We all know what the tabloid press were doing during the furore over The Chaser’s “Make a Realistic Wish” foundation sketch: they were obsessed with making rational and well-reasoned contributions to the debate, if the Herald-Sun’s “They spat in the face of dying children” headline was anything to go by.
And that kind of demented rabble-rousing is easy for them to say: if you discount the people who write those tiny “choice pick” blurbs at the top of the TV listings, the Herald-Sun doesn’t employ a single television critic who could have pointed out that The Chaser’s sketch was just something on television and not some kind of real-world living nightmare that was actually happening to sick kiddies every time the clip was viewed on YouTube.
But what about the “quality” press? Where were they in all the Chaser outrage? Hedging their bets for the most part, by covering “the outrage”, and running the same trashy stories while pretending to be above it all. And who can blame them? Like all media in this country, they’re running scared of shrinking readerships and revenues. But at least a paper like The Age actually has television reviewers to balance out the opinion pieces claiming that The Chaser’s sketch symbolised the Death of Compassion (Shaun Carney, The Age, June 9th), right?
Well, maybe. Marieke Hardy couldn’t pull herself away from her cappuccino long enough to comment – hardly surprising, as she’s also an ABC employee. Gee, that policy of only hiring media insiders to comment on the media is really working out, hey? And in the other corner we had Catherine Deveny’s ‘Couch Life’ column of June 13th. Surely a major metropolitan newspaper’s chief TV columnist would be able to point out that the sketch was merely a joke, right? Guess again, as she sums up life itself with impressive brevity:
“Wrong. Simple as that.” Wow. And they pay you to review television? Why bother giving you a full third of a tabloid page when all you need is a single word? Underbelly: “nup”. Four Corners: “hmm”. Master Chief : “burp”. But wait, there’s more: “And not funny. Not because it was offensive… Wrong because it didn’t make people laugh or think.” Not because it didn’t make Deveny laugh or think, mind you, but “people” in general. As Margaret Thatcher said to George Negus, “name six”.
So if it had made “people” laugh or think it would have been okay, right? Well, maybe not think: Deveny’s column is usually full of comedic references to her rough’n ready lifestyle and how she’d like her kids to play in traffic. It’s fair to assume she doesn’t really want people thinking too long or hard on what those jokes might mean – after all, they’re clearly just jokes, right?
(And it’s interesting to note also that the choice being offered is to “laugh or think”. Judged by those rigorous criteria, even Ian Kershaw’s two-volume biography of Adolf Hitler could get under the wire as a non-stop kak-fest in the newly discovered “think” comedy category. Sure, you’re mostly thinking what a tool this Hitler guy is, but at least you’re thinking – something that’s rarely at risk when Deveny picks up the pen.)
Perhaps if she’d simply stuck to “not funny” she could have added something to the sum total of useful human knowledge. And if she’d then gone on to explain exactly why it wasn’t funny in coherent, non-emotive terms, all would have been right with the world. But of course, not only did she say it didn’t make “people” laugh – declaring it one of the very rare events in human history that no-one at all will ever derive amusement from – she went on to say “The point wasn’t strong enough to warrant the offense”.
Jokes now need to have a point beyond making people laugh? Well, no. Jokes can have a point beyond getting a laugh, but when you argue that a joke fails because it doesn’t make a strong point… well, where were you when The Mighty Boosh was getting a run? Why aren’t you complaining about Sam Simmons each and every week? Or more to the point, what exactly is the higher meaning behind your jokes about you mistreating your kids that excuses their (on the surface) horrific content? Oh, it’s just a joke? So The Chaser’s sketch wasn’t?
To be fair, compared to the tabloid drivel on the topic Deveny’s a searing light of truth. But compared to the tabloid drivel on the topic the text message “LOLfagz 6 ded kidz” is the wisdom of Solomon. It might be difficult to imagine a sketch about dying children that was hysterically funny. It might be even more difficult to imagine The Chaser being the ones who came up with such a sketch. But it’s flat out impossible to imagine anyone taking Catherine Deveny’s views on comedy seriously when the best she can come up with is this barely coherent ramble designed more to justify her readers’ outrage than explain to them why sometimes comedy just might offend someone. And why comedy should always be treated first and foremost as a joke.