Remember when something as outrageously racist as a minstrel show was considered funny? Mainstream funny, not white supremacist funny? No, me neither. That kind of cruelty was a long, long time ago. Or so we thought.
Then this week a 1980s variety television show called Hey Hey It’s Saturday came back on air for a reunion. As part of the Hey Hey reunion they included their traditional amateur talent competition, judged by a couple of celebrity guests, where among other acts they brought back a ‘blackface’ skit, and as Fuck Politeness explains, it was startlingly awful..
Oh, the thigh slapping hilarity of ‘blackface’ humour, of ‘Michael Jackson – is he black or white??’, of ‘Haw haw how silly are those black performers with their comical and unwittingly homoerotic moves’ etc etc.
Or as the AWL puts it..
You know what never gets old for the folks on Prison Island? Blackface! Oh, how they chuckle!
The ‘blackface’ skit is so extraordinarily offensive that you wonder how, as Sophie Black in Crikey does…
.. the Jackson Jive idea managed to get the tick from several producers, a talent scout, the host of the show and the six guys who took the time to sit in front of a mirror and apply boot polish to their visages.”
Well, you just need a sense of humour! But no-one has thinner skin than us trying to justify our racism. We can dish it out alright, but we sure can’t take it in Australia. A shiny new coin observes that..
This is another occasion in which the response to the offensive material is actually as shocking (if not more than) as the material itself. I mean, a blackface skit? In 2009? It almost defies belief, but now we have the well educated people of the popular news sites expressing their outrage that anyone point out their stunning racism to them.
We might tell you we like to laugh at ourselves, but seems we much prefer laughing at others. And looking at the ‘blackface’ skit Crimitism notes..
It’s been defended as a tribute to the Jackson Five. It wasn’t. There is no attempt made to look like the Jackon Five actually looked; these are minstrels with pitch-black skin and funny wigs. When they talk to each other, they sound like Amos & Andy. They go to great lengths to get a laugh out of Michael being (very) white and the others being (very) black. These aren’t people, they’re golliwogs.
An apology followed on the show. But this is only because Harry Connick Jnr, an unfortunate guest on the program, makes his disgust so clear (particularly backstage, apparently) that something has to be done to keep him from leaving. As the NY Magazine explains..
Guest American judge Harry Connick Jr. took issue, thankfully, giving the Jive a “0” and telling the tone-deaf host, “If they turned up like that in the United States, it’d be like Hey Hey There’s No More Show.”
But the apology from host, Daryl Somers is possibly even more dreadful than the ‘blackface’ skit itself. The Guardian is incredulous..
“I noticed that when we had the Jackson Jive on,” he says to Harry, “and it didn’t occur to me till afterwards, I think we may have offended you with that act … I know that to your countrymen, that’s an insult to have a blackface routine like that on the show, so I do apologise.”
Very good of him. In Australia, of course, it is perfectly acceptable, and we thank the nation for yet another important contribution to the annals of human culture.
Shame on the host and the other judges for trying to act like this performance was acceptable in any part of the world.
Sure, there are culture differences, but it’s not like they don’t have black folks in Australia who would get pissed off by this.
Because as the A.V Club says…
Harry Connick Jr is being generous when he says, “I know this was done humorously,” because what’s the joke in having six white guys put on blackface to play the Jackson 5?
Ha. Get it? It’s funny cause there’s something inherently ridiculous about being black.
THE FUCK IS THIS?!
Let me explain. There is a style of boorish behaviour in Australia that has thrived in insular unaccountability. Too loud and obnoxious to ever hear those around it who were tiring of the ridicule and abuse, it thought itself quite the funniest thing.
But times have really changed, as Crikey observes …
Once upon a time an outrageous piece of live, prime-time television would have had no more publicly conspicuous consequence than an invisible stream of complaint calls to the Channel Nine switchboard.
It’s not so easy to manage complaints in the online world. Hey Hey is now a subject of international discussion and heated rebuke, thanks to the meme spreading rapidity and the all-encompassing involvability of the internet. That’s what has really changed since Big Media first thought it was funny to use the outraging of minority sensibilities or even the broad sweep of taste for their shock value and ratings. You just can’t do that today and hope to get away with it.