Controversy, worldwide controversy, was sparked last week in Australia. A group of medical doctors performed a skit on a television show on Channel 9. The show, “Hey, hey it’s Saturday!” was a hit for 27 years and many middle-aged folks remember the good old days of their youth. The fun features sketch comedy interlaced with cartoons popping up (much like an MTV popup) and interviews and celebrity guests.
Each two-hour show was packed with a kaleidoscope of guests both new and old plus the fabulous Hey Hey ‘live’ Band. And it wouldn’t be Hey Hey without Red Faces, Plucka Duck, Celebrity Head and many other classic bits.
[Pictured: Ozzie Ostrich and Daryl Somers in 1971]
So what’s the controversy?
Wednesday night on a reunion show, the doctors who performed the same skit 20 years ago, revived the Jackson Jive. (pictured)
Problem is the world is not the same as it was 20 years ago. We have grown and seen our world shrink in a new way. Isolation is not an option in the 21st Century. Good behaviour and bad behaviour are both more universal in scope and recognition.
What brought this to light?
Harry Connick, Jr is no stranger to Aussie television. The New Orleans-born singer has visited Australia many times over the years and even appeared back in the day on “Hey, Hey!” (It went off the air in 1999.) But Harry condemned the skit [, a parody of the Jackson Five in a ''red faces'' segment. The performers' faces were blacked up, apart from that of the comedian playing Michael Jackson] as racist saying the performers make blacks look like buffoons.
Some of the bloggers who defended the Jive said, "There is nothing racist about this ... it is a parody only of the Jackson Five, not black people in general.
Another said, "Michael Jackson hasn't been black in a long time ... race and skin colour are simply not of any significance to us here."
If only! Kudos to Connick. Kudos to Daryl Somers for apologizing on air within minutes of the embarrassing moments. Kudos to those countless bloggers who are in the majority and say “shame” on our country. We are behind the 8-ball and we need to come clean.
Just because ‘we’ve always done that’ or ‘we take the mickey out of everyone’ doesn’t mean it was ever right.
Name calling whether blackfellas or kikes or niggers…it’s just wrong!
Besides that, I thought the doctors/Jive were terrible. Their choreography lacked good timing, the steps were simple enough and they still couldn’t perform in unison. Their singing was flat and tired. I would have gonged them myself, long before the racist trouble; it was a bad routine.
So what about the comedy card? When can comedy parody an existing act? When can Sasha Baron Cohen perform Borat or John Safran play a black man?
The ABC television in Australia is set to air another episode of Safran’s show in a couple weeks. "Episode two will go to air as planned," says an ABC representative. "In this episode John makes a genuine attempt to see what it is like to walk in the shoes of others." Seems John for his new TV show has blackened his whole body.
I remember the book Black Like Me in the 1960s (book 1961, movie 1964) and am proud of Safran, whom I consider a friend, Safran has not just reached for the black shoe polish and a bad wig. His transformation was effected by Brian Sipe and Alexei O'Brien, Hollywood professionals whose credits include The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
From Wikipedia: Black Like Me is a non-fiction book by journalist John Howard Griffin first published in 1961. Griffin was a white native of Mansfield, Texas and the book describes his six-week experience travelling on Greyhound buses (occasionally hitchhiking) throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia passing as a black man. Sepia Magazine financed the project in exchange for the right to print the account first as a series of articles.
Griffin kept a journal of his experiences; the 188-page diary was the genesis of the book.
What Safran is doing is so different, it’s not even worth discussing in this context. But is it comedy? And is comedy fair game for out-of-bounds, bad-taste frivolity as we saw on Hey, Hey last Wednesday?
The Boston Globe (Ty Burr) said of Cohen’s Borat, “A comic put-on of awe-inspiring crudity and death-defying satire and by a long shot the funniest film of the year. It is "Jackass" with a brain and Mark Twain with full frontal male nudity.”
While Chicago Reader’s J.R. Jones said, “As clever as he is crude, Cohen alchemizes bad-taste comedy into Strangelovean satire.”
I guess the line is thin, and maybe that’s why so many are arguing and blogging about the crossing of the line with Jackson Jive. Bad is bad, because it is, not because a sociological subset says it is. We don’t have to wait for the black population of New Orleans to vote about the doctors-come-dancers and their bad routine. It was making fun and that’s that. And that’s out of bounds. Nothing redemptive about it; no hope of people learning about another culture.
So maybe that’s part of it. When I watched “Inglorious Basterds“(why is it misspelled?) the other night I thought Tarantino was in his element again. Violent, bloody, harsh, intemperate, and fun, captivating and not-a-lick-of-truth. It all started with “Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France…” and it was a fairy tale. I certainly ‘enjoyed’ Princess Bride as a fairy tale much better, but as a Jew, I found Tarantino a fairy tale we could have wished for.
But did the buffoon watch note anything about Germans? Or about Americans? Or about filmgoers? Or drinking Englishmen?
That’s when comedy or satire makes us think less of people of a certain colour or size or religion.
The world has changed; we have to keep changing.
So, I’m proud of Harry Connick , Jr. And I’m proud of Daryl Somers for quickly apologizing. And we can all learn, and need to learn, and learn to live together in honesty and fairness. No more jokes involving kikes or niggers, ok? Let’s even go beyond that and say good things about each other. Wow, what a wonderful world that will be!