A place for reflection and introspection, communication and thoughtful conversation.
Thursday, 8 October 2009
THE FINE LINE BETWEEN RACISM AND SATIRE
“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. DERIVATIVES 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.
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
I sometimes get the impression that I am on a soapbox delivering a monologue, so your comments are welcome.