Hey Hey, What’s Racist?

Seems like the producers of the Hey Hey Reunion, aired on Australia’s Channel Nine last night, haven’t been reading this blog recently. Only a week ago, we were looking at the anachronistic and boorish humour of Silvio Berlusconi as he joked about Barack Obama’s skin colour and we pointed out it wasn’t in our too distant cultural past that lame, vaguely racist material such as that was mainstream entertainment fare. To illustrate our point, we showed a clip from The Black and White Minstrel Show, which was canned in the UK in 1978 after nearly a decade of complaints.

After last night, it appears that similar material may still count as mainstream entertainment in Australia. Hey Hey Reunion included this amateur “tribute” act…

The most striking thing about watching it was how host Daryl Somers appeared utterly clueless as to why guest judge Harry Connick Jr didn’t seem to like it

And it is Somers’ inability to see what may or may not be wrong about the act that inspired the title of this post. Message boards and blogs around the world have been set ablaze with opinion being swiftly corralled in two opposing camps.

Camp One: This is racist, anachronistic tripe and should never have made it on air.

Camp Two: It was entertainment in the grand, Australian, take-the-piss-out-of-everything tradition and the PC brigade are going bonkers over nothing. Besides two of the Jackson Jive are Indian and one is Lebanese.

So which camp are you in?

Additional Note: While the debate will, no doubt, rage on, it seems Daryl Somers own Berlusconi-esque moment has gone unnoticed. Check out his last line after each performer announces their current profession.


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17 Responses

  1. I didnt think that the act was funny or warranted being on tv, but nor were the other acts presented. Hey Hey has always had a mixed bag of skits, some fabulous and witty others down right ridiculous. The segment is about getting out there and having fun, some people used it as a spring board for greater things, others just to have a lark. I guess we have not gone through the race upheavals as in the US and UK and must be more mindful now that our shows go to a broader audience. I don’t think the performers meant to offend anyone, but it was in bad taste and not very entertaining.

    • Sure, because Australia isn’t well known for having ANY racial problems. Everyone has always been 100% equal under that law in Australia. I cant think of one single race that has ever had a spot of trouble in Australia.

  2. Certainly the performers have said they “did not mean to offend”.
    And the discourse (the ideas and ways we talk and think about race) has certainly played itself out in different ways in different countries.
    What I find fascinating is the producers gave this the okay and Daryl Somers appears to be entirely unaware of how it may come across. That it seems so anachronistic to some and harmless to others is a good indication that culture takes a long time to take on new shapes sometimes….

  3. The most interesting thing about the aftermath of this sketch locally have been people insisting that Australians are not racist. It reeks of back-peddaling madly, and people here don’t seem to realise that every time they say something like ‘I’m not racist, but…’ they are not excusing themself.

    I was also amused to hear the doctor who I think was playing Michael insisting that he can’t be racist, because he is of Indian heritage. Is he implying that there has never been a racist person in India?

    At any rate, the act wasn’t very good anyway, but I suppose with acts on Red Faces, that is the point.

    • There is a real irony too that Daryl Somers and Hey Hey are pushing really hard for a regular slot in primetime again, their case being, essentially, that the show is still relevant.
      The sketch and Somers’ bemusement at Connick’s reaction would suggest it is an anachronistic dinosaur.
      However, given Channel Nine’s horrendous year with ratings dropping around their schedule, if that dinosaur is getting viewers it’s more than likely it will be welcomed back rather than killed off again.

      No TV network, particularly not in the savage network wars in Oz, is going to ditch a ratings winner… no matter how racist it may appear to sections of the population. I expect the usual “sorry if we offended anyone but it was supposed to be funny” excuses…

      • No long-term come back, but a greatest hits / reunion specials DVD package is likely, from what I hear. This sketch aside, the previous week which I did see some of seemed out-dated and tired. That said, I thought a lot of that could have been down to the cast being out of practice, and the fact that they were cramming lots into their special appearance.

        • “...the previous week which I did see some of seemed out-dated and tired

          I watched the previous week and felt the same way…
          I’d like to know how things are playing out behind the scenes at Nine however… they’ve had a horrendous year and Hey Hey seems to be their biggest success ratings-wise.

  4. My American Dr maintains Australians are proof that it’s genetics not environment. Licensed Aboriginal culls in the 30’s speak for themselves. Oldest cave paintings in the world anyone ??

    • And I suppose what was happening in the 1800’s (slavery of one group of Americans) must be proof that the US is genetically superior. How is it that one stupid skit has got the whole world up in arms and making out that all Australians are racists and living back in time. We’re not perfect, but one silly act does not mean that we as a nation are racist. And I can’t believe that it is such big news. I was watching an American show “Family Guy” and I will tell you that one of the season 8 episodes was completely out of line, but I guess we’ll sweep that one under the rug. There is even a send up of Australia in one episode, but that just made me laugh not gather up a ‘posse’.

  5. I also recall an interview (televised) in the mid-eighties with a retired Head Of Police (drunk) from AUSTRALIA who when asked about the high rate of “suicides” by Aboriginals in police custody replied “Well you’ve got darkies in your country, how do you handle them ? “

    • I’d love to see that clip if it exists in cyberspace… if you ever find it could you drop me an e-mail? (This link will take you to the contact page)

      A few months ago The Footy Show (the Australian rugby league show) was talking about a player who had a Japanese agent (it may have been a Japanese manager, perhaps)… they then ran a skit on the Agent’s negotiating skills portraying him as buck-toothed, hatchet-wielding, sushi chef.
      However… nobody pointed out it may be exploiting anachronistic old stereotypes, nobody complained it may offend asian people and, without an outraged American celebrity on board, there was zero resulting media frenzy.

  6. Yey for Harry Connick Jr . =)

    Its an interesting idea though. I’ve noticed what would be deemed racist in a number of other countries passes just fine here in Aussie. At work I have a reputation for being uptight whenever the bosses start going off on their racist rants.

    Political correctness, what is deemed ok to say in private v in public, what can pass on tele seems to be just a first step in recognizing and tackling the issues. From my experience this idea seems pretty new in Australia and hasn’t really taken on.

    Those who think racism is funny may need to think about the need to develop a more intelligent sense of humour.

    Like that of Harry himself: “hey hey there’s no more show”.

  7. […] a week ago, I got a call from the BBC. A producer from the show World Have Your Say had read our post on the Hey Hey Reunion blackface skit “scandal” and wanted to know if I would be a guest on the show that […]

  8. Because the skit shows Michael as white and the brothers as black, those accusing it of racism don’t fully appreciate a Black’n’White Minstrel being reversed. It is social commentary (though done poorly), showing that while others pretend to be black (for satire or entertainment), Michael Jackson felt he had to have his skin whitened. Many other dark skinned people around the world use whiteners to improve their social standing or appearance, it is common in beauty salons along with hair straightening.

    The skit is just amateur social satire.

    • I agree with a lot you’re saying here Chris….

      However, your key word here is “amateur”… if you’re going to do social satire, you’d better make sure you are well informed and, above all, funny.

  9. […] a week ago, I got a call from the BBC. A producer from the show World Have Your Say had read our post on the Hey Hey Reunion blackface skit “scandal” and wanted to know if I would be a guest on the show that […]

  10. […] Australian racism. We blogged about a couple of those awkward humour moments in 2009, here at Hey Hey, What’s Racist? and later, about “dwarf racing” at Hey Hey, Now it’s the turn of the […]

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