Sunday, September 18, 2011

correct me - if i'm wrong

The first 3 minutes of this clip cracks me up for a number of reasons:

While I was away on hols, Andrew posted a report about allegations the song and show title “spicks and specks” has been branded racist by the PC Police.

I missed all the fun, but can’t help trying to add my own 2 cent’s worth.
The View is a particularly unwatchable show for a number of reasons, but I do remember searching for YouTube clips of their response to the Hey Hey It’s Saturday blackface brouhaha.

As Whoopi says, blackface has no context for Australians.

Joy Behar expects Australians to completely understand the significance of blackface, and censor themselves because of American history, yet felt no hesitation at all about joining in with Dame Edna’s joke about the Khoisan click languages. We must protect American sensibilities, but she doesn't have any duty of care to Africans. Interesting inconsistency.
From Wikipedia:

In 2003 Vanity Fair magazine invited Dame Edna to write a satirical advice column. She created a storm of controversy with a piece published in the February 2003 issue. Replying to a reader who asked if she should learn Spanish, she wrote:

"Forget Spanish. There's nothing in that language worth reading except Don Quixote and a quick listen to the CD of Man of La Mancha will take care of that ... Who speaks it that you are really desperate to talk to? The help? Your leaf blower?"

Some members of the Hispanic community read this reply as a racist remark and complaints flooded in to the magazine. Actress Salma Hayek responded angrily, penning a furious letter in which she denounced Dame Edna. After Vanity Fair received death threats, the magazine published a full-page apology to the Hispanic community.

Humphries commented later: "If you have to explain satire to someone, you might as well give up." 

When Dame Edna was questioned about the controversy on the eve of her 2003 Australian tour, she retorted that Hayek's denunciation was due to "professional jealousy", and that Hayek was envious because the role of painter Frida Kahlo (for which Hayek received an Oscar nomination) had originally been offered to Edna:

When I was offered the part of Frida I turned it down, and she was the second choice. I said 'I'm not playing the role of a woman with a moustache and a monobrow, and I'm not having same-sex relations on the screen' ... I'm not racist. I love all races, particularly white people. You know, I even like Roman Catholics.

A joke only gets a laugh if the audience finds it contains some truth.
  • The truth might be objective; e.g. the seemingly impossible click consonants of some African languages.
  • Or the truth might be totally subjective; e.g. the hint that Madonna uses African babies as fashion accessories, or that children can be cruel about the names of other children.
When Dame Edna insults short people, or Roman Catholics, or gay people, I’m not quick to take offense or feel insulted - I’m delighted. The truth she is selling is not that any of these groups ought to be second class people, but that members of these groups are sometimes treated as second class people.
Her satire relies on audience members being able to put themselves in someone else's shoes. 

Freud concluded that a large element of humour is reliant on schadenfreude.
This is often translated to mean the kind of delight in another’s misfortunes that makes it funny to see someone slip on a banana skin, or fun [for some people] to watch 'Funniest Home Videos'. Schadenfreude might be interpreted to mean we enjoy seeing others suffer, but I think what Freud was really on about was our capacity for empathy.

Without both empathy and the ability to react at a gut level, the world will never change for the better.

It is schadenfreude that makes the Dame’s joke about talking Spanish to a leaf-blower funny. What is funny is the idea that Spanish people are more likely to be viewed as little more than a tool,  not hate for Spanish speaking people.

When we can see that others are suffering AND this is combined with relief at our own good fortune,  we react to suffering at a very visceral level. Humour can generate a far more powerful and personal response than a million boring sermons [like this one I seem to be delivering].
Political correctness has a role to play in asking us to rethink some of our assumptions, and I certainly don’t advocate giving people carte blanche to be cruel or insensitive, or to preach hate.

But if we try to control what people think, and stop them from thinking at all, the world is going to become a very, very tragic place. 
If we are not allowed to notice difference, how can we celebrate it? 
If hate is ignorance and we can’t expose it, how can we ever learn from each other?


  1. Dame Edna really should have known better than to make a crack like that in the US, but hey, isn't all publicity good publicity? My jury is still out on that. The hypocrisy of Americans making anti immigration rants, while employing illegals from south of the border to do their domestic work is beyond the pale.

  2. Hi Andrew,
    It wouldn't surprise me to learn the Dame's warm-up routine includes saying the line 'if they can't take a joke' quickly twenty times.

  3. LOL Enjoyed this post :)
    Yeah, preaching to us is a bit rich when African-American servicemen were treated/accepted far better here in Oz during WW2 (so much so that Macarthur called on The White Oz Policy and turfed them all onto offshore islands for the remainder of the war).

  4. Hi Jayne,
    It's almost as if, when you laugh at something horrid there will always be someone with a funny-bone to pick with you.

  5. I would rather people spoke openly so that their predjudice and bias is there for all to see and deal with one way or another. Supressing what I say doesn't stop me thinking or acting that way but it is now harder to combat.
    Once upon a time in NZ Roman Catholics were discriminated against for employment (and other things) except in government jobs, eventually they returned the favour and it became very difficult for a non RC to get a government job, of course they never said that it just "happened", which of course is hard to stop. If it was overt and spoken of then at least the conversation could be had.

  6. Hi Big Dog,
    So the 'Catholics need not apply' thing happened in NZ too? That's interesting.
    Yes, freedom of speech is not just something we can see as a 'right', it's a good system for helping us know where we stand.

  7. I wonder if the 'blackface' episode would have had the same reaction if the group had performed a take-off of, say, ABBA?? Did it mean we were to immediately stop sending up anything on the off chance someone might be offended (especially if taken out of context)?? This pc inconsistency shows so much bias it's ridiculous!

  8. Hi Red,
    The good news is that everybody seems to make up the rules as they go along.
    I think Big Dog went one better than my argument about the importance of humour, when he said it's better if we can speak openly and deal with stuff rather than just have it festering. If only the dealing were a little more civilized.