Join 3,497 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"In America, it would be like 'Hey, Hey, There's No More Show"
October 8, 2009 3:42 PM   Subscribe

Australian television show "Hey Hey It's Saturday" is currently back on the air after a few decades, running a series of reunion shows, and the other night a group that had been on the show in the 80s came back with the same act, in blackface.

Harry Connick, Jr., who was a guest judge on the show, was unequivocal in denouncing the act, saying (after an apology from the show's host):
just want to say, on behalf of my country, I know it was done humorously, but we've spent so much time trying to not make black people look like buffoons, that when we see something like that we take it really to heart.
While American news outlets have been roundly condemned the skit, not all Australians seem to realize the offense taken at it. Some certainly have, and ex-regular Kamahl has gone so far as to say the show was always racist.

Meanwhile, the performers have attempted to explain why they did the act, saying that when they did it at a Medical Revue a few months back, no one complained. And what's more, that it couldn't have been racist because one of the team was Indian.

Is the tolerance of blackface on a national TV broadcast indicative of a deeper trouble with racism that has yet to be explored in Australian society, or is it, as many bloggers and commenters point out, not an issue because white portrayals of African Americans is an American issue?
posted by barnacles (216 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
The lead singer (incidentally, a plastic surgeon) wore white make-up while the rest wore black to pillory Michael Jackson's grotesque quest to deny his African-American heritage.

Mate, I really, really don't think they were making a statement about a dead man's vitiligo and apparent self-image issues...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:48 PM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


My wife told me this story yesterday, and I'm ashamed to say I was only two-thirds listening. She got to the end and I chuckled and said "So when did this happen?" expecting her to name a date in the mid 1970s or early 1980s. She said "er, now. It happened a day or two ago."
posted by WPW at 3:49 PM on October 8, 2009


Hey hey it's Saturday was crap the first time round. Perhaps incidents like this will remind people that not all wistful nostalgia for things long past is a good idea. Now excuse me while I watch some more of The Tudors.
posted by tim_in_oz at 3:49 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hi. I'm Australian. We are pretty racist. I'll just get in with that before delmoi gets here to say it first.

But more importantly, beyond that, "Hey! Hey! It's Saturday!" it a completely fucking stupid show that died a decade ago and should never have been dug up from its grave in a desperate attempt to win some ratings points from the blue-rinse set. The only reason it returned to air is because of the influence it's intolerable host seems to have at that particular TV station.

Kamahl has it right.
posted by Jimbob at 3:51 PM on October 8, 2009 [16 favorites]


No, it's indicative of the facts that Hey Hey sucked in the 80's, times have changed, it hasn't, people crave familiarity, and that familiarity doesn't breed contempt anywhere near as often as it should.

Or, as my GF txt'd yesterday in haiku-form:
Hey Hey blackface stunt
Un-PC yet unfunny
Farewell 80's hacks
And I say that as a member of that intermediate generation who thinks that blackface skits can be slightly funny, have a place in the pantheon of humour, yet understands why people may find them offensive.
posted by Pinback at 3:52 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would have been shocked to find out that they were still doing blackface in the '70s or '80s.
posted by octothorpe at 3:59 PM on October 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


"that's a an insult to... to..."

The next phrase you're looking for is everyone everywhere.
posted by boo_radley at 4:00 PM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


(I should note that I wish the bigoted antics on The Footy Show would get this much attention.)
posted by Jimbob at 4:00 PM on October 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


When I was in Australia (I have family there), everything felt off somehow. Eventually I realized what it was: People of African descent and their cultural input were utterly absent. It's fucking weird, man.

So, really, this doesn't surprise me in the slightest.

I mean, it's a country where they have separate slurs for Greeks and Macedonians and put beets on their hamburgers.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:01 PM on October 8, 2009 [12 favorites]


Is the tolerance of blackface on a national TV broadcast indicative of a deeper trouble with racism that has yet to be explored in Australian society, or is it, as many bloggers and commenters point out, not an issue because white portrayals of African Americans is an American issue?

I think it's both. Lots of Aussies didn't seem to understand why it was offensive in the first place but then, even after it was explained to them, suddenly hopped on "we won't be brought down by the PC brigade" bandwagon.

When you frame it in reference to a racial issue that is very prevalent in Australia though (like the Stolen Generation) the light bulb goes on for many. I hesitate to say that we are, as a whole, a racist country. I do think we have racist undercurrents and racist tendencies and lots of those issues get shoved under the rug because so many people want to believe that we live in this utopian country that is good and beautiful but I think we're just facing the same challenges many other countries have when grappling with the changing face of their identity.
posted by liquorice at 4:03 PM on October 8, 2009 [9 favorites]


I think it's time for Spike Lee to re-release Bamboozled to the theaters, maybe with discounted tickets and an aggressive advertising campaign to get people to actually watch it this time.

Full YouTube playlist of the film (for those wanting to watch it now).
posted by hippybear at 4:04 PM on October 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


I think I've dislocated my jaw.

The background guys were even doing the minstrel schtick a bit at the start. When I heard about this, I'd assumed they'd just done the facepainting thing and covered a Jackson tune.
posted by Decimask at 4:05 PM on October 8, 2009


Hi. I'm Australian. We are pretty racist.

Now we need to do a revival of Mind your Language to compete, ashes style.
posted by Artw at 4:07 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also: This is how you do Michael Jackson.
posted by Artw at 4:10 PM on October 8, 2009


Uhh...so do you guys get Mad Men in Australia?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:15 PM on October 8, 2009


And what's more, that it couldn't have been racist because one of the team was Indian.

I don't know what's worse here, the failed logic or the remote possibility that the person who said it has no idea that India isn't in Africa.
posted by Mikey-San at 4:22 PM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Uhh...so do you guys get Mad Men in Australia?

Context: Roger Sterling Serenades His Young Wife (in darkface, May 1963).
posted by ericb at 4:28 PM on October 8, 2009


That possibility is not so remote, Mikey-San.
posted by rahnefan at 4:29 PM on October 8, 2009


I didn't think I could love Harry Connick any more than I already do, but that was a really classy thing to do.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:38 PM on October 8, 2009 [9 favorites]


Minstrel shows and blackface seem weirdly to be one of those uniquely American cultural spectacles that it's apparently very difficult for foreigners to ken; that is, for some reason it seems to be very difficult for foreign audiences to understand just how horribly racist this sort of thing is and has been since its inception here in the land where it started.

A good example? The world-record most-seen stage show of all time, one of the most popular British television shows ever to exist, The Black and White Minstrel Show, a variety program which was regularly seen by audiences of 18 million and more, and which enjoyed both popular adoration and BAFTA-winning critical success in its two decades on the BBC from 1958 to 1978. Here is the last episode: [ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ] We Americans are typically shocked beyond belief when we see this stuff, and it's still sort of amazing to me, though I've known about it for a while now. Think about it: the Sex Pistols had already broken up, were a thing of the past, and yet that thing was still on television. Boggles the mind.

It's often hard for me to know what to think about this stuff. I mean, on the one hand, it's another country, right? Without as much baggage related to the whole minstrel thing, I hope? In the UK in the 70s I can only presume that most of the people on stage weren't actual racists, that they weren't consciously aping stereotypic Africans but merely taking part in something they innocently saw as 'an old, comfortable tradition.' That's what half the Youtube comments are urging me to hope, saying that there was no conscious racism here at all, and that this is just good old fun. Of course, the other half of the Youtube comments consist of things like "Why don't we White people in Britain have any rights any more? Why don't we have free speech?" and other tendentious stuff that's really just a nostalgia for the racism of yesterday if I'm reading it right.

There's also the fact that I simply can't imagine anyone in their right mind thinking that painting your face another color and pretending to be a furrenner of another race isn't insulting to somebody somewhere. What the hell were people thinking?

Really, that's my general reaction to The Black and White Minstrel Show: what the blithering hell were they thinking? Did it seem in any way that this might not be offensive to somebody? I happen to know that there were plenty of black people in the UK in 1978; one wonders what exactly they thought about this stuff.

Of course, this Australian thing is more offensive by far: it's clearly meant to mock a specific person, not to mention the four or five other levels of offensiveness (not least of which has to do with the fact that that person just died.) Most horrifically of all, it's not in any way funny.
posted by koeselitz at 4:39 PM on October 8, 2009 [12 favorites]


IT'S POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD! I HATE POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD!

Sadly, Australia is a profoundly racist and comprehensively stupid country. What Americans would call Republicans are in control of pretty much every cultural and educational stronghold - the newspapers, the television, etc. - and sport, and sporting knowledge, are worn as badges of pride. You can't escape it. It's sport everywhere, all the time. It never stops. But to add insult to inanity, we're also a very obese country. Depending on your source, we're either the first or second fattest country in the world. And again, depending on your source, we're one of the drunkest countries in the world. And our population is one of the oldest, one of the most illiterateist, and one of the dumbest. Further, we pollute more than anybody else. Sadder still, we are a democracy.

So what you have is a bunch of white, fat, drunk, stupid over-50s mouthing their way through the television guide in order to schedule their rugby watching - not participating, just watching - and then being compelled to vote for a "leader" (yeah baby those were some fucking sneer quotes right there you bet your balls) every 3 years. That is essentially a snapshot of a typical Australian.

So when Mr Jr. professed his outrage at the skit in question, there was a collective nationwide gasp because, honestly, nobody could comprehend what it was he was so offended by. I guarantee at least one million people called him a "fucking yank coon-lover". Because we are white, fat, drunk, stupid, and old.

Fun fact: Australians love watching The Footy Show. Hey Hey... is chook food compared to this vile piece of shit. It's basically white, fat, drunk, stupid over-50s men making obnoxious jokes, picking on foreigners, being misogynistic (I mean really, really repugnant stuff), wearing blackface, and talking about football like it's the answer to something. I was unfortunate enough to channel-surf my way through it the other night and was compelled to watch a segment where three fat men - one dressed as either a woman or a baby, I forget - tortured a live eel in a perspex box. The audience found this hilarious.

And that, ladies and gents, is Australia! Check the ABS for more soul-crushing stats!
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:40 PM on October 8, 2009 [39 favorites]


I really believe that there should be a UN mandate or something, or at least the civilized nations of the world should agree that there should be a law everywhere requiring anyone who even thinks that doing something in blackface might be funny is required to watch the movie Bamboozled.
posted by koeselitz at 4:40 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Andrew Bolt is also possibly the stupidest of the lot. Australians love Andrew Bolt.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:43 PM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, Julia Gillard has now weighed in on the skit, saying:
"Obviously, I think whatever happened was meant to be humorous and would be taken in that spirit by most Australians.
And then adding (and seeming to contradict her previously statement ...):
"On the serious question of questions of race in Australia, I think we're an open and generous people; we repudiate racism wherever we see it," she said.
posted by barnacles at 4:45 PM on October 8, 2009


Also, apparently Koreans can't be racist either. And the only reason anyone should watch Bamboozled as punishment is because it sucks.
posted by mattholomew at 4:46 PM on October 8, 2009


Heh. I forgot to read through that article on The Black and White Minstrel Show that I linked, so I missed this bit:

What accounts for such immense popularity? ... The Black And White Minstrel Show harked back to a specific period and location – the Deep South where coy White women could be seen being wooed by docile, smiling black slaves.

Ah yes, that wonderful old Deep South filled with coy-White-woman-wooing black slaves who were always happy, smiling and passive. And, as I recall, there were also purple dragons, little green men from outer space, a castle made of candy canes, and Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and John Howard, who sat around singing love songs and exchanging valentines all day long.
posted by koeselitz at 4:52 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's really so embarrassing, seriously.
posted by lottie at 4:52 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


mattholomew: And the only reason anyone should watch Bamboozled as punishment is because it sucks.

See, that's part of the genius of my plan: I happen to like the movie, but if you don't, then that's even more incentive not to use blackface in order to not have to see it, right?
posted by koeselitz at 4:55 PM on October 8, 2009


Oooh, the "enlightened", "culturally-aware" art sheila from the poofter capital of Australia pipes up! Thanks for your opinion sweetheart, go fetch us a coldie!

/Fatty Vautin
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:56 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just... ouch. How embarrassing for the nation.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:57 PM on October 8, 2009


I think it's both. Lots of Aussies didn't seem to understand why it was offensive in the first place but then, even after it was explained to them, suddenly hopped on "we won't be brought down by the PC brigade" bandwagon.

I imagine that 11 years of a right-wing government that stridently fought the culture war along those lines, condemning the "black armband view of history" (i.e., that Aborigines were mistreated), along with a folksy notions of the virtues of "mateship" has given a lot of Australians permission to harbour racist views, steadfastly refuse to repudiate them, and also consider themselves to be decent people. I recall that, in the late 90s/early 2000s, Australia was a more culturally progressive place, where people were fairly left-leaning. But then a generation grew up with the Howard government's national mythology around them and before long, they're going to music festivals wearing Australian flags as capes, finding non-white people and forcing them to "kiss the flag".
posted by acb at 5:00 PM on October 8, 2009 [9 favorites]


@matthewolomew

There is an honest and obvious difference between the skit in question and the Korean example above.

One is a sincere attempt at mimicry and impersonation and the other is a collection of stereotypes held up for attack "see how these foolish people are, how ugly and ill tempered. See their crude speech and garish clothes"

It's one thing to make a satirical jab at a culture, "Some Black people are overly enamored with jewelry and criminal life styles, said John Gotti Junior" It's another thing entirely to dress up in full costume and say "See how ridiculous The Blacks are? They talk as if they have never read a book and dance as if they have never known shame."

Perhaps not, this is just my own sorry opinion, and like assholes, some of them smear crap on their face and dance on television.
posted by NiteMayr at 5:00 PM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


[ ] Eddie Murphy's White Like Me sketch, 1984
posted by koeselitz at 5:05 PM on October 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


acb, you are spot on.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:08 PM on October 8, 2009


it's a country where they have separate slurs for Greeks and Macedonians

Wait, really? What are they, if you don't mind me asking?
posted by Greg Nog at 5:18 PM on October 8, 2009


"Also, apparently Koreans can't be racist either . And the only reason anyone should watch Bamboozled as punishment is because it sucks."
posted by mattholomew

But that clip you posted was amazing. It didn't smack of racism because it was a spot-on tribute to one person, rather than a poorly tossed-off insult to an entire people. There was nothing but love and care for Louis Armstrong in the Korean (Japanese?) man's impression. There was nothing but "point-n-laugh at the silly black people" in the Aussies'.

Never seen Bamboozled though... Kinda want to, now. Thanks for the links, hippybear.

And koeselitz's link just blew my mind. It's like Lawrence Welk meets Mitch Miller on a Robert Crumb acid trip.

posted by not_on_display at 5:21 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


The thing about blackface minstrel shows is that they were homages to African-American culture by whites. It typified a condescending stereotype of blacks, of course, but there was this grain of "hey, their music has a good beat and we can dance to it" in there, too.

And that's what really makes The Black And White Minstrel Show so hard to watch. Great singing, very good dancing for a variety show. You can see why they lasted. But they're in blackface. And doing sketches and pieces that pervade stereotypes of blacks.

All that said, The Black And White Minstrel Show is majestic compared to this Aussie thing. I'm surprised Harry Connick found his jaw on the floor to put it back in.

Seriously, Australia? Nice, liberal, free society one minute, and all a sudden you're pulling Mississippi 1937 out of your ass. You're better than this. And you know it.
posted by dw at 5:21 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


God, I love Kamahl. His comments pinpoint exactly why I left: "Why are people so unkind?" This is the dark side of Australia's "lovable larrikin" thing: even if the larrikin gets his laughs through straight-up bullying, you have precisely two socially acceptable options: (1) STFU, or (2) GTFO. Anything else and you are an un-Australian wowser who can't take a joke and probably doesn't even live on Struggle Street.
posted by No-sword at 5:31 PM on October 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Mate you fat cats don't know anything about us battlers on Struggle Street.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:35 PM on October 8, 2009


Seriously, Australia? Nice, liberal, free society one minute...

Which minute was that?
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:36 PM on October 8, 2009


Gawker, I think, has it exactly right:

"Wow, an American is being the voice of cultural sensitivity? Australia must be really messed up."
posted by dw at 5:36 PM on October 8, 2009 [12 favorites]


Saw some of this footage on the morning news: staggeringly ignorant garbage for cretins and jagoffs.

It brings to mind the ham-handed insensitivity displayed on The Extras show-within-a-show, When The Whistle Blows.
posted by porn in the woods at 5:40 PM on October 8, 2009


Here's a good piece on the show itself from The Age.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:45 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


So what I'm seeing here in this thread is an agreement that Australia is the Golgafrincham B-Ark of the world?

Golgafrincham is a red semi-desert planet that is home of the Great Circling Poets of Arium and a species of particularly inspiring lichen. Its people decided it was time to rid themselves of an entire useless third of their population, and so the descendants of the Circling Poets concocted a story that their planet would shortly be destroyed in a great catastrophe. (It was apparently under threat from a "mutant star goat"). The useless third of the population (consisting of hairdressers, tired TV producers*, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, management consultants, telephone sanitizers and the like) were packed into the B-Ark, one of three giant Ark spaceships, and told that everyone else would follow shortly in the other two. The other two thirds of the population, of course, did not follow and "led full, rich and happy lives until they were all suddenly wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone".
posted by chambers at 5:49 PM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


If American racial sensitivities are way off of Australian radar, how would they feel if somebody did a skit in black face sending up an aboriginal character? Would they consider this off limits or is racism endemic to a degree that you can get away with pretty much anything on national television?
posted by gallois at 5:51 PM on October 8, 2009


how would they feel if somebody did a skit in black face sending up an aboriginal character? Would they consider this off limits or is racism endemic to a degree that you can get away with pretty much anything on national television?

The kind of people who found this skit tolerable and amusing would do doubt feel the same treatment being applied to an Aboriginal character was tolerable and amusing. After all, abos are just a bunch of lazy, pissed bludgers, aren't they? Except for the ones who know how to kick a ball. And they're still fit to be made fun off.

The rest of us would be equally shocked, outraged, and ashamed.
posted by Jimbob at 5:57 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


In my very ignorant view: Michael Jackson was a celebrity who wore white make-up on a daily basis to match with his Vitiligo. I had to look-up Blackface to see that the last use on US television was from 1981. I never even imagined people did that.

I think there has to be a way for a white person to put on black make-up and make fun of Michael Jackson and it not be racist. You would be making fun of his medical condition, which isn't very funny, but that happens all the time with other medical conditions.

That's not what these Australians did.
posted by sety at 6:04 PM on October 8, 2009


So I'm left sitting here staring into a beer. Shaking my head at the same old loathing and fear. Stranger in my own land. Can't understand how the very word Australian has just been damned.

I fucking hate myself - take Aussie from my name, erase this endless shame, forever casting blame. If you don't act the same will I destroy you. Everyone looks the same beaten black and blue.

So I've had enough of these redneck pricks when fact is the only real shit that sticks. Watch as I tear the very skin from my face so no one will see my race. My deep disgrace.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:05 PM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Dude it's not even noon.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:06 PM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


This was also the subject of today’s BBC World Have Your Say
(link to the MP3)

posted by blueberry at 6:08 PM on October 8, 2009


uncanny hengeman's comment contained the lyrics to The Herd's 77% in case you were curious
posted by Kattullus at 6:12 PM on October 8, 2009 [8 favorites]


What piddly-assed lives must be being led if this what raises eyebrows. "Suddenly not a racist country" must be some kind of collective delusion.
posted by Mr.S at 6:14 PM on October 8, 2009


Dude it's not even noon.

LOL.

I like a good beer buzz early in the morning, and Billy likes to peel the labels from his bottles of Bud.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:16 PM on October 8, 2009



how would they feel if somebody did a skit in black face sending up an aboriginal character? Would they consider this off limits or is racism endemic to a degree that you can get away with pretty much anything on national television?


There would have been much more of a hostile reaction. Not necessarily because people aren't racist (many are), but because they're at least aware that to publicly imitate Aboriginals like that wouldn't go down well. Many people lack that same awareness about blackface.

And many people are racist chumps, regardless.
posted by twirlypen at 6:17 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


From my experience as an Indian in Australia, my impression is that unlike the US there has never been anyone to tell white Australia that anyone could take offence at this sort of thing. The stereotypes are hardly rare; for example, Mahatma Cote featured on the Footy Show (a prime-time national Aussie Rules football program) for years. I used to get called Mahatma Cote a lot, and eventually one learned to grin and bear it... heh heh these Aussies are such lovable scoundrels, they don't mean anything by it, they just don't know any better.
posted by vanar sena at 6:27 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


By the way, uncanny hengeman is quoting the awesome Sydney hip-hop / funk group The Herd and their masterful 2003 track 77%, which is well worth hearing. “77% of Aussies are racist / Did ya hear? I'll say it to their faces!” A very good song. It refers to the Tampa Affair and the apparent fact that 77% of the Australian public believed that John Howard's government did the right thing in refusing admittance to Australian waters of a ship of nearly 500 asylum-seekers, apparently in the guise of preventing illegal aliens from entering the country, and instead having the ship boarded and seized by armed soldiers from the Australian Special Forces. Here, I'll link it again so you can all go listen to it.
posted by koeselitz at 6:31 PM on October 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Kattullus beat me to it. Ah well... another chance to listen! Great song.
posted by koeselitz at 6:32 PM on October 8, 2009


it's a country where they have separate slurs for Greeks and Macedonians

Wait, really? What are they, if you don't mind me asking?
posted by Greg Nog
Greeks are "wogs" and Macedonians are "macks", if I recall correctly.

To all those Aussies ashamed of their countrymen, good on you. You are not alone. This American sympathizes with your plight. Keep fighting the good fight.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:32 PM on October 8, 2009


In lieu of Harry's double standards, I think this thread needs some Brother Lee Love.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:35 PM on October 8, 2009


Worth revisiting Bamboozled.
posted by Mr.S at 6:35 PM on October 8, 2009


There would have been much more of a hostile reaction.

But, as the incident with Sam Newman and Nicky Winmar showed, the perpetrator would keep their job and the show would stay on the air.
posted by Jimbob at 6:35 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's actually shocked and angered me more is the constant bleating here in Australia "but it was a joke, it was only meant to be funny"... yeah, well, fuck that. How anyone thinks putting on black shoe polish to make fun of black people isn't racist is beyond me.

It's culturally insensitivity at its absolute worst. Connick Jnr is getting it here because he should "learn to take a joke" and "Americans should learn to laugh at themselves". Or some more generous notion of "our cultures are different". And, indeed, they are. Minstrel shows themselves don't have much of a history here, but blackface does - in a country where Aboriginal children were still being taken from their parents in the 1970s, there should be no surprise that Aboriginal performers were not allowed on stage at that time and white actors portrayed Aboriginal characters in blackface.

There was a recent revival of Dorothy Hewett's The Man from Mukinupin staged by the Melbourne Theatre Company. The play was originally produced in the 1970s and Noni Hazlehurst appeared as two young characters - a white girl and an Aboriginal girl, in blackface. This recent production flipped that; Aboriginal director Wesley Enoch cast an Aboriginal actress in that role and she played the white girl in whiteface. In fact most of the casts powder-white make-up matched, but the commentary was not easily missed.

I think Australia is a deeply racist country because it hasn't ever really confronted its bigotry. Oh, yes, Prime Minister Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation, but that hasn't really fixed anyone's lives or made their day-to-day living conditions any better. And most of us in the big cities don't really see our Aboriginal population, so they are out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

With the Americans being unable to dismiss their slave-owning past, plus the Civil Rights movement as a point of focus, the United States has had to look at itself in regard to these issues. Living with President Obama doesn't make it a post-racial paradise, but at least the country recognises the magnitude of the changes they've made.

Australia doesn't look and doesn't care. The Aboriginal population is small, relegated to rural areas and without a Civil Rights movement to change their lives.

Besides, this skit wasn't Australia laughing at itself or even at its Aboriginal people, it was making an easy joke about Michael Jackson and thinking shoe polish on grown men's faces is something to be laughed at. It's something to be ashamed of.
posted by crossoverman at 6:41 PM on October 8, 2009 [14 favorites]


Dave Chappelle in whiteface. Hahaha! So funny.

David Williams of Little Britain in blackface and a fat suit. Hahaha! Fat black people are funny.

I won't get into the relative "funniness" of the acts compared to the FPP.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:48 PM on October 8, 2009


I had to look-up Blackface to see that the last use on US television was from 1981.

1993 was the last time (that I can think of) a public figure even tried to put it in a joke, at a semi-private party, and it was a shitstorm for both Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg, who was the subject of the joke and staunchly defended him when he was shamed in the press, for years after that.
posted by chambers at 7:03 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


- I mean in the United States.
posted by chambers at 7:04 PM on October 8, 2009


The Sarah Silveran Show 2007
posted by Artw at 7:31 PM on October 8, 2009


We Australians are nowhere near as good a people as many of us believe ourselves to be, that's for damn sure.
posted by nudar at 7:35 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I saw this as I channel surfed the other day and I could not believe my eyes, after 10 seconds I switched the TV off and tried to un-curl my toes. My girlfriend and her housemate were somewhat non-plussed by my reaction, they agreed that the show was a pile of steaming crap that should have been left buried but didn't get what was so wrong with that particular 'sketch'.

The next day I mentioned it at work as the story was hitting the news websites and the reaction was almost universal: "it's not racist, just a bit of fun", "What's the fuss about? This is just PC gone mad", "The singer is actually Indian, so it can't be racist" and "Well, Harry Connick Jr. also dressed up as a black man on TV, so there".

I thought my workmates were largely liberal (small l) in their outlook but I felt like I'd stepped into the twilight zone, some episode where everyone is completely un-self-conscious about their prejudices and belittles the one sane man left, or something.
posted by JustAsItSounds at 7:36 PM on October 8, 2009


> I had to look-up Blackface to see that the last use on US television was from 1981.

30 Rock, Season 3 Episode 2
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:49 PM on October 8, 2009


I had to look-up Blackface to see that the last use on US television was from 1981.

As per above: Mad Men | September 2009.
posted by ericb at 7:51 PM on October 8, 2009


Papa Lazaru is fucking terrifying.
posted by Artw at 8:00 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Which minute was that?

Well, you did apologize for your treatment of the Lost Generation. We've never apologized for our treatment of Native American tribes.

Of course, they have a modicum of self-determination that's allowed them to build casinos, resorts, and smoke shops, and that's led to a massive transfer of wealth from lower and middle class whites to the tribes. Also, no one would ever try to play Big Chief Injun on any variety show if they ever wanted to work in American showbiz again....
posted by dw at 8:22 PM on October 8, 2009


My Aboriginal acquaintances on Facebook are livid and there's some great discussion on how Blackface also affects Indigenous/Aboriginal communities. However the only media coverage of that seems to be a spat between drag queens.

I'm South Asian in Australia and to be honest I haven't had as much of the overt crushing racism I did back in Malaysia (where I am an absolute minority). That said, I have encountered more implicit racism - surprisingly from people who claim to not be racist and indeed treat other ethnic groups pretty well, but then fall into using racist tropes in performance or continually grilling us about our accent or just not recognising privilege and getting all uppity when you mention it.

I got into a little spat with a theater director, a white Aussie woman, yesterday over concerns that a planned fringe festival wasn't being explicitly welcoming to people from diverse cultural backgrounds who were already feeling alienated by the arts scene (mainly due to exoticifation or being pushed to "multicultural" rather than "high art"). She kept going on about how she and her compatriots made theater despite having no money and that she didn't want to babysit for people who would not "just do it". I said it was more complex then that and being able to "just do it" was often a mark of privilege - she then got at me saying she was poor and had no money and was not privileged whatsoever! Argh.
posted by divabat at 8:52 PM on October 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


This makes me think, a number of people commented on the first Hey Hey reunion show (for example John Birmingham), saying that it wasn't actually that bad - the innocent, family-entertainment format was a relief from the vicious "reality shows" we've been bombarded with over the last decade. I think this latest episode has shown that yes, actually, it is as bad as we remembered it to be.
posted by Jimbob at 8:53 PM on October 8, 2009


Of course, they have a modicum of self-determination that's allowed them to build casinos, resorts, and smoke shops...

Same in Australia, but without all the gambling licenses. Except the tribes tend to sell it straight back to developers for a wad of cash. They don't seem to run their own resorts, nor even go into partnership. Except for, say, being guides.

disclaimer: I'm no expert on this, just what I recall reading wrt some of the bigger title claims
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:08 PM on October 8, 2009


And then some of us find all of the ZOMG!!!1! armflailing at Australia to be the insensitive part. A little patient education would go a lot further than one hateful generalization after another slung toward an entire country.

My husband is Australian. It's not in his background to see blackface as anything more than something silly that people used to do. Is he a racist? A hater? An insensitive jerk? No, he's just a guy who hasn't been made aware of every single cultural tension in a country on the other side of the globe. He's very willing to learn more, but please excuse him if he hasn't memorized The Big Book of Things That Cause Offense in Far-Off Lands, Even Far-Off Lands That Are Very Big and Fancy Themselves to Therefore Be Very Important to Everyone Else.

We live in the States, where my husband works hard to be sensitive to our American culture, even when he privately thinks something is a bit ridiculous. (I won't make a list - too many hot buttons that will only lead to derailment.) And part of being a good guest (and taxpayer) in the U.S., particularly while living in urban areas, means enduring a LOT of racism, racism that the average American never notices, because in America you're supposed to feel so bad about all of the racist crap perpetuated by whites that, in some bizarre effort to "even things up," racism towards whites is met with eye rolls and horrible accusations toward the victim.

I'm not trying to justify the sketch, but the baleful, holier-than-Down-Under reaction to it is simply embarrassing. At least some (many?) Australians can sincerely plead ignorance and learn from this unfortunate event. In America, very smart and well-intentioned people ignore any anti-white sentiment and decry all anti-black sentiment (or perceived anti-black sentiment - not everyone who disagrees with Obama does so because he's sort of black, but whatever) to such extremes that racial tension seems to get worse with every day.

I love my country, but I wouldn't mind living somewhere where the racism was borne out of misplaced humor and understandable ignorance, as opposed to the racism that comes from stubborn hate or from vengeance against crimes I never committed.
posted by Liffey at 9:13 PM on October 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Ethnic notions is a great documentary from the 80's that talks about black face and all the time honored caricatures. A lot of the more shocking stock footage seen in Bamboozled is here too. It's follow up "Black is, black ain't" is amazing as well. I really feel that in the U.S african american cultures should be required in college, if not in high school.

On Bamboozled though, if someone wants to explain why the Moa Moas did what the did, it kind of confused me. It seemed like the main point of the movie was de la croix and how he changes, and the whole time mantan is a victim,even in the end (by a group that themselves are caricatures). It just seemed extreme, or is that the point?
posted by djduckie at 9:17 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is sort of off topic but kind of bugged me and struck me as "hipster racism".

I saw a woman at the grocery store wearing a shirt with a picture of obama with a turkish rope and the kind of hat run dmc wore in the 80's and it said "i run dc" under it in the run DMC font with the red line under it.

Why do people insist on shoving obama into typical black roles/iconography and feeling justified by it because they voted for him. It can't be racist because i support him.

/soap box.
posted by djduckie at 9:25 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


as opposed to the racism that comes from stubborn hate or from vengeance against crimes I never committed.
posted by Liffey at 12:13 AM on October 9


i think you need to unpack your invisible backpack.

you are responsible for the sins of your ancestors --even if the never owned a slave. why? simple: white privilege.
posted by liza at 9:39 PM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


btw, i dont mean offend. i have to add the obligatory, "am biracial", "the father of my children is irish american" and "i gave birth to a white son".

i also am feminist culture/politics critic with a massive focus on identity, gender & race.
posted by liza at 9:43 PM on October 8, 2009


Liffey: Blackface was, and still is, a major problem for Aboriginal people in Australia. It's not exclusively an American problem.
posted by divabat at 9:48 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


From what I recall as a child, "minstrel shows" in Australia were imitations of ones from the USA, not Australia: the performers put on southern accents and pretended to be rural Southern African-Americans. The woman writing this blog has done some research on it, although I can't find a copy of her paper on the internet. I was quite surprised to see that there was a popular minstrel show in the UK until 1978; I wonder if it the blackface was seen as making the performers more "foreign", which would justify the un-English dancing and cavorting?
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:21 PM on October 8, 2009


Liffey: Blackface was, and still is, a major problem for Aboriginal people in Australia. It's not exclusively an American problem.

What the fuck are you talking about? Citation needed.

You know what deeply offended me recently? A bunch of Aborigines making fun of the Zorba the Greek song, along with gratuitous "simulated sex" hip thrusts, appropriated from, and making fun of, whatever culture invented such moves. And all the white male Christian owned media outlets running it as their "hahaha news" story of the day.

I was deeply offended on a number of levels and Aboriginal Australia needs to have a good hard look at itself for remaining silent on the issue. Where was the self hate?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:30 PM on October 8, 2009


I kind of have a feeling they'll parody this on SNL, replacing Harry Connick, Jr with Fred Armisen as Obama.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:33 PM on October 8, 2009


I would have been shocked to find out that they were still doing blackface in the '70s or '80s.

Joni Mitchell, 1980... (at 4:12 - blink and you'll miss it)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:50 PM on October 8, 2009


From what I recall as a child, "minstrel shows" in Australia were imitations of ones from the USA, not Australia: the performers put on southern accents and pretended to be rural Southern African-Americans.

Regardless, there is still a history of white performers putting on blackface instead of casting Aboriginal actors; whether or not that was specifically a "minstrel show" is irrelevant.
posted by crossoverman at 10:55 PM on October 8, 2009


uncanny hengemen: What the fuck are you talking about? Citation needed.

I'd direct you to a discussion about this on a friend's Facebook page but it's private. I'll ask if there's any more discussion (aside from a pithy article on drag queens). I did theater studies in uni and remember our lecturers telling us of days when they'd rather put someone in blackface to play an Indigenous character than actually hire an Indigenous actor.
posted by divabat at 11:02 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, apparently Koreans can't be racist either . And the only reason anyone should watch Bamboozled as punishment is because it sucks.

That was most definitely a Japanese show, judging by all the Kanji and Kana everywhere. Korean's writing system is Hangul and looks quite different (as a side note, I find the translations of English names into Japanese very interesting and entertaining--if you look at the title as the video starts, it says "ルイアームストロング," which roughly sounds like "roo-ee aah-ma-su-toe-ron-gu." Say it a few times out loud if you don't get it).

More to the point, I don't know about how to think of this in terms of racism. I think it may be less racist than the Australian TV show, but it comes from a similar place of cultural ignorance of the meaning of blackface. The Japanese, from what I understand, are pretty xenophobic and not at all accustomed to seeing people of other races on their archipelago. So it's probably no more racist than any of the racist things that Japanese do, and possibly less, since there is at least an element of sincere flattery here, considering how deeply this guy tries to copy Armstrong's facial and other physical mannerisms in addition to his voice. This isn't just a sloppy "oh, black people are funny" blackface, this is someone (in a misguided fashion) attempting to imitate a performer he seems to love and admire. In fact, I think there's a lot of weird conflicting impulses in how the Japanese process cultures outside of their own, not just Black American culture.

Speaking of, another interesting practice there is ganguro, where, at the extreme end of the spectrum, young women will aggressively tan their bodies and use makeup to all but completely mutate themselves into a parody of an African-American. I don't understand it. I suppose it's racist but it's so...beyond, that's it's hard to even know how to critique it. I suppose it at least falls under the category of "what are they thinking?" that koeselitz brought up.

This past summer I was in Tokyo, and was walking down a corridor in an underground mall with my gf when I saw a young black woman walk past me. She was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt, so plenty of flesh was exposed. Her hair was crimped and back in a side pony-tail sort of thing, I think. I was surprised there was this stylish young black woman walking around Tokyo so comfortably, to be honest.

Then I did a double-take, looked again, and realized she probably hadn't had any African ancestry since all of our ancestors left that continent. But she was trying very hard to look as though she had much more recent African ancestry. Trying very, very hard. As a white American, it was very, very disconcerting to me on a number of levels.

Related to white people imitating people of other races/cultures, and related to Japanese, I saw this early tonight and it freaked me out a bit. I never saw this when it first came out, and was pretty surprised SNL would pull this shit, but I guess I shouldn't be. Interestingly, they seem to actually be speaking crappy but real Japanese (mostly).
posted by dubitable at 11:10 PM on October 8, 2009


Some of the attacks against Australians in this thread seem like a form of racism in and of themselves.

What next, you are gonna say Australians are a pack of alcoholic layabouts descended from criminals? That's basically where this is leading.

Yes, there is racism in Australia. Even when I was growing up, a significant segment of society regarded Aboriginals as backward primitives.

But we aren't all like that. I don't know anybody who harbors those views. Anecdotal evidence? Of course. But no more so than turgid dahlia's horrendous smears posted above.

Before I got into my current profession, I did a lot of work in factories and on building sites in Oz. I worked next to Europeans, Asians, Aboriginals. The people who caught the worst of the mockery (and, yes, Australians mock everyone) were ironically the New Zealanders. The guy I worked with in a cabinet making factory for 2 years was from Thailand and hardly spoke a word of English, did he get racially profiled, beaten up, attacked by the white Australians? Not once to my knowledge.

Did he get made fun of? Probably. But everyone did. This is part of the Australian world-view: take the piss out of everything. But at the end of the day, I don't think it goes further than the superficial. Perhaps that's not any kind of justification.

Currently, I am not aware of coming into contact with bigots while working my profession, and I come into contact with hundreds of people. Maybe they are, but they keep it on the down low? I just don't see any evidence of it.

So, no, Australians are not malicious racists, by and large. Making that claim is a terrible libel. Australia is much less racist than the USA, for example, every time I have visited America I have been shocked by the cultural divide between ethnic groups.

Real prejudice in the workplace, for example, against minorities seems rare, is there any evidence of large scale ongoing oppression against ethnic groups in Australia? Where is it?

The British might well have been truly cultural elitist and racist, they seem to have regarded, at the height of their Empire, every other race as being inferior, and that cultural viewpoint infected the mindsets of their colonies to one degree or another. Maybe that is the source.

Australia's problem appears to be largely apathy and ignorance. Most people are completely unaware - shockingly so - of why this incident is offensive. I personally found it repugnant, but then I don't expect any more of that bunch of hacks, they were always the shit end of the stick of Australian entertainment.

Our forefathers committed genocide on the Aborigines. But you can point to similar things done by the British, the Germans, the Americans; each has their own respective historical war crimes or genocides. We are still making reparations for ours.

When the Americans give back the land they stole from the Native Americans, *then* they can point fingers at us. Large tracts of land in Australia are controlled by native Australians.

Painting the whole of the population of Australia as racists because of this one hack incident from a bunch of talentless shitheads is not cool. The majority of us out here among the younger generation have no time for this shit at all.

I can't believe someone attempted to condemn Australia as weird because we don't have many people of African ethnicity. This is simply the result of political events that happened centuries ago, it has nothing to do with the attitude of Australians today!

Sure, there are some hideous racist morons in Australia. So there are in the US (and many in government) and the UK, and in Europe. Whenever you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you. There is racism in every culture. Perhaps we should regard all Americans as being like the rednecks who harried the Top Gear crew in Alabama (or wherever that was). Would you like that?

The show being discussed here is *not* representative of the attitudes of regular Australians. The producers and performers on this show shamed Australia. It's fucking horrendous, it's like we've been put back 30 years over night. The things being said today on the net about Australians by Yanks, of all people, are out of order.

The Americans have absolutely no right to take the stance of being 'better than' in this incident, given the deplorable conditions still prevalent in the US concerning racism. You have outright racist political leaders, for Christ's sake. You have more racists in your country than the entire population of Australia.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 11:13 PM on October 8, 2009 [20 favorites]


The Americans have absolutely no right to take the stance of being 'better than' in this incident, given the deplorable conditions still prevalent in the US concerning racism.

Hmm. Seems like most the people talking shit about Australians in this thread are other Australians. And don't get me wrong, for the most part I agree with you--we've all got our issues--but take it down a notch buddy.
posted by dubitable at 11:21 PM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think your assessment is pretty accurate, Henry. As I said in my first comment, there is definately a lot ofracism in Australia, racism I find shaming. But it's not unique to us, and this shitty TV show is by no means representative of our national mood. I mean, shit, you could argue that at present an entire TV channel (Fox News) in the US is dedicated to bigotry 24 hours a day. And it's a form of bigotry that's deeper and more influencing than an absurd blackface gong-show act.
posted by Jimbob at 11:22 PM on October 8, 2009


So, no, Australians are not malicious racists, by and large. Making that claim is a terrible libel.

Testify. I hope a lot of you peckerheads said what you said just to try and get into the pants of some bird you met in the Arts Faculty common room. Some of the self loathing here has been way over the top. Comically so.

I personally found it repugnant

??? Am I the *only* one here who just found it terribly, terribly unfunny? Nothing more, nothing less?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:34 PM on October 8, 2009


Is this the same Harry Connick Jr who put on makeup and impersonated a black preacher 13 years ago?

I'll bet my immortal soul that most of you bleating about it wouldn't have bat an eyelid if that nice young man hadn't pointed out how wrong it was and how bad you should all feel.

I'm off to watch The Goodies dress up as minstrels and giggle my arse off.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:13 AM on October 9, 2009


Real prejudice in the workplace, for example, against minorities seems rare, is there any evidence of large scale ongoing oppression against ethnic groups in Australia? Where is it?

Young Sudanese Men Experience Racism in Australia (pdf)
Fear, racism show Australia's ugly face
India fear over Australia attacks
Adelaide Institute (Anti-Semitic, AIDS-denying)
2005 Cronulla riots
Stolen Generation
White Australia Policy
ANTaR report on racism in Australia towards indigenous people
Entrenched racism in Australia - UN

Just because America isn't blameless doesn't make Australia pure. Denying racism or playing it down is just as damaging and harmful as "real prejudice" itself. These are just the incidents that make the news, that are newsworthy for its overtness. There's much more happening quietly behind-the-scenes that doesn't get attention.
posted by divabat at 12:22 AM on October 9, 2009 [18 favorites]


there is still a history of white performers putting on blackface instead of casting Aboriginal actors; whether or not that was specifically a "minstrel show" is irrelevant.

Nonsense. They didn't wear coal-black makeup with exaggerated white eyes and red lips; they wore tan makeup to look - they hoped - as though they were Australian Aborigines. The directors were casting the actors he or she had available. It's like casting Italians rather than Sephardi Jews or actors from Ireland instead of ones from Scandinavia. It's only because you associate dark skin makeup with racist shows that you find it offensive.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:25 AM on October 9, 2009


they wore tan makeup to look - they hoped - as though they were Australian Aborigines.

Then why not just hire Australian aboriginal actors? Because at the time they weren't even considered as people. Because of racism.

My goodness, MeFi is full of the fail today. You want racism? Tada, all in one thread.
posted by divabat at 12:28 AM on October 9, 2009 [9 favorites]


Because at the time they weren't even considered as people. Because of racism.

My, you seemed to be diving into your history books a lot to describe something "still is a major problem for Aboriginal people."

Fail.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:45 AM on October 9, 2009


uncanny hengeman: Are you seriously suggesting that Aboriginal people are not currently denied opportunities, jobs, and fair representation because of their race and ethnicity? That they're all getting uppity over nothing?
posted by divabat at 1:00 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Australia's problem appears to be largely apathy and ignorance.

Yes. Apathy because we are fat and ignorance because we are stupid.

I actually love Australia. I haven't been many other places but I think we've got it damn good here. But I grew up in a more or less military family, so I heard a lot about that and was exposed to it a bit, and what struck me was a real pride in the armed forces, not because we are "as good as" the militaries of other countries, but because we are the best (I mean on a soldier-by-soldier basis, not materiel). Our troops are some of the best-trained in the world. Read about some of the conflicts involving Australian troops in WWII, Vietnam, etc. I'm not militaristic by any measure but, well, it's nice to know.

My point is we shouldn't settle for "as good as" (or, in this case, as bad as) other countries when it comes to racism and bigotry. We're a young country and quite culturally diverse (the African comment above miffed me a bit, because I see plenty of Africans around) and what clever people we have are fucking clever (which is why they all move to England, I guess). Check out that other thread on the world's top 200 universities and Australia represents. We should be doing better than anybody else. Yeah, we've all got shitty histories where we fucked over the natives but I don't get this attitude of "America did this, Britain did that" or "America's still doing this, Britain's still doing that" and because that's the case Australia can just settle for it. We should strive to be ahead of everybody else. Third or fourth of eighth-best isn't best at all. Why the fuck are we even having this conversation? Australia should be the sort of country where not only would the producers of that dire show have quashed the skit before it was aired, the people performing in the skit wouldn't have even considered doing it.
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:04 AM on October 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


Then why not just hire Australian aboriginal actors?

Because Ernie Dingo and David Gulpilil weren't available, I guess. Or they weren't right for the role. Or they wanted too much money, being internationally known (well, a bit) actors. Any of those is more probable than the idea that directors would have the opportunity of casting them, but would reject them because they're "not even considered as people". Which is the stupidest comment I've read all day, which is saying something.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:05 AM on October 9, 2009


Is this the same Harry Connick Jr who put on makeup and impersonated a black preacher 13 years ago?

Fail. He is playing a white preacher in that sketch and Orlando Jones is playing a black preacher.

They didn't wear coal-black makeup with exaggerated white eyes and red lips; they wore tan makeup to look - they hoped - as though they were Australian Aborigines. The directors were casting the actors he or she had available.

Hmmm, and yet when Wesley Enoch cast an Aboriginal actress in MTC's Man from Mukinupin this year and put her in white face, what do you think he was commenting on? The lack of Aboriginal actors in the 1970s?

Aboriginal actress Rachel Mazur, another Aboriginal actress, spoke on Triple J yesterday afternoon about being shown into make up in even recent films where they make her up to be more black. There's something deeply wrong with that. That's obviously a different thing to what we are talking about, but there's something deeply insidious about it.
posted by crossoverman at 1:14 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Har har. There are only two aboriginal actors.
posted by runcibleshaw at 1:18 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


No Shirley Q Liquor fans in here?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 1:18 AM on October 9, 2009


I thought it was embarrassing enough that Hey Hey was being revived, and was disappointed in several friends who said they were looking forward to seeing it again. They were a bunch of middle-aged, unfunny hacks by the time it was ended, and now they're a bunch of old, unfunny hacks. There's a huge pool of comic talent aged under 40 in country, yet we're served up more of this tired old crap.

The stupid blackface act never should have been approved by the producer, let alone filmed. I'm glad Harry Connick Jr said something.

And the "it's not racist/we're not racist for finding it funny/there's no racism in Australia" is so predictably depressing. How can anyone claim that it isn't racist to do blackface? How can you claim that "it's ok because it's meant as a joke", when it's not even funny? Honestly, some dudes singing a Jackson song isn't funny by itself, they weren't good singers to make it worthwhile hearing, so the only selling point is that they've got blackface on - how stupid do you have to be to defend that kind of 'variety' act?

And denying that there's much racism in Australia can only be the result of never having experienced any yourself, and assuming that your life is somehow definitive of what all Australians go through.
posted by harriet vane at 1:29 AM on October 9, 2009


You know, rather than weigh in on the 'is it racism or not', I'd like to weigh in on the 'is it a tribute or not'.

This was presented as a tribute to the Jackson Five, and I just have a hard time believing any of the five would look at this and feel honored. I do not sense affection for the Jackson 5 anywhere in these men's efforts.

Also, I understand that the men meant to be humorous, taking the piss and all that, but in my neighborhood people take it poorly when you piss on them, and when they call you on your shit, you try to tell them it's raining. That is, I understand that the act was not meant as offensive, but in the face of new details sharing why it is offensive to some, the 'well you just need to get over it, you just don't understand Australian culture' strategy that some and using seems less considerate that the, oh, sorry, not my intention, but okay, we've got more funny in the backpack - maybe I'll just retire the blackface. Or the maybe if several blacks and/or americans are telling me that my tribute is offensive it's relevant in this specific case because, well, we're tying to honor a black american man.

And last time I checked, absolutely everybody had the capacity for thoughtless, culturally insensitive behavior, so I don't think we need to waste time on a 'who are the most racist people in the the most racist country in the world!' contest. Now it you want to get into 'most racist planet', well....*gives hard side-eye towards Saturn*.
posted by anitanita at 1:39 AM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


*gives hard side-eye towards Saturn*

So ring-ist!
posted by crossoverman at 1:43 AM on October 9, 2009


Fail. He is playing a white preacher in that sketch and Orlando Jones is playing a black preacher.

Really? How can you tell? I mean, he's adopted the appearance and all the mannerisms of the black guy standing next to him. At the very least, he must believe that all Southern religious people are inferior. Just like these guys have adopted the appearance and mannerisms of the Jacksons, and as the Jacksons are black, they must believe that black people are inferior.

Yes, I'm being facetious. Connick and Jones aren't making fun of black people, or white people - just Southern preachers. Just like the guys on Hey Hey were making fun of Michael Jackson, not all African Americans. And guess what - preachers and black people can lose their motherfucking minds about it, but that doesn't make it wrong.

But let's entertain your view of events for a moment to see just how plausible they are:

"Hey, guys. I really, really hate black people. I think they're inferior."
"You know, black people really love the Jackson brothers."
"They do? Why, let's make a fanciful comic act denigrating black people! We'll portray them all as buffoons and lesser beings by parodying the Jacksons and drawing attention, by cunningly contrasting makeup, to Michael's strangeness. When people laugh, they won't be saying "Wow, that Michael Jackson is a strange character, isn't he?" No, they'll be saying "lolz dumb niggaz!""
"Splendid! So we're agreed."

Racism can't only be in the eye of the beholder. There needs to be intent in the heart of the 'perpetrator', a real belief in 'race', and that some 'races' are inferior to others. If there's no intent, then there's just people taking offense, and where does your right to go through life without being offended come from? I must remember to take to the streets next time I see Eddie Murphy say "Well, that's peculiar" or Matt Groening ridicules white Australians. Presumably you're also all for banning sketches like Connick's and Jones' above, which obviously denigrates religious people - Christians who've suffered persecution down through the ages.

Maintain the rage, bro.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:48 AM on October 9, 2009


I know, crossoverman, but they did this 'earth tribute' last week on Titan......and personally it left me a little cold. Anyway, I'm thinking of accusing them all of being humanists. Ringy Bastards.
posted by anitanita at 1:51 AM on October 9, 2009


I'll bet my immortal soul that most of you bleating about it wouldn't have bat an eyelid if that nice young man hadn't pointed out how wrong it was and how bad you should all feel.

I'm pretty sure I already knew that white people putting on black-face is a bad idea. In all the recent examples of black-face on American TV -- Sarah Silverman Show, 30 Rock -- the whole joke has been how ridiculously inappropriate it is. And why would it ever be a good idea to make fun of how other ethnicities look? Where is the virtue in making fun of how black people look?
posted by creasy boy at 2:03 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Liffey: ... the baleful, holier-than-Down-Under reaction to it is simply embarrassing. At least some (many?) Australians can sincerely plead ignorance and learn from this unfortunate event.

With all due respect, Liffey, you can't tell other people how to feel about their own country; and if you read this thread carefully, you'll notice that the only people calling Australia a racist country are Australians themselves.
posted by koeselitz at 2:11 AM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Henry C. Mabuse: Some of the attacks against Australians in this thread seem like a form of racism in and of themselves... The Americans have absolutely no right to take the stance of being 'better than' in this incident, given the deplorable conditions still prevalent in the US concerning racism. You have outright racist political leaders, for Christ's sake. You have more racists in your country than the entire population of Australia.

Again, you also need to read the thread. What American said anything of the kind? Mostly this thread is full of Australians saying "our country is racist!"

And I should think people who are themselves Australians have more right to say it than us Americans. That's why we didn't say it.
posted by koeselitz at 2:15 AM on October 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Henry C. Mabuse: Australia is much less racist than the USA, for example, every time I have visited America I have been shocked by the cultural divide between ethnic groups.

I haven't been to many countries, but one thing I've learned is that acting morally superior to the countries I've visited and stereotyping them makes it much easier for me to categorize their inhabitants mentally. But you seem to have learned that trick far better than I have.

Even so, a piece of advice: once you've decided exactly what's wrong with a country, it's best not to go back. Otherwise, you might run the risk of discovering that reality is actually much more complex than the simple assumption you've formed about it. Just a hint.

And anyhow, it's quite comfortable back home. Isn't it? After all, the whole point of going abroad is to discover that people in other countries simply aren't doing it right, that they're racist and sexist and all the other stuff. And then, when you've realized that the people in another faraway country are much worse racists than you are, then you have to face some difficult issue relating to race – say, for instance, whenever bunch of idiots decide to put on face paint and act like it's the funniest thing in the world to be a member of a darker ethnic group – you can relax, confident in your knowledge that nobody from your country is really a racist at all.
posted by koeselitz at 2:32 AM on October 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Racism can't only be in the eye of the beholder. There needs to be intent in the heart of the 'perpetrator', a real belief in 'race', and that some 'races' are inferior to others.

More ignorant nonsense. Of course there can be racism without intent. A lot of people tell racist jokes and don't believe themselves to be racist. Does that give them a pass?

Even the guys who did the skit claim to have talked about how their act might be taken - and are trying to lay the blame at the feet of producers for saying it would be okay. Where did their concern come from if not a knowledge that blackface can be considered racist?

It's impossible to know how these men deal on a day-to-day basis with men and women of different colour. In fact, the lead "singer" in the group is from an Asian background - so we cannot cast aspersions on who they are apart from this. But the act is demeaning to black people. Where exactly does the humour lie if not in making fun of how the Jacksons look? (Or is it okay to make fun of how the Jacksons look because they are the Jacksons?)

My concern is based on the idea that A) somehow making fun of what other people look like is funny and B) that those who are offended by are somehow soft and their feelings shouldn't be considered valid and C) comedy somehow makes everything okay.

Presumably you're also all for banning sketches like Connick's and Jones' above, which obviously denigrates religious people - Christians who've suffered persecution down through the ages.

Ah, yes that old trick - assume I'm somehow brandishing a banhammer and want to censor what people do or say. Make me the villain in the piece. And try to find another group who is being victimised and try to make me complicit in their victimisation.

I haven't said anything about the sketch of Connick and Jones because it's beside the point. Whether or not I find that offensive is irrelevant to the fact I find the blackface skit on Hey Hey deeply troubling and the defense of it indefensible.

People can do or say what they like; I'm all for freedom of speech. But people have to be aware of the context in which they say things or when they perform in certain ways. They can't hide behind "stop being so easily offended" or "lighten up" or "my intent wasn't to be racist".

I must remember to take to the streets next time I see Eddie Murphy say "Well, that's peculiar" or Matt Groening ridicules white Australians.

I understand that you think this is comparable to the blackface skit, but it really really isn't.
posted by crossoverman at 2:42 AM on October 9, 2009 [11 favorites]


obiwanwasabi: I'll bet my immortal soul that most of you bleating about it wouldn't have bat an eyelid if that nice young man hadn't pointed out how wrong it was and how bad you should all feel.

This is the most mind-bendingly stupid thing I've read today, and I've read a lot of dumb.

I don't mean that as an insult, though you're free to take it that way.

Please bear with me as I explain this to you point by point:

This has nothing to do with cultural inheritance.

This has nothing to do with ethnic background.

This has nothing to do with long-forgotten plantation traditions.

This has nothing to do with what we're supposed to think is racist.

What's going on here? It's very, very simple. Five guys have painted themselves black because they think that being black is hilarious and silly.

See that? Let me say all this again: it doesn't have to do with American traditions surrounding the old conventions of the minstrel show. It doesn't have to do with our own liberal guilt, our rush to be politically correct in the midst of difficult racial tensions. It doesn't have to do with the complex relationship between black people and white people in the United States or the presumptuousness that leads Americans to think that their problems are everybody's problems.

Okay? Seriously. Put all of that out of your mind – clear it all away, all the stuff you've heard about minstrel shows and black slaves and the American south and all of that business – and then take a deep breath. Now that your mind is clear, look once more at the case of a set of guys who put on makeup to make themselves look like members of another race in order to be funny. Just look purely at that case: a set of guys who put on black makeup so that they look like black people, in order to make people laugh. There is one large, looming, unmistakeable message; can you make it out? What message does it send when a group of guys put on makeup and try to look like members of another race in order to make people laugh? Come on, think hard...

That's right. The message it sends is:

THOSE PEOPLE SURE LOOK FUNNY!

And this act would send that message if you were Australian, Japanese, Laotian, Burmese, American, or whatever. For the last and final time: it's a universal thing. You can't just pass it off by saying "oh, well it's different for us in our culture" - some things transcend culture, and this is one of them.
posted by koeselitz at 2:48 AM on October 9, 2009 [17 favorites]


First up I want to say that there's racism in every country. Probably in every person, to a greater or lesser degree, and as well as pointing it out in others, we'd do well to look for it, and fight it, in ourselves.

That said: the outright, blatant racism in Australia is a hell of a lot stronger than in New Zealand or the UK, in my experience. Last time I was in Australia, I (unknowingly) drank in a bar in central Sydney that won't serve Pacific Islanders or Lebanese. In 2009? Seriously, wtf Australia? [Also anecdotally, a few of my British friends have just moved to Australia, and 'this place is full of casual racism' was pretty much their first impression].
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:50 AM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


obiwanwasabi: Racism can't only be in the eye of the beholder. There needs to be intent in the heart of the 'perpetrator', a real belief in 'race', and that some 'races' are inferior to others. If there's no intent, then there's just people taking offense, and where does your right to go through life without being offended come from?

(1) Intentions are complex.

(2) The intentions of people who dress up in order to make another race look stupid are not generally above reproach.
posted by koeselitz at 2:54 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


"What's going on here? It's very, very simple. Five guys have painted themselves black because they think that being black is hilarious and silly."

I don't mean to split hairs, but this isn't strictly correct.

Five guys have painted themselves black, and one has painted themselves white. That's an important part, because Mr. Jackson's skin conditions nonwithstanding, it seems to illustrate that somehow it still does matter if you're black or white.

I really hope they don't have the Blue Man Group on the next reunion show.
posted by Silverdragonanon at 3:13 AM on October 9, 2009


Liffey: And then some of us find all of the ZOMG!!!1! armflailing at Australia to be the insensitive part. A little patient education would go a lot further than one hateful generalization after another slung toward an entire country.

Henry C. Mabuse: Some of the attacks against Australians in this thread seem like a form of racism in and of themselves.

Seriously, you two did such an awful job of reading this thread that I should't be wasting my time, but I am; since I'm sure you won't reread it now, please at least peruse the highlights, keeping in mind that every comment I quote below was made by someone living in Australia:

Jimbob: Hi. I'm Australian. We are pretty racist... (I should note that I wish the bigoted antics on The Footy Show would get this much attention.)

liquorice: I hesitate to say that we are, as a whole, a racist country. I do think we have racist undercurrents and racist tendencies and lots of those issues get shoved under the rug because so many people want to believe that we live in this utopian country that is good and beautiful but I think we're just facing the same challenges many other countries have when grappling with the changing face of their identity.

turgid dahlia: Sadly, Australia is a profoundly racist and comprehensively stupid country. What Americans would call Republicans are in control of pretty much every cultural and educational stronghold - the newspapers, the television, etc. - and sport, and sporting knowledge, are worn as badges of pride. You can't escape it. It's sport everywhere, all the time. It never stops. But to add insult to inanity, we're also a very obese country. Depending on your source, we're either the first or second fattest country in the world. And again, depending on your source, we're one of the drunkest countries in the world. And our population is one of the oldest, one of the most illiterateist, and one of the dumbest. Further, we pollute more than anybody else. Sadder still, we are a democracy.

So what you have is a bunch of white, fat, drunk, stupid over-50s mouthing their way through the television guide in order to schedule their rugby watching - not participating, just watching - and then being compelled to vote for a "leader" (yeah baby those were some fucking sneer quotes right there you bet your balls) every 3 years. That is essentially a snapshot of a typical Australian.


lottie: It's really so embarrassing, seriously.

Jimbob: The kind of people who found this skit tolerable and amusing would do doubt feel the same treatment being applied to an Aboriginal character was tolerable and amusing. After all, abos are just a bunch of lazy, pissed bludgers, aren't they? Except for the ones who know how to kick a ball. And they're still fit to be made fun off.

uncanny hengeman: So I'm left sitting here staring into a beer. Shaking my head at the same old loathing and fear. Stranger in my own land. Can't understand how the very word Australian has just been damned.

crossoverman: What's actually shocked and angered me more is the constant bleating here in Australia "but it was a joke, it was only meant to be funny"... yeah, well, fuck that. How anyone thinks putting on black shoe polish to make fun of black people isn't racist is beyond me. It's cultural insensitivity at its absolute worst.

I think Australia is a deeply racist country because it hasn't ever really confronted its bigotry. Oh, yes, Prime Minister Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation, but that hasn't really fixed anyone's lives or made their day-to-day living conditions any better. And most of us in the big cities don't really see our Aboriginal population, so they are out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

With the Americans being unable to dismiss their slave-owning past, plus the Civil Rights movement as a point of focus, the United States has had to look at itself in regard to these issues. Living with President Obama doesn't make it a post-racial paradise, but at least the country recognises the magnitude of the changes they've made.

Australia doesn't look and doesn't care. The Aboriginal population is small, relegated to rural areas and without a Civil Rights movement to change their lives.

Besides, this skit wasn't Australia laughing at itself or even at its Aboriginal people, it was making an easy joke about Michael Jackson and thinking shoe polish on grown men's faces is something to be laughed at. It's something to be ashamed of.


JustAsItSounds: I saw this as I channel surfed the other day and I could not believe my eyes, after 10 seconds I switched the TV off and tried to un-curl my toes. My girlfriend and her housemate were somewhat non-plussed by my reaction, they agreed that the show was a pile of steaming crap that should have been left buried but didn't get what was so wrong with that particular 'sketch'.

The next day I mentioned it at work as the story was hitting the news websites and the reaction was almost universal: "it's not racist, just a bit of fun", "What's the fuss about? This is just PC gone mad", "The singer is actually Indian, so it can't be racist" and "Well, Harry Connick Jr. also dressed up as a black man on TV, so there".

I thought my workmates were largely liberal (small l) in their outlook but I felt like I'd stepped into the twilight zone, some episode where everyone is completely un-self-conscious about their prejudices and belittles the one sane man left, or something.


divabat: My Aboriginal acquaintances on Facebook are livid and there's some great discussion on how Blackface also affects Indigenous/Aboriginal communities. However the only media coverage of that seems to be a spat between drag queens... I'm South Asian in Australia and to be honest I haven't had as much of the overt crushing racism I did back in Malaysia (where I am an absolute minority). That said, I have encountered more implicit racism - surprisingly from people who claim to not be racist and indeed treat other ethnic groups pretty well, but then fall into using racist tropes in performance or continually grilling us about our accent or just not recognising privilege and getting all uppity when you mention it... I got into a little spat with a theater director, a white Aussie woman, yesterday over concerns that a planned fringe festival wasn't being explicitly welcoming to people from diverse cultural backgrounds who were already feeling alienated by the arts scene (mainly due to exoticifation or being pushed to "multicultural" rather than "high art"). She kept going on about how she and her compatriots made theater despite having no money and that she didn't want to babysit for people who would not "just do it". I said it was more complex then that and being able to "just do it" was often a mark of privilege - she then got at me saying she was poor and had no money and was not privileged whatsoever! Argh.

See that? All the "Australia is racist" comments you've both been getting offended at came from Australians. (And, if I may say so, actually contained a whole bunch of very interesting cultural insights. But you would've had to read them to notice.)
posted by koeselitz at 3:31 AM on October 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Last time I was in Australia, I (unknowingly) drank in a bar in central Sydney that won't serve Pacific Islanders or Lebanese.

If that can be demonstrated to be true, that pub would be in deep, deep shit. Let me know its name, I'll see if I can arrange an islander to go there, get refused service, and sue the shit out of them. Having said that, you can't tell me there aren't pubs in Britain where black or asian people wouldn't be treated in a similar way. I'll note that the BNP seems to be increasing its polling in the UK while our own version, One Nation, that surfaced briefly a decade ago has dissapeared back into complete obscurity.

Look at me. I started this post declaring that Australia is racist, now I'm defending it against accusations of endemic racism. Look. Racism in Australia is quite different to everywhere else. It's also exactly the same as everywhere else.
posted by Jimbob at 3:32 AM on October 9, 2009


I remember seeing the Black and White Minstrel Show myself as a child in the UK. And I can still clearly recall how uncomfortable it made me feel to watch it, even for a child of seven or eight whose exposure to non-white people was virtually nil. I mean, it was that obvious that something deeply embarrassing was going on.

One thing that's really important to understand is that when people of race X say something person Y is doing or saying is racist, the last thing person Y should be doing is trying to defend their actions as non-racist. It's not about what you think you meant. You may think your intentions are clear and obvious and non-racist. But meaning comes from both sides. If someone feels marginalised or belittled by your words or your behaviour, just cut it out. Try to learn from it. But don't go down the path of thinking that people of race X would be fine about it if they would only make the effort to see it from your privileged perspective.

That aside, there's a huge difference between saying that racism is prevalent in a culture and saying that everyone in that culture is a racist. Sounds like there's a bit of 'the lady doth protest too much' going on here.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:37 AM on October 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Being a Dalek is hilarious and silly.
posted by flabdablet at 3:42 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jimbob: Look at me. I started this post declaring that Australia is racist, now I'm defending it against accusations of endemic racism. Look. Racism in Australia is quite different to everywhere else. It's also exactly the same as everywhere else.

It might seem weird, but that makes perfect sense.

Up above, blueberry linked to an interesting discussing on BBC World Service about this issue. I only listened to about half of it, but an interesting moment to me was a brief bit where they asked a black woman from the United States what her position on the whole thing was. Her reply, paraphrasing of course, was something like: "well, here in the US we'd probably be a lot more careful about that kind of thing, and we probably would never even let it on television, because in the US we are really, really not in the right place as far as race is concerned." They moved on without talking about her comment much, but I laughed a little and understood exactly what she meant, even if it was garbled by the fact that call-in shows rarely afford much time for clarity and careful thought: we're really careful about that stuff here, but that's precisely because we know that we've got a hell of a long way to go before we've really faced our problems surrounding race. She wanted to point that out, I think, because it's important to note: we can't really sit in judgment over anybody else on the race issue in general even if we can say blackface is racist.

It's our country to criticize. In fact, most of us (the good-hearted of us, anyway) spend the majority of our time telling our countrymen that there are a hell of a lot of things wrong here. But that doesn't excuse someone else who has no idea what they're talking about waltzing in and lecturing us about our problems; that kind of thing doesn't help anybody.

It's the same for you, I imagine.
posted by koeselitz at 3:45 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


flabdablet: Being a Dalek is hilarious and silly.

Damn it all, see, that was quite funny until it turned out the Dalek was supposed to be Pakistani. Why the hell did they have to throw that in?

Ah well. I guess I never liked Spike Milligan anyhow. That Premier League nonsense was an awful idea.

posted by koeselitz at 3:50 AM on October 9, 2009


Jimbob: here. (My mistake though, the policy had been changed by the time I read about it, and I only read about it because he was up before a tribunal).

"Having said that, you can't tell me there aren't pubs in Britain where black or asian people wouldn't be treated in a similar way."

Sadly, I'm sure you're right. Actually, my boss's (white) boyfriend was assaulted in a pub a few months back because they were drinking with Asian friends. And the BNP is a disgrace to this nation [I'm a Kiwi by the way, though - and I realise we have our own problems].

"Look at me. I started this post declaring that Australia is racist, now I'm defending it against accusations of endemic racism. Look. Racism in Australia is quite different to everywhere else. It's also exactly the same as everywhere else."

If this thread had been about NZ I'm sure my posts would look very similar to yours.
posted by Infinite Jest at 4:09 AM on October 9, 2009


We're a young country and quite culturally diverse (the African comment above miffed me a bit, because I see plenty of Africans around)
Me too, for the same reason. Also lots of Asians, Europeans and every other 'ians and 'ese you can imagine. That doesn't mean Australia is not a racist country, any more than having three people with a disability, an African (I think), a Fijian and a few other nationalities working for me means I can claim to be exempt from accusations of discrimination.

Of course Australia is a racist country, just like every other country. To make a claim of racism based on this skit is ludicrous, though. As someone mentioned way up there ^, one of the most vilified groups in this country are the Kiwis. Plenty of people (including me) have been denied employment simply by opening their mouth. Racism is such a deeply-seated part of the human psyche that to call out a single ill-advised act as clear evidence of racism is to make a mockery of anyone who has been a victim of any form of discrimination. Sure, you see plenty of people of different 'races' around, but what does that mean? Because we let them in the country, that makes us not racist? Because, if a culturally sensitive American had not been on that particular show, we wouldn't even be having this conversation, nobody having noticed the casual racism?

We are all a bunch of racists at core, as far as I'm concerned. I doubt that will ever change, unless we can manage to sufficiently cross-breed to the extent that we are all the same. Even then, we will find a way to put each other in categories and make fun of the differences.

Basically, people suck. You people pointing and gasping at Australians, you suck just as bad as everyone else. Don't pretend that you're better, because you're not.
posted by dg at 4:12 AM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


If this thread had been about NZ I'm sure my posts would look very similar to yours.

I think most Aussies in this thread would look to New Zealand and credit you with doing a bit better than ourselves, at least in terms of dealing with your colonial past and indigenous peoples.
posted by Jimbob at 4:19 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


that was quite funny until it turned out the Dalek was supposed to be Pakistani. Why the hell did they have to throw that in?

What have you got against Pakistanis?
posted by flabdablet at 4:21 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


We are all a bunch of racists at core, as far as I'm concerned. I doubt that will ever change, unless we can manage to sufficiently cross-breed to the extent that we are all the same. Even then, we will find a way to put each other in categories and make fun of the differences.

Basically, people are 沐 猴 而 冠

posted by flabdablet at 4:27 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't watch the show, why would I? It was lowest common denominator stuff in the 1980s when I was a kid, and it has aged even worse.
And I agree Australia is a terribly racist country at an overt level. Last week I was chatting with the father of one of my kid's classmates. He made some remarks about "those guys" just having an unfair advantage in rugby league compared to whites, faster, stronger, fitter. He said it admiringly, but it was the most racist thing I had heard in ages.
I think it was a good illustration of Australian racism. There are a lot of people, especially older people, who grew up categorising people by race - the comment about splitting hairs about Greeks and Macedonians is true - but largely that type of racism drops away after a generation or two. Greek and Italian immigrants were victimised in the 1960s, Vietnamese regugees in the 70s and 80s, these days it is Muslim refugees from the middle east who bear the brunt as the newest arrivals. Through it all has been an endemic racism against Aboriginals that is only getting slightly less bad recently.
Australians as a group, tend to racially categorise others, but they make it a point of pride to treat individuals as individuals.
This is why you can see the examples up thread of friends making careless remarks in fun that would be deeply offensive if meant maliciously. (and I can see why those on the receiving end find them thoughtless and distasteful)
On the whole, I find the respect for individuals incredibly admirable, and probably one of the more unique things about Australia - we have fewer of the "I hate all them" types because ours are "I hate all them except Mr Patel at the shop, Mohammad at work and Ng my doctor". Obviously not great, but it results in less of the racial hate crimes and violence visible elsewhere in the world. We hate wogs as a group, sure, but not ones we know or encounter, because then the respect for the individual almost always takes over.
As an aside, I think this is why a lot of the community didn't understand the Indian outrage about some students being beaten up. Nobody denies it happens, but I think most Aussies reckon the motivation isn't particularly racial.
But the point here, is that while the idiots on this show doing black face are clearly thoughtless, they weren't being particularly racist for their society.
We don't have a race problem with African-Australians. We have a race problem with native Australians (and some immigrants), but it is much, much more in the vein of the US attitude toward Native Americans, or the Euro view of the Romany.
We simply don't have a cultural background of a dark skinned (and hence very visible) "other" in large numbers with a long history of repression.
Those fools weren't making fun of African Americans as a race, they were making fun of white guys dressing up silly, and fun of Michael Jackson.
Yeah, it was distasteful, as I am sure all the rest of the show was, but it wasn't some nasty racial slur in this culture.
Which is why this is a news story - HC Jr, a person from a culture where this is most heavily frowned upon called it out (and good on him, but why, god, was he on this sewer level show), and this is also why a lot of people's reaction has been that is is just a laugh.
Yes, it was dumb, yes, it was insensitive to an American, and yes, I would be much happier if this shit was off the air, but to conflate it with racism against Aboriginal people, or to suggest black and white minstrels is somehow a slur directed at Aboriginals is factually incorrect.
I can go along with the line it was inherently racist, it certainly was, but it deviates so far from the "normal" type of racism in this country, that I'm not surprised people are not seeing it as what they 'normally' brand as racism and thinking the response has been over the top.
posted by bystander at 4:38 AM on October 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Basically, people suck. You people pointing and gasping at Australians, you suck just as bad as everyone else. Don't pretend that you're better, because you're not.

Yeah, but you suck worse because of your defeatist attitude. Declaring us all racists at the core doesn't mean you've stumbled some previously unknown wisdom. Nor does it level the playing field by making us all as bad as each other, since we aren't all as bad in this respect.

Some of us abhor the kind of casual racism we're talking about, some others traffic in it and yet others applaud the men in blackface for making them laugh.

We're all products and victims of our cultures. This one skit doesn't prove Australia is a racist country but it does feed a prevailing belief that some people have of Australia and it is symptomatic of the casual racism that infects Australia.

As I've alluded to earlier, at least America has their slave-owning past and the KKK as clear indicators of the worst kinds of blatant racism; Americans are more sensitive to race portrayals because it's out in the open. Australia's racism is more casual and harder to fight; throwing your hands up and saying "well we're all racist" helps nobody and perpetuates these damaging attitudes.
posted by crossoverman at 4:39 AM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


As an expatriate living in Australia I can give this viewpoint I believe. In England, as a child, I regularly watched The Black and White Minstrel Show (1960s), it was boring as shit but my grandparents loved it (and I had no voice) so I sat through it. When I came to Australia and saw the same sort of thing (not in a Variety Show format, but as comedy) I was a bit WTF? (but I didn't say anything). To see it resurface in a revival show is shameful and wrong. Sorry.
posted by tellurian at 5:17 AM on October 9, 2009


koeselitz: THANK YOU. Your comment summed up the issue *perfectly* about why doing any sort of (ethnic)face act is problematic. A few months ago I had a conflict with my burlesque teacher - who should really know better given her academic background - who was part of a stereotypical China Doll act that did not involve any ethnic Chinese being performed at an event not known for being culturally diverse. (Least you could do at a Medieval Fayre was actually *be* medieval!) And now I'm trying unsuccessfully to inform a white British performer that his blackface act is not a good idea, only to be told by others that I'm "jumping the gun"! Argh!
posted by divabat at 5:20 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow. Did somebody really say this:

I mean, he's adopted the appearance and all the mannerisms of the black guy standing next to him. At the very least, he must believe that all Southern religious people are inferior.

Harry Connick Jr. is a southern Christian. He's also a guest on a skit by Orlando Jones, who, you might have noticed, is black; Jones was also raised in Mobile, Alabama. I'm not convinced you watched the skit, but there is no satire of religion going on there. There is a comic sketch based around the specifically stagy mannerisms popular among a number of preachers. It's not a cruel sketch, or a mocking sketch, and, in the case of both performers, humorously (and with a fairly light touch) references elements of a culture they both grew up in.

And this is so blatantly obvious, even on a cursory viewing, that the only reason this sketch can possibly be trotted out is to somehow try and discredit Harry Connick Jr, or make him out to be a hypocrite. But, you know something, Harry Connick Jr -- a man who has repeatedly expressed his cultural debt to the black community -- could have stood up in Klan robes and lit a cross, then turned and complained that the blackface sketch was racist, and he would still be right. Because the sketch is a grotesque mockery of black people, and you can't pass it off as ignorance, because some of it was borrowed directly from minstrel performances, and you can't track that stuff down and somehow avoid the discussions of racism that accompany them. And trying to defame the person who called it on the racism -- well, that's low, and you ought to apologize for that. Not only for misrepresenting the MAD-tv sketch, or for implying that the man who brought water to New Orleans when the government has sealed it off is somehow also a racist and certainly a hypocrite, but also for bringing down the quality of discussion here on MetaFilter by smearing your ignorance of nuance and history all over it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:36 AM on October 9, 2009 [28 favorites]


I met Connick once at a sushi restaurant in Port Douglas (north Queensland). He was there with Glenn Close and some other randoms. They were filming some war movie. Nice guys, both of 'em.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:42 AM on October 9, 2009


Uhh...so do you guys get Mad Men in Australia?

We do, but it's dumbed down for us.

It still has Arnold, Willis and Mr Drummond of course- always teaching them not to steal from cars, do drugs and stuff- you know, act like white millionaires instead of black people.

I tell you what- Hey Hey it's Saturday may be a sad throwback to the 70s- and it was always pretty awful and immature - but you want to talk about racism on television- we have nothing that could compare to the vicious racism that US TV passes off for news and informed comment.
posted by mattoxic at 5:43 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


As for the preacher clip, I actually lol'd when that was thrown up on some "news" segment (probably on that godawful Sunrise with Bullet-Head and Mel). They were breathless. "IS HARRY CONNICK JR. A HYPOCRITE? YOUTUBE FOOTAGE OF A SKETCH..." blah blah blah. Fuck, I wish I never hooked my TV back up. I only got it to play Xbox on but the aerial cable was right there!
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:48 AM on October 9, 2009


...we have nothing that could compare to the vicious racism that US TV passes off for news and informed comment.

But dude that doesn't matter. That's "pot calling the kettle black" bullshit. It doesn't matter if somebody is more racist, or more sexist. Sure on a galactic scale genocide is worse than stabbing a single person to death but it's still murder and it's still bad! "But I only stabbed that one guy and Alexander the Great stabbed hundreds and we think he's the best thing ever! Why is everybody picking on me?"
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:56 AM on October 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Can I mention that one of my favorite movies, "White Christmas," has an entire song-and-dance number called the Minstrel Show?

My wife & I watch the movie every year around Christmas time. While I am excited to share it with my kids as they grow up, I also dread explaining that segment. (That one, and the "Choreography" number, which we usually fast-forward through.)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:12 AM on October 9, 2009


On the whole, I find the respect for individuals incredibly admirable, and probably one of the more unique things about Australia
I've said on here before that this was my experience with racism in England growing up.
I used to work on building sites where we would be mostly white English with some Welsh, Scots, black Caribbean and other blokes and there'd be this piss-taking based on stereotypes and general racist views might be expressed on bigger questions but the individual people were all treated on their own merits.
Which is not to deny that it must have been dull as fuck for the non-English people hearing the same tired old crap for the ten thousandth time and ultimately an unhealthy and pernicious phenomenon that's happily dying out (though not piss-taking per se - I think there's a lot to be said for it as a way of shaping cultural norms; issue is what values it's based on), but there is as you say an admirable aspect to that. I'd put it that I think the cultural urge to 'fair play' trumped the bred-in bigotry, which is something I do think the English and Australians share and is a bonny baby not to be thrown out with scummy bathwater of other less worthy aspects of traditional culture.
posted by Abiezer at 6:25 AM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


TG- dude - It's nothing like the "pot calling the kettle black" (oh you!).

On one hand we have some misdirected twits on a 5 minute poorly thought through sketch and the other a commentators on a major US cable network regularly resorting to racism as part of their message. It's not a few mates getting together thinking that "this'll be a laugh".

It's a major network, production teams, writers, advertisers- all knowing that the message they are putting out is essentially is very damaging and often pure racism. - no other country has television like it - could you see O'Reilly and Beck on Australian TV? They wouldn't last an episode. Pot calling the kettle black- bullshit alright.

Granted, channel nine seem to not want to let go of the fifties but seriously- the Nine thing was embarrassing and - and fuck off anyone who thinks that this is some sort of mirror into Australia's soul. There are dumb fuckwit racists all over the world- and no country has a monopoly on them.
posted by mattoxic at 6:52 AM on October 9, 2009


Honestly I heard about this and didn't think much of it at the time. Now that I saw it I cracked an unsure smile because honestly I did not know how to react to this at first. I then took a sip of tea and thought about it. This is a slap in the face to any black person. This is not a group (not the whole nation)* of Australians trying to be innocently funny but a serious "this is what we think about you" slap to the face. Not cool....

* I know not all Australians are like this. It just sucks when a small group does something and makes you look bad.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:25 AM on October 9, 2009


Ex-pat here. My first reaction on seeing this clip yesterday was that horrible sinking feeling of knowing that I was going to have to explain to everyone around me that no, not all Australians are as blinkered as the 70+% who've said in self-selected polls that they didn't see the problem with it. Of course the people who think it's all a bit of fun were the first to rush to the phone to record their opinions: the rest were too busy crawling under a chair hoping it was a bad dream.

I'll add my voice to the Aussies in this thread confirming that yes, of course Australia has an entrenched strain of racism, which has been at the heart of some bitter political battles right up to the present day. But I question any claim that "Australia is racist" or "Australians are racist", the same way I've argued with friends who've casually said "America is/Americans are [right wing, racist, xenophobic, etc.]" throughout the Bush presidency or before it. Australia, like America, Britain, France and anywhere else, is divided on such matters, and the battle for control of the cultural debate, which among other things determines what's acceptable to air on television and what isn't, ain't over by a long shot.

The broad brush is too tempting and too easy; yes, Howard was prime minister for eleven years and ushered in a disturbing shift in the national mood, particularly noticeable to those who've been away for a while (I remember really noticing a difference in the tone of the media between visits home in late 2003 and late 2005, in terms of War on Terror paranoia and the conservative attitudes that went with it - far worse than in Britain, yet with far less justification in terms of immediate threat). But I remind myself that the "golden age" of Australian conservatism, the Menzies years of the 1950s and 1960s, were just as contested at the time: Menzies only narrowly won the 1954 and 1961 elections, and for the sake of a few seats each time our account of that era would have been quite different.

Australians saying they don't find blackface offensive also have short memories. The Black and White Minstrel Show aired on Australian TV as well during the 1970s, and everyone under the age of 90 knows why it hasn't been on our screens for thirty years. Some are now claiming that there's nothing offensive here because none was intended, and that anything said to the contrary is political correctness gone mad, but for crying out loud: putting a bunch of guys in boot-polish on a high-profile show on national television is NOT on a par with telling a racist joke to your mates and telling the one who says "steady on" to lighten up. The latter is bad enough, but it's a personal failing; this was an institutional one.

To put it into perspective, this isn't as disturbing as the Tampa affair, which was a national shame that nevertheless got John Howard re-elected (and a national shame because it did), but it's still plenty embarassing. The worst of it? That this has been sparked by a show that was a national embarassment twenty years ago, whether or not it featured guys in blackface. If the BBC can tie itself in knots over two radio announcers leaving lewd jokes on a fellow comedian's answering machine, Channel Nine should be shutting its doors and taking down its broadcast antenna.

(They won't, of course, but it'll be extremely interesting to see if they give Hey Hey a full series after this.)
posted by rory at 7:32 AM on October 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


In today's Australian Blackface news:
THE ABC is pushing ahead with a satirical show that goes a step further than the controversial Hey Hey It's Saturday ''blackfaces'' performance that caused international outrage this week. ... In the episode, Safran travels to Barack Obama's home town of Chicago. After make-up artists transform him from white Jew to black brother, Safran meets two members of a militant, blacks-only organisation, attempts some hip-hop freestyling in a packed nightclub, and gets into arguments about racism at a speed-dating night for blacks.
posted by zamboni at 7:51 AM on October 9, 2009


I would have been shocked to find out that they were still doing blackface in the '70s or '80s.

How about 1991?
posted by mippy at 8:01 AM on October 9, 2009


Huh.

From that article zamboni linked: "In this episode John makes a genuine attempt to see what it is like to walk in the shoes of others."

Instead of disguising him as a black guy and following him around Chicago, why don't they just follow a black guy around Chicago?
posted by creasy boy at 8:07 AM on October 9, 2009


NB this was in the UK, to add context to the mentions of the Black and White Minstrel Show above. Oh, and this was on morning television.
posted by mippy at 8:11 AM on October 9, 2009


Instead of disguising him as a black guy and following him around Chicago, why don't they just follow a black guy around Chicago?

If they did that, it might be a heartfelt factual documentary, rather than a John Safran show.
He's a Jewish Australian comedy documentarian whose previous stunts have included a nudie run in Jerusalem, the installation of plaques denouncing Walt Disney's anti-Semitic past in strategic locations throughout the Disneyworld Small World ride, placing a voodoo hex on his ex-girlfriend, attempting to join the Ku Klux Klan, and getting a fatwa declared on an Australian TV host.
posted by zamboni at 8:57 AM on October 9, 2009


So, to summarize:

American MeFites: That's racist.

Australian MeFites: God, we're racists.

Other Australian MeFites: HOW DARE YOU AMERICANS CALL US RACIST YOU FOX NEWS WATCHING KLAN MEMBERS!

It's remarkable, on a site loaded with countless posts and comments by Americans about our past and current racism, that some Australians here would immediately jump to the conclusion that we're acting lilywhite about our past and present.

But hey, if it makes you feel better to rail against America in your need to knee-jerk defend your fine country, please, by all means. We're the world's punching bag already, we can take it.

But it still doesn't make that sketch any less inappropriate. And racist.
posted by dw at 9:02 AM on October 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


Well, America is really fucking racist - there's no real denying that these days, with the whole "they elected Obama so they can't be that racist' thing being ground beneath the boots of a thousand teabaggers. So when you guys do that smuggo thing it is a bit headscratching.
posted by Artw at 9:08 AM on October 9, 2009


Not that the sketch isn't really inappropriate. And racist. And really, really fucking bad.
posted by Artw at 9:08 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Christ I hate John Safran too. See what we have to put up with here? Maybe I'm a self-loathing Australian. Is that possible?

We're the world's punching bag already, we can take it.

Is this where I get out the teensy-weensy violin? :P In fairness America (not Americans) is the world's punching bag because it's spent a good portion of the last 60 years teabagging most of the planet.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:16 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


TheNewWazoo: "Greeks are "wogs" and Macedonians are "macks", if I recall correctly.

To all those Aussies ashamed of their countrymen, good on you.
"

Ugh, like those pasty shrimp sucking cork-hats have the capacity to feel shame.

(I kid. THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE AUSTRALIA)
posted by boo_radley at 9:33 AM on October 9, 2009


HOW DARE YOU AMERICANS CALL US RACIST YOU FOX NEWS WATCHING KLAN MEMBERS!

So, is this a bad time to point out that Rupert Murdoch is Australian?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:35 AM on October 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Maybe I'm a self-loathing Australian. Is that possible?

Possible? It's traditional!

Cultural cringe, Convict stain, Tall poppy syndrome...
posted by zamboni at 9:40 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


NOT AS BAD AS TROPIC THUNDER IMO
posted by dydecker at 9:41 AM on October 9, 2009


"In America, it would be like 'Hey, Hey, There's No More Show"

Are you sure? Ever see anything produced by Tyler Perry?
posted by Zambrano at 9:59 AM on October 9, 2009


In fairness America (not Americans) is the world's punching bag because it's spent a good portion of the last 60 years teabagging most of the planet.

Damn straight skippy. And don't tell me you didn't love those last 60 years, because they were \m/ AWESOME \m/

I hope the Chinese took our lessons to heart and make their coming years as World's Teabagger Nation EVEN MORE \m/ AWESOME \m/
posted by dw at 10:30 AM on October 9, 2009


The most embarrassing thing about the teabagger epithet is that a certain percentage of the American population called it down upon us by self-applying it. Thanks, schmucks. Now we're the world's teabaggers.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:41 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's a major network, production teams, writers, advertisers- all knowing that the message they are putting out is essentially is very damaging and often pure racism. - no other country has television like it - could you see O'Reilly and Beck on Australian TV?

Um, you do realize FOX News is run by an Australian, right?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:47 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Um, you do realize FOX News is run by an Australian, right?

He became a seppo years ago, and we don't want him back.
posted by zamboni at 10:51 AM on October 9, 2009


Aha! Screw you Australians! Jeremy Clarkson is winning it for England!
posted by Artw at 10:55 AM on October 9, 2009


Sys Rq: Um, you do realize FOX News is run by an Australian, right?

zamboni: He became a seppo years ago, and we don't want him back.

Ah - so I'll just stick him in the 'Mel Gibson file' here, shall I?
posted by koeselitz at 11:52 AM on October 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Zambrano: Are you sure? Ever see anything produced by Tyler Perry?

Wait a minute - what's that supposed to mean? I always thought Tyler Perry's work was fine and entertaining stuff, if a tiny bit melodramatic. What was I missing?
posted by koeselitz at 11:54 AM on October 9, 2009


Mel Gibson is from New York. He was 12 when he moved to Australia.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:10 PM on October 9, 2009


djduckie: On Bamboozled though, if someone wants to explain why the Moa Moas did what the did, it kind of confused me. It seemed like the main point of the movie was de la croix and how he changes, and the whole time mantan is a victim, even in the end (by a group that themselves are caricatures). It just seemed extreme, or is that the point?

Yeah, that's the point, I think. The point of Bamboozled and (in my view) the genius of it is that it turns a incisive satirical eye on every aspect of the racial divide in America. The Mau Maus (I don't know how it's supposed to be spelled, really) are a pretty good send-up of the impotent kind of black anger espoused popularly from NWA - which is ironically something a lot of white youth really identify with, sometimes disingenuously. That's also called out in the movie.

It's not really the kind of movie that has a good guy - they're all targets. And they all target everybody else. I think the really brutal thing about the movie is that, as you say, Man Ray, "Mantan," the poor black on the street with heart who just wants to make it, ends up crucified by every other group that claimed to be out to save him.
posted by koeselitz at 12:16 PM on October 9, 2009


Astro Zombie: Mel Gibson is from New York. He was 12 when he moved to Australia.

That's what I meant, that he's in the group of people who aren't really Australians, but are popularly seen as such. No facetiousness or irony intended.
posted by koeselitz at 12:17 PM on October 9, 2009


Ah. That makes sense.

That being said, he was terrific in Gallipoli.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:42 PM on October 9, 2009


Australians will claim anyone who spends too long in the area. Celebrities should be aware that as soon as they enter, the clock is ticking. For Mel Gibson, Jane Campion, the Finn brothers, and Ben Folds, it's already too late.
posted by No-sword at 2:14 PM on October 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


... whereas Nick Cave, who so far as I can tell hasn't lived in Australia for nigh on thirty years, will always be an Australian.

I suppose there's nothing wrong with being picky in who you call a native son.
posted by koeselitz at 2:57 PM on October 9, 2009


Of course, some people will always be foreigners: Joh Bjelke-Petersen remains a Kiwi.
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:13 PM on October 9, 2009


NOT AS BAD AS TROPIC THUNDER IMO

Yes, this is the other ridiculous notion that's been thrown around in defense of the skit. But the character isn't funny because he's black nor is made fun of for same. The character is made fun of for being one of those actors who does crazy body altering things for their art and won't break character "until after the DVD commentary". There's also an African American character in the film pointing out how ridiculous he is being from beginning to end. Plus, personally, there's something inherently different between Robert Downey Jnr's make-up job and guys with frickin' shoepolish on their faces!

Deep irony being that Downey Jnr's character was supposed to be an Australian method actor who transforms himself into a black man for the part of the movie-within-the-movie.
posted by crossoverman at 3:44 PM on October 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


...whereas Nick Cave, who so far as I can tell hasn't lived in Australia for nigh on thirty years, will always be an Australian.

Ditto Clive James, who has lived in England since 1962. Clever bugger, either way.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:26 PM on October 9, 2009


We live in the States, where my husband works hard to be sensitive to our American culture, even when he privately thinks something is a bit ridiculous. (I won't make a list - too many hot buttons that will only lead to derailment.) And part of being a good guest (and taxpayer) in the U.S., particularly while living in urban areas, means enduring a LOT of racism, racism that the average American never notices, because in America you're supposed to feel so bad about all of the racist crap perpetuated by whites that, in some bizarre effort to "even things up," racism towards whites is met with eye rolls and horrible accusations toward the victim.

...In America, very smart and well-intentioned people ignore any anti-white sentiment and decry all anti-black sentiment (or perceived anti-black sentiment - not everyone who disagrees with Obama does so because he's sort of black, but whatever) to such extremes that racial tension seems to get worse with every day.
I Actually would like to see an explanation of the "Anti-White" racism that's so prevalent in the U.S.
posted by delmoi at 8:57 PM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


My husband is Australian. It's not in his background to see blackface as anything more than something silly that people used to do. Is he a racist? A hater? An insensitive jerk? [...]

We live in the States, where my husband works hard to be sensitive to our American culture, even when he privately thinks something is a bit ridiculous. (I won't make a list - too many hot buttons that will only lead to derailment.) And part of being a good guest (and taxpayer) in the U.S., particularly while living in urban areas, means enduring a LOT of racism, racism that the average American never notices, because in America you're supposed to feel so bad about all of the racist crap perpetuated by whites that, in some bizarre effort to "even things up," racism towards whites is met with eye rolls and horrible accusations toward the victim.


To answer your question, yes, your husband is racist.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:29 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, sorry, I forgot: *rolls eyes*
posted by Sys Rq at 9:32 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not in his background to see blackface as anything more than something silly that people used to do.

His "background"? What the hell does that mean? No matter what your "background", if one educates oneself about the historical practice of blackface entertainment one can then acknowledge the damage that it did to the popular perception (among whites) of black people in America (and elsewhere) and any number of related social ills (like, say... inequality in its various forms).

...in America you're supposed to feel so bad about all of the racist crap perpetuated by whites that, in some bizarre effort to "even things up," racism towards whites is met with eye rolls and horrible accusations toward the victim.

You're "supposed"? "...racism toward whites"? "... the VICTIM"?? ... Where do you get this stuff? It's rich, really it is.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:06 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


We're the world's punching bag already, we can take it.

It's because we hate your freedoms
posted by mattoxic at 12:29 AM on October 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was going to write something about this, but in the end this comment in the inevitable Metatalk thread said it better than I can.

I will say this - I don't think it's any different anywhere else. I've lived in Hong Kong and Japan, and the same shit happens there, but maybe not so obviously. I've been to Ireland with my wife and been amazed by the shit Irish kids dished out to her. Read the threads on any country's news sites and you will inevitably see the same kinds of crap.

The only other point I want to make about racism in Australia is that before anything gets better, everyone is going to have to learn that "Australian" is not "white". Because a lot of people still do think that.
posted by awfurby at 12:48 AM on October 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


awfurby, well said.

It's not in his background to see blackface as anything more than something silly that people used to do.
His "background"? What the hell does that mean? No matter what your "background", if one educates oneself about the historical practice of blackface entertainment one can then acknowledge the damage that it did to the popular perception (among whites) of black people in America (and elsewhere) and any number of related social ills (like, say... inequality in its various forms).


The point you are missing is that, for Australians, blackface is usually just some minor memory of the dim distant past and has no real meaning for them at all. Of course, if one chooses to educate oneself about this, one would know about the history of the practice and would understand exactly how and why this is insulting. But, if you have never known that blackface is a very big issue for certain people, how would you know that it is something you should educate yourself about? From what you wrote, you are clearly completely familiar with the issues around Australia's 'stolen generation' and have a full understanding about what would and would not be considered insulting in an entertainment context to indigenous Australians. You clearly also have a full understanding of the cultural implications of everything you see. Otherwise, how could you know what is acceptable and what isn't?
posted by dg at 4:30 AM on October 10, 2009


From what you wrote, you are clearly completely familiar with the issues around Australia's 'stolen generation' and have a full understanding about what would and would not be considered insulting in an entertainment context to indigenous Australians.

I know what people are referring to when they say "stolen generation" and I'm aware that Australian Aborigines have gotten the shitty end of the stick. And it's pretty damned easy, thank you very much, to imagine what "would and would not be considered insulting in an entertainment context to indigenous Australians". Like, say, white people in blackface dressing in loincloths with frizzy-haired wigs and blowing into cardboard tubes as though they were didgeridoos. How's that? Would that be a "full understanding"? Full enough for ya? Well, I reckon the Australian husband in question might be able to figure something like that out on his own. Unless he's, you know, a complete moron.

In other words, this ain't rocket science, dg.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:57 AM on October 10, 2009


Of course, if one chooses to educate oneself about this, one would know about the history of the practice and would understand exactly how and why this is insulting.

And with worldwide attention focused on the Harry Connick, Jr. reaction hopefully many in Australia (and elsewhere) will now understand why blackface is considered racist, insulting and wholly inappropriate.
posted by ericb at 10:10 AM on October 10, 2009


I'll bet my immortal soul that most of you bleating about it wouldn't have bat an eyelid if that nice young man hadn't pointed out how wrong it was and how bad you should all feel.

Give me a fucking break. Granted, I don't know what it is like to be an Australian watching this, but - while race is a tricky issue and there a thousand little facets about it - there are a few things which are just instant, unambiguous shorthand for "I'm a fucking racist" and blackface is near the top of that list, just underneath burning crosses. The astounding thing here is that anyone wouldn't see this for what it was.

Look at the Japanese program with the Louis Armstrong impersonator. That, to me, was more than fine, because the point of it was the guy trying to be absolutely perfect at imitating a specific person's look and sound and mannerisms and everything else, and it came through as an expression of love for Armstrong's work.

The blackface on "Hey Hey," however, was reductivist, which is the point of blackface in general. It says, "the totality of this person is the act that he's black." The minstrel show shuck-n-jive just then determines what "black" means and ascribes it to the whole race - lazy, uneducated, etc. This group apparently saw the Jackson 5, realized they were black, and that's the joke. That's it. And that's fucking racist.

Racism can't only be in the eye of the beholder. There needs to be intent in the heart of the 'perpetrator', a real belief in 'race', and that some 'races' are inferior to others.

This, right here, is the perfect picture of white privilege. Just so's you know. I'm still on the fence about the usefulness of the Bingo Cards, but I'll just say that the primary reason that racism is so intractable is that people in the ethnicity in power will always think that racism has to be intentional and active and purposeful - it doesn't, and 99.9% of the time it isn't.

Anyway, it seems like in the end, there are some racist fucks in Australia, in a culture that condones that sort of thing more so (or rather in a different way) than in the States, and that there are also a lot of people (or at least a number of mefites) down under who recognize this problem and sure-as-shit don't need an American like me telling me how to get their house in order, when The States aren't doing any better on this, just dealing with a different set of problems.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:34 PM on October 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is it true that blackface in the UK refers to a disguise for when you are in the dark? I've been having a discussion with someone over their blackface routine and someone came in saying I'm being too simplistic about British culture.
posted by divabat at 2:28 PM on October 10, 2009


There's a whole blackface tradition in mumming and guising (Ireland too I believe) that had no racial connotations whatsoever (just that soot was the widely available way of concealing your appearance) but of course there is a complex cultural history. Gets mixed up with Christian triumphalism over the Crusades in some iterations, though the Turkish Knight is not a particularly negative portrayal of a baddie, and I believe certain tropes from minstrelry did infect the late Victorian folk-revivalist versions, though again you'd be a bit tendentious to claim there was anything like the same predjudicial implications involved.
posted by Abiezer at 2:36 PM on October 10, 2009


As for "in the dark", should add there was also just the far more bog standard thing of blacking up when you went poaching as it lessened your chances of getting nicked for stealing your Lordship's game. Perhaps that's what they meant? Men who went lamping in the village I grew up in would black up to do it.
posted by Abiezer at 2:47 PM on October 10, 2009


Is it true that blackface in the UK refers to a disguise for when you are in the dark?

Not in Bristol/the Southwest of England, and I've never heard that term before. But the UK is old as sin, and cultural differences vary by very small distances.
posted by saturnine at 7:58 PM on October 10, 2009


Minstrelsy in Australia : A Brief Overview.
posted by zamboni at 11:49 PM on October 10, 2009


And it's pretty damned easy, thank you very much, to imagine what "would and would not be considered insulting in an entertainment context to indigenous Australians". Like, say, white people in blackface dressing in loincloths with frizzy-haired wigs and blowing into cardboard tubes as though they were didgeridoos. How's that? Would that be a "full understanding"? Full enough for ya? Well, I reckon the Australian husband in question might be able to figure something like that out on his own. Unless he's, you know, a complete moron.
In other words, this ain't rocket science, dg.


No, it's much more complicated than rocket science, actually. Otherwise, we wouldn't be here.

Some indigenous Australians would think the sight of white people in blackface dressing in loincloths with frizzy-haired wigs and blowing into cardboard tubes as though they were didgeridoos to be fucking hilarious. Some would be insulted and some wouldn't care. Don't pretend that you know how every person from a particular cultural grouping would react to any stimulus, because you can't possibly know.

It seems that lots of people who had prior knowledge of the level of distaste for blackface are very upset, but an equally large number of people know it was tasteless but still don't understand why such a big fuss is being made over it (if it matters, I knew as soon as I saw it that it would be insulting to many, particularly to one of the judges, because he happened to be from the US). As inconceivable as it may be to people from the US, the cultural history of America does not feature highly in the Australian school syllabus. For god's sake, it wasn't long ago that history in Australian schools barely mentioned Australia, concentrating instead on the glory of England. The point is that, if you are from Australia and know about the level of distaste for blackface, it's because you either sought the information out or happened to come across it as an adult, because you sure as hell didn't learn it at school. I won't speak for other countries, but Australian adults often consider their education complete when they leave high school and seek to never learn another thing for the rest of their lives.
posted by dg at 12:56 AM on October 11, 2009


Some indigenous Australians would think the sight of white people in blackface dressing in loincloths with frizzy-haired wigs and blowing into cardboard tubes as though they were didgeridoos to be fucking hilarious. Some would be insulted and some wouldn't care.

Sigh... hey, that may well be true. But I'd answer that with this: as long as there are those who would be insulted by cheap blackface portrayals, and there certainly will be, why would anyone do it? Particularly given the history of Aborigine/white relations. This discussion started with someone saying why should their Australian husband see blackface as anything other than some silly little insignificant thing from the distant past, and I still maintain that there is no rationale, no excuse for not, at the very least, having some inkling that this might just be a BAD THING. So let me abandon my earlier argument, then, and say that the Australian husband in question in fact needn't have ever heard of American blackface tradition. I'd say it'd be enough to have heard a little something of the historical trampling of the Aborigines by white settlers in Australia in order for him to know, or at the very least, have some suspicion that this might not be the coolest thing for a white man to do.

And here's one thing we might also consider: never mind insulting the people you're mimicking, how about the man putting on the blackface himself? If he himself doesn't feel, somewhere deep inside, that this is demeaning the portrayed AND the portrayer, well... he's what I'd charitably call clueless and rather pathetic.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:38 AM on October 11, 2009


I just want to thank Katallus and Uncanny Hengeman for invoking the Herd, a band I'd never heard of but who I've now been listening to on Rhapsody since yesterday thanks to their comment. This shit's fire.
posted by johngoren at 8:46 AM on October 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sigh... hey, that may well be true. But I'd answer that with this: as long as there are those who would be insulted by cheap blackface portrayals, and there certainly will be, why would anyone do it? Particularly given the history of Aborigine/white relations.
That's a valid point and I'm not really arguing against it. The point I am trying so inneffectively to make is that there seems to be an underlying assumption that these 'perfor
ers' knew how offensive their actions would be and did it anyway. In fact, I'm pretty sure they were very surprised by the shitstorm that has resulted. Hopefully, being doctors and therefore at least reasonably intelligent, they now understand a bit better, as do lots of Australians. It's a shame so many people had to be hurt as part of the learning process, but that's often the way things work.

There is certainly a case for channel nine to answer for because, regardless of the ignorance of the 'performers', they have no excuse for not knowing better.

I still think the issue is a lot more complex than many are prepared to admit. It's simply not the case that just because something is common knowledge in one country it should be the same everywhere. The world really isn't that small yet.
posted by dg at 1:53 PM on October 11, 2009


The six men who put on the skit have now hired a PR firm "to protect them from the global backlash". The six doctors - Anand Kumaradeva, Suresh da Silva, Joseph Macdessi, Harry Koumoukelis, Mark Sader and David Jefferson - have gone into hiding.

When I first heard about their performance I was outraged at this display of white privilege, but now that I've read the names I'm confused and my anger is unfocused and lacking direction. I think I need an ethnographer to help me sort it all out.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:59 PM on October 11, 2009


5 . Minutes: Production Meeting, Hey Hey It’s Saturday, October 6, 2009-10-11

Ben Pobjie writes:

Present: Mr D. Somers, Mr R. Symons, Ms L. Nixon, Mr J. Blackman, Mr O. Ostrich

Apologies: Mr R. Gilbert, Mr M. Meldrum, Mr P. Duck

Reading of minutes from last meeting: All agreed that first reunion special was a major success, but possibly failed to "push the boundaries" enough. Suggested that for second special, increase frequency and volume of Dickie Knee interjections. It was agreed that sound effects were not zany enough -- Mr D. Somers requested trebling of zaniness budget. Mr Somers also requested extension of running time to five hours to accommodate drum solos -- doubt was expressed over network’s response to this.

New business: Planning for second reunion special was reported to be "almost complete". Mr J. Blackman tabled 50-page summary of suggested gay jokes to be used during Molly Meldrum segment. Room collapsed into laughter. After five minutes attempting to restore order, Mr D. Somers cleared the room, suggesting they reconvene half an hour later.

Half an hour later: Meeting reconvened. Mr O. Ostrich repeated last week’s demand for larger salary. Mr Ostrich was asked to tone down his profane language and reminded that he is, in fact, a puppet. Subject dropped.

At this point, Ms L. Nixon was heard to giggle.

Disaster-chef -- Mr Somers moved that it be entered into the minutes that Disaster-chef segment was "comedy gold" and that it be repeated this week. Motion passed unanimously. Letter drafted to Nine management pitching topical youth-oriented spin-off titled Hey Hey It’s MasterChef spoofs. Mr Symons suggests alternative title iSpoof 2.1. As show’s resident hip rock legend/intellectual heavyweight, his suggestion taken under consideration for future development.

At this point, Ms L. Nixon repeated her earlier giggle.

Mr J. Blackman raised possibility of reviving "The Great Aussie Joke" with Maurie Fields. The subject of Mr Fields’s death was discussed at length, with Mr Blackman forcefully putting forward his opinion that "I think we could still get away with it". Mr Blackman demonstrated with wooden pole and old Dickie Knee footage how inanimate objects can be given the appearance of life. Room convinced; unanimously agreed that inquiries should be made as to the whereabouts and availability of Mr Fields’s body.

Mr Somers made speech emphasising Hey Hey’s importance as showcase for exciting new Australian talent, asking for ideas as to hot new bands to feature on show.

A prolonged silence was then heard, during which Ms L. Nixon giggled.

After ten minutes it was agreed to ask John Farnham back.

Group moved on to deciding which acts to include in new Red Faces segment. Final spot came down to choice between "Jackson Jive", "Schmuckie the Jew With The Giant Nose", "The Asian Driver Song", and "Al-Boomah, the Exploding Arab Clown". Mr Ostrich points out that Schmuckie may be a risky choice, given that judge Harry Connick Jr is Jewish and might take offence. In deference to Connick’s sensibilities, it is agreed not to put Schmuckie on. All agreed that a bullet has been dodged.

A lengthy discussion about relative merits of Jackson Jive versus the Arab Clown. Mr Blackman raised possibility of doing something "about the gays", and was generally ignored. Mr Somers put issue to the vote, and "Jackson Jive" was selected to appear on Red Faces by a score of 3-2.

Mr Symons expressed concern that blackface in Jackson Jive skit could be construed as racist by some. Mr Symons was shouted down as it was loudly pointed out that Australia is not a racist country, and that he should "get a f-cking sense of humour" (Mr Ostrich). Mr Somers also explained that one of the Jackson Jive performers is Indian, thus eliminating any possibility of racism. Mr Symons satisfied by this explanation; all happy.

While on the subject, Mr Blackman suggested a call be put through to Kamahl to see if he would like to participate in Jackson Jive performance, given that he is also "black, in a funny way". General agreement. Andrew Fyfe also to be contacted for preliminary sketches for possible development into clever black-people cartoons.

Meeting ended, with agreement to reconvene in one week to plan for triumphant return as weekly show next year. Mr Somers thanked all present for their ongoing commitment to "returning good wholesome family entertainment" to Australian television screens. Ms Nixon giggled. Meeting dissolved.
posted by wilful at 8:26 PM on October 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Some random thoughts just occurred to me, in regards as to whether we Australians should be aware of how offensive 'blackface' is.

When I, personally, think of 'blackface' / minstrel shows, I immediately think of Golliwog Dolls.

I've been with a couple of Australians, of my generation and an older generation, who upon seeing a Golliwog doll for sale (in an antiques shop, or somewhere like that), declare "Wow! I thought they were illegal!", with an apparent associated feeling of anti-PC indignation.

It seems that your average Australian is quite aware of the offensiveness of Golliwog Dolls, to the extent that they believe them to be illegal. It seems a stretch that they wouldn't apply the same logic to blackface.
posted by Jimbob at 9:41 PM on October 11, 2009


See, now I don't know whether it's OK to laugh at tonight's episode of Good News Week. I mean, it's too late because I already have, but should I feel bad about it?

Jimbob, the doll thing is a good point - I don't think anyone would honestly not be appalled at the thought of buying/giving a child a golliwog doll. Although I seem to remember seeing somewhere (I want to say Aldi but, you know, I can't do that) advertising them not so long ago and then withdrawing them very quickly.
posted by dg at 4:32 AM on October 12, 2009


See, now I don't know whether it's OK to laugh at tonight's episode of Good News Week. I mean, it's too late because I already have, but should I feel bad about it?

Yes. You should feel very bad about it. And I say that not knowing one single thing about what was on the show, or what kind of show it is, or anything. But I do know that you should feel bad.

And, where can I get one of these "golliwog" dolls? Being an American, and unfamiliar with the nuances of Australian culture, I'd of course have no way of knowing that they might be offensive in any way! ;-)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:12 AM on October 12, 2009


Well, see for yourself.

I'll keep an eye out for the next time I see golliwog dolls around - if I see one, I'll pick one up for you. Do you have a preference for size? I think they only come in one colour.
posted by dg at 5:26 AM on October 12, 2009


Damn! I was hoping to get one of the 'whiteface' ones...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:40 AM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


where can I get one of these "golliwog" dolls?

Online, of course.
posted by flabdablet at 5:42 AM on October 12, 2009


Good lord, that's quite a collection!

Still... no whiteface.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:50 AM on October 12, 2009


Liquid Paper would probably help out there ...
posted by dg at 5:52 AM on October 12, 2009


I was going to quote some of the "history" of the golliwog doll written on that site, but decided to let it go. Plus, I need to go and wash my mouth out - I think I threw up a little.
posted by dg at 5:55 AM on October 12, 2009


Pretty good non-vomit-inducing writeup here.
posted by flabdablet at 6:10 AM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Still... no whiteface.

Oh nooo!!!
posted by flabdablet at 6:21 AM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was in the Blue Mountains this weekend. What did I see? And just for you flapjax at midnite.
posted by tellurian at 5:56 PM on October 12, 2009


Why, thank you, tellurian!

I swing more the Ann way, though...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:49 PM on October 12, 2009


My mum got my son a golliwog doll from the CWA stall at the ag show last year. But it was an intentional attempt at shitstirring my PC ways. Which didn't really work...

I read the unexpurgated Noddy books to my son, with Mr Plod, Golliwog, evil brownies and the lot. I'm such a bad parent.
posted by wilful at 8:05 PM on October 12, 2009


"Look at Snippety's balls! He is squeezing yellow water out of them!"

The giant squeezed his own balls as hard as he could, but nothing came out. Disgusted, he threw them into the pond, where they were eagerly gobbled up by a surprised water-turtle.
posted by flabdablet at 9:01 PM on October 12, 2009


Meanwhile, back on the topic of racism in Australian entertainment: here's a fine example, complete with rationale.
posted by flabdablet at 9:16 PM on October 12, 2009


flabdablet: while I'm right with you on the "fan"-made video part of your first YouTube link, you do realise that Kevin Bloody Wilson is an extremely popular entertainer amongst Australian Aborigines - due mainly to that particular song - don't you?

I'm not a fan - I pretty much grew out of juvenile pisspot humour when I stopped being a juvenile pisspot - but in past years he's spent more time travelling around doing shows in Aboriginal communities than anywhere else.
posted by Pinback at 12:55 AM on October 13, 2009


Actually the more I think about it, the more I realise that song is a perfect example of what lots of people on both sides have been saying.

You don't know the context of the song - Alan Bond, a "working-class boy made good" millionaire property developer / beer baron / media entrepreneur at the time, buying a house in Perth & trying to kick the Aboriginals off their government-semi-sanctioned camp in public land next door. Australians, particularly those from that era who remember it all, do know the context. And, in the case of that song, the context is everything

(In trying a quick google to find a good record of the goings-on of the time - which I couldn't; bits & pieces exist, but what I gave above is primarily from my own memory - I found this. Now, while I myself disagree with a lot of it (primarily because I think it's largely post-facto wank), I'll throw it out there because it does give some insight into the position of that sort of humour in Australia.)
posted by Pinback at 1:22 AM on October 13, 2009


you do realise that Kevin Bloody Wilson is an extremely popular entertainer amongst Australian Aborigines - due mainly to that particular song - don't you?

Wouldn't have posted it, else.

the more I think about it, the more I realise that song is a perfect example of what lots of people on both sides have been saying.

Couldn't agree more.
posted by flabdablet at 1:25 AM on October 13, 2009


[NOT FAT RICH BASTARDIST]
posted by flabdablet at 1:26 AM on October 13, 2009


(sorry, it's so hard to keep track of who's posting what in these 200+ comment threads. Oh well, it's out there & partially explained, anyway…)
posted by Pinback at 1:42 AM on October 13, 2009


Who are you calling rich!!!
posted by bystander at 2:24 AM on October 13, 2009


Sorry if that was unclear. Let's try it again.

[NOT FAT RICH BASTARDIST]
posted by flabdablet at 4:29 PM on October 13, 2009


« Older "Demon's Souls, an Atlus-published action-RPG out ...  |  Poet Robert Pinsky presents an... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments