8 Oct

Courtesy of the AV club.

Harry Connick looking super impressed by the proceedings.

When I started this blog a few weeks ago I’d decided (in the invisible charter of rules that I use to self-govern) that I wouldn’t talk about big current events, due to the overwhelming coverage they would have already received. I’m lifting that ban just this once because I am so pissed off at this entire thing that I need to write this shit down.

First off, I am amazed that anyone at the Channel 9 staff thought that this was a good idea.  AMAZED. At some point in the development stages of the show, somebody sat at a big perspex table and said “Hey, Michael Jackson is still in the news. Lets get the Doctors  who dress up in blackface to dance around. People will love it!” Then everyone agreed, there was probably a rehearsal, they agreed on a running order, then they went on stage. At no point during any of this did somebody say “Hold the phone, isn’t this a skeech racist?”

You know what, I take that back. I’m not amazed in the slightest. I am totally and entirely un-fucking-suprised that people think this is fine.

Exhibit A

http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/hey-heys-jackson-jive-explain-why-we-did-it/desc/

Apparently, Doctors are respected members of society due to their intelligence and desire to help others. Well, you fooled me. They make a comment here that I’ve seen repeated a few times as some sort of backhanded defence, that Australian humour is very self-deprecating. Could somebody explain how this helps their case, at all? I’m genuinely curious, because to me it only makes them look even more stupid.  I can accept that maybe, just maybe, they weren’t intending to ‘do blackface’ and were just doing a really bad job of impersonating the Jackson 5. In fairness, had they gone out there without the wigs and the makeup the image of half a dozen middle aged doctors in cheap suits disco dancing would probably have been quite funny. Instead, they chose to do it with their faces painted black, because they thought it would be funny. And if you think being black is inherently funny, you are racist.

Exhibit B

http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/story/0,28383,26182943-10229,00.html

To the surprise of nobody, The Herald Sun ran a poll and a majority of readers found the skit ‘not racist’. Well good. Everyone go home, a poll was taken and it has been decided that everything is perfectly fine. I try to avoid radical, sweeping statements but the product Newscorp produces is representative of everything that is rotten and abhorrent about Australian society. The statistics read like a where-to guide for idiotic behaviour. Apparently, Harry of Melbourne would not be offended if five black men went on tv with white paint on their faces. There you go Black people everywhere, you finally have the permission you so desperately craved.  Punch deputy editor Tory Maguire said that what were Australians were looking for was nostalgia. And technically it was nostalgia, since they did almost an identical act 20 years ago. Unfortunately for them, everyone else is watching.

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8 Responses to “”

  1. richard October 8, 2009 at 3:28 pm #

    How is simply wearing blackface racist? The Wayans brothers can make a movie where they dress up like white women. Is that both racist and sexist? Explain how, exactly?

    Then you take a Herald Sun article that demonstrates popular opinion disputes your “pretending to be black is racism” claim and try to present it as though it is proof of the contrary. That’s nonsense. The Herald Sun might have a stupid readership but that just means its polls are worthless, they’re not evidence to the -contrary- of what they claim.

    • liamjordan October 9, 2009 at 2:15 am #

      Firstly, wearing blackface is racist because it’s not just people of one race impersonating another (White Chicks is offensive in its lack of jokes, but I wouldn’t call it racist). Blackface is a specific cultural tradition that goes all the way back to vaudevillian theatre, and the entire point of it was that Black Americans were dimwitted and slow but were good at telling jokes and singing and dancing.

      There is a long and sad history of white entertainers doing this, and its implications should be obvious.

      Second I used the Herald Sun article as an example of public ignorance on this issue, I don’t need it to prove my point.

  2. Fonzie October 9, 2009 at 5:38 am #

    I am not the least bit upset about the whole thing. Of course it is racist but it is simply not worth giving a shit about. The whole issue has become blown quite out of proportion. People were offended, the show issued an apology. Big woop. Anyway, for your digestive pleasure, you may eat some dotpoints:

    NB: Dotpoints are not directed at you Liam, they are simply general dotpoints.

    1) Nobody takes blackface (nor any other vaudevillian tradition) seriously. People today realise that being slow and dim-witted has no correlation with skin pigmentation.

    2) We can appreciate Vaudeville (with it’s racism) as an artform in itself without taking to heart it’s portrayal of racial stereotypes. We are allowed to find Vaudeville entertaining. It is not a crime so long as we appreciate the fact that many things considered socially acceptable a century ago are no longer.

    3) Who says they were actually “blackface”? There is a difference between painting ones face to represent a celebrity and harking back to an archaic (and indeed racist) style of performance.

    3.5) Example: people do not find Al Jolson to be offensive. It’s okay to like his music. Did Robert Downey Jr. offend blacks (or indeed Australians) in Tropic Thunder? No, he was not “blackface”, just black.

    4) With the obvious exception to skin colour, nobody on the show made any reference to anything to do with Afrcican-Americans that would be offensive, e.g. slavery, civil rights etc.

    5) Herald Sun polls are bullshit. If you do not need a Herald Sun poll to prove your point, then do not include it. It devalues your argument and gets in the way of the point you are trying to make (okay Liam, that one was for you).

    6) The Jackson Jive are more than welcome to do whatever-the-fuck they want on television and Channel 9 are free to let them do it. Vote with your remote. If you do not like it, do not watch it. If you did not watch it, do not whinge, it is not about you.

    Here is a bit of a signpost for my arguments:
    There was no racial motivation behind the routine.
    Who cares about blackface? People understand blackface is of cultural antiquity and no longer relevant.
    They were not actually “blackface” anyway, simply mimicking the appearance of particular performers.

    Allow me to conclude: If you have blonde hair, you need a wig to impersonate Elvis Presley. Likewise to imitate someone with different level of skin pigmentation, you need body paint. No effort was made to be racist, it was just a little ignorant (oh well, everyone is a little bit ignorant). Therefore: We are dealing with nothing more than skin colour. And we are making out that skin colour is somehow important. (WTF?!)

    Race is a social construct. We can appreciate the history of clashes between social groups (which are sometimes based on race) without holding onto the meaning behind the group divide. We acknowledge that the zeitgeist has since shifted. The solution to racism is not to define races and treat them with respect. that answer is simply to realise the fundamental truth. There is no such thing as race.

    • liamjordan October 10, 2009 at 7:07 am #

      I’m going to address your points individually, because I think you’re missing something here.

      1. You may realise that skin colour has nothing to do with personality traits or intelligence, but there are plenty of people that don’t. Racism is still ingrained in our culture because of things like blackface.

      2. Blackface is not the entirety of vaudeville, but it is it’s origin. Obviously some parts of it are still acceptable, some are not. Blackface is one of them.

      3.As I mentioned above, it is plausible that doing blackface was not their intention. However, what they chose to do is almost identical (and for the same reasons), and media around the world sees no difference.

      4.Again, Blackface is in and of itself offensive because of it’s history and intention- that being black is inherently funny.

      5. I included the poll as a representation of the ignorance on display.

      6. My point was not to argue against freedom of expression. They were allowed to do the act, I watched it, and I was offended.

      To address your conclusion: As mentioned above, there is a big difference between one race of people impersonating another and blackface. People would’ve understood what they were doing with the costumes and the dancing without the makeup but they choose to do it because they thought painting their faces black would be funny- and that is why blackface is so damaging.

      It would be great if race was no longer an issue, and with any luck one day it won’t be but simply saying ‘race doesn’t exist’ changes nothing. You and I are in a position of privilege because statements such as that do nothing to affect us, but there still plenty of people who are.

  3. Fonzie October 12, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    Despite being somewhat at odds, I think we are mostly on the same page. I suppose we should look at it as simply careless, not an act of malice. I think we would agree there.
    A quick point though:

    Perhaps I was not clear about the blackface thing. You seemed to suggest the only alternative to literal “blackface” was the idea that they were presenting being black as funny in itself. Not necessarily true. I was trying to make the point that skin colour should be (and probably was to the Jackson Jive) simply another physical feature, which was imitated (poorly of course and not for any underlying motives, simply because Red Faces acts are typically half-arsed). In such context it may not excuse their act but I think it demonstrates a more equitable way of thinking about any perceived racial divide.

    I was not offended, though that is probably because I regard offence as an irrational emotional response and thus ignore it at all costs. I do appreciate that others were offended, they have every right to be (even though I think they may be un-Vulcanlike).

    I disagree that you and I are in a position of privilege. All people have access to the faculties of reason (at least I hope so) and following any race based argument to its logical conclusion should result in the realisation that the idea of race is, though historically significant, is grotesquely overrated.

    And yes, I realise that simply saying “race does not exist” will not change anything but that does not affect the truth value of the statement.

    Food for thought: Would we have had the same response has this been not a skit on a family show, but rather, a scene on a show like Family Guy / South Park / Chaser’s War?

    • liamjordan October 14, 2009 at 1:22 am #

      We’re talking about different kinds of privilege. We have the privilege of both being male and caucasian, and in our case there is no comparable tradition to blackface.
      Had something like that appeared on Family Guy et al. I would assume it was meant as parody, which this clearly is not.

      My problem with this whole thing, still, is that white people dressing up like black people for the purposes of entertaining other white people reminds the world of a kind of racial hatred that is still remembered today. Ignorance of this really shouldn’t be an excuse.

  4. Fonzie October 14, 2009 at 8:50 am #

    Ah yes. I see where you are coming from. It is indeed a privilege in some sense to be male and caucasian, though it is an unhappy feeling to know that such a privilege should exist. I think the point I tried to make is still relevant: logic will show (regardless of maleness or caucasianness) that race is historically significant but grotesquely overrated. If our species is to overcome racial prejudice, as we hope it one day will, it will be though realising what a bizarre social construct the idea of race was to begin with.

    I agree that ignorance is not an excuse but nor is it a crime. Let them be ignorant and let them learn from it.

    I am not sure that they were dressing up strictly for the purpose of entertaining whites and not blacks, it is a distinction they failed to make. And so what if it reminds the world of racial hatred? By extension, it also reminds the world that such hatred is in the past, where it should be. Remembering racial hatred is important in overcoming it.

    I think my attitude is derived mostly from the idea that skin colour should be just that and nothing else. They meant nothing more than that either. If it offended others it is not for me to worry. Let them be offended, let them be reminded of racial hatred (of times past) and let them be realise that race is not something to accept and tolerate, but something to overcome.

  5. Fonzie October 14, 2009 at 9:11 am #

    Oh, I meant to say. I would not be so quick to say it was clearly not a parody. I think it clearly was. Of the Jacksons. And presumably they meant nothing more than that.

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