have a sense of humour… All of course being done in good taste. There are crass and offensive jokes, and there are clever, witty, satirical ones. Harry Connick Jr has to protect himself from the backlash when he goes back home and his reaction is a protective mechanism. Had he reacted in any other way, he would have been in very hot water when he returned home.

I am a tolerant, non-racist person who comes from a minority myself. At school I was taunted and was the butt of racist remarks, so I know what it feels like. However, nowadays I think nothing of it and even if I come across a racist I quickly make it clear to them that they have the problem not me. However, I have heard some excellent jokes about Greeks and will often tell them myself while laughing at the exaggerated quirks of my ethnic group. Satire is a wonderful thing. Let’s not lose it in the name of political correctness.

I personally did not see the skit, but from the descriptions of it and knowing the type of show “Hey Hey It’s Saturday” was, I would say that the skit was not in good taste and would be closer to unacceptable than humorous. However, banning it or pronouncing it as a cause of axing the show to me is an over-reaction.

satire |ˈsaˌtīr| noun
The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.
• A play, novel, film, or other work that uses satire: A stinging satire on American politics.
• A genre of literature characterised by the use of satire.
• (in Latin literature) a literary miscellany, esp. a poem ridiculing prevalent vices or follies.
satirist |ˈsatərist| noun
ORIGIN early 16th century: from French, or from Latin satira, later form of satura ‘poetic medley’ from Greek saturos, a follower of Dionysos, Greek god of wine and drama.

Jacqui BB hosts Word Thursday


  1. It seemed really funny to me because I walked through a room where the show was being viewed by others, and saw only that now infamous segment.

    It was not a skit, it was not good, but it was inane, and it did not make anybody look bad except for the progenitors.
    I love that The Guardian has referred to The Age review of the show by MariekeHardy, saying how amazing she didnt mention the turn - but she didnt watch the show - but reviewed the idea of the show.
    Only God knows how things were in the waiting room today at that surgeons place, but Dr.Professor St.Germaine of Greer made a good point on QandA tonight: through all time, men have dressed as women for derisive comedic intent, and we have not ever arced-up about it being insulting; her point being that others might follow this example.

  2. Several things:

    (1) I don't think it's "ironic" that someone of Indian background is being accused of racism to African-Americans. It's very possible for Indians to be racist. Whites don't have a monopoly on that.

    (2) "Some of the best Irish jokes are told by Irish people" - well, yes, but that doesn't give a non-Irish person carte blanche to walk up us and start telling Irish jokes. There's a difference between my wife making potato jokes to me, and a complete stranger doing it. Context is everything.

    (3) Black guys dressing up as white people does not have the same historical connotations (see point on "context" above).

    (4) If the "impersonators" had actually done anything even approaching an impersonation of the Jackson 5, they might have some kind of point, but it seems nothing more than "hey, let's paint our faces black and do, um, stereotypical black stuff".

    (5) The thing that offends me most of all is comparing the great man of letters Dean Swift to these guys.


  3. Hmmm, I'm not sure how I feel about this. I would tend to agree with Harry, I think. I take your point about satire and I laugh at blonde jokes being blonde myself, but some things hurt a lot because they have a whole historical lot of baggage that come with them.

    I wouldn't consider a joke about the holocaust funny or a joke about slavery at all amusing. This black face painting stuff is passe and as you say in poor taste. It would be better to let old sleeping dogs lie and not have invited the black-faced group back for the return of the show.

    Now do you want to hear a good blonde joke? ;-)

  4. I think Harry Connick Jr did the right thing. This type of joke is unacceptable and any joke that is in bad taste and offends people is no joke.
    I still think that we should have the liberty to speak our mind, but this can be done in sensitive ways. Jokes can be fun and clever and be about minorities but they need not offend.

  5. re Hey Hey -
    SMH says:
    A video of US singer Harry Connick jnr impersonating a southern US preacher has resurfaced online in response to the singer's condemnation of a controversial "blackface" skit on a Hey Hey It's Saturday reunion last night.

    In the 13-year-old video, filmed for MADtv in 1996, Connick jnr wears a black wig, preacher's robes and speaks with a southern accent, before promoting one of his albums."


  6. The continuing adverse publicity surrounding the skit on "Hey Hey" prompted one the newspapers to conduct a poll amongst non-Aglosaxon people here in Australia asking them their opinion of the skit and whether they thought Australians were racist.

    Only 1 in 11 respondents agreed with Harry Connick Jr's assessment of the skit as "racist" and shared his "outrage". The respondents also said that while Australians were generally not racist, some racist sentiment existed in the community.

    A US couple were surveyed and one of them, said: "I can see why he (Connick Jr) responded the way he did... knowing that it could be played in the States, he gave a textbook response."

    Given Ann oDyne's comment above, I would suggest that hypocrisy may be more rampant than overt racism in the US...

  7. Paul, I agree with your comment regarding context. Also, the matter I raised in my blog related to taste. Biting satire is good because it should be done in a non-vindictive way and it highlights issues such as prejudice, racism, ignorance, hypocrisy, etc.

    In terms of comparing Swift to Hey Hey? No, you have it wrong. I was highlighting the difference between witty satire and inane frivolity, and also indicating that satire done in a wrong way can offend and can become racist.

    Freedom of expression should be defended, but not if it offends and degrades other people.

  8. 'guilt' is usually present whenever anybody arcs-up in horror on any topic, and golliwogs, little black sambos, and Brer Rabbit in the Briarpatch all remind Americans of the horror of their use of slaves to enrich the emergence of their nation. Guilt, horror, slaves.
    All of that swirled in The Crooners mind as he witnessed the inanity of studenty silliness.
    Half the wealthy women in the usa have mexican maids they pay $5 a week to. eat that Harry.
    The View on Ch.9 today mentioned while covering Hey Hey, the poor treatment in Australia of our indigenous traditional owners, but would be unaware that as a class, this nation has never exploited aborigines for domestic labour.
    And as for hypocrisy, I don't want to hear criticism on the five performers, from any Australian who has been fitted for a suit while in Asian cities on trips; but instead want them to contemplate the number of Australian men in Bangkok on holiday ALONE. there's worse stuff than blackface and some of U R doin it.

  9. Interesting topic and comments.