War Without End: A Conversation

A: So it seems ABC boss Mark Scott has apologised for The Chaser’s “comedy sketch” in which columnist for The Australian Chris Kenny was portrayed as having sex with a dog.

B: And just 49 minutes after The Australian once again found someone to demand they bend the knee. Heaven forbid we had a national broadcast who… well, heaven forbid we had a national broadcaster seems to be the editorial line over at their chief competitor these days.

A: You’re defending The Chaser then?

B: Of course. It’s obvious that the ABC shouldn’t have apologised to Kenny. It was clearly a joke, if one in poor taste, and if you’re going to start apologising for jokes where’s it going to end? You’ll give up making jokes in the first place – which, if Gerard Henderson’s “comedy” material is any guide, is what the Right want from their comedians.

A: But arguing for the “right to offend” with comedy sounds awfully close to what Andrew Bolt is currently angling for – the whole “people have a right to be bigots” thing.

B: Amazing, isn’t it, that these right wing types are out there claiming that limiting their right to incite racial hate is an attack on freedom of speech, while The Chaser’s right to show a clearly fake picture of Kenny having sex with a dog – in the context of a joke about how the image was obviously going too far – is one they’re more than happy to trample on. Why, it’s almost as if they had no firm principles at all beyond “we want to do what we want to do and you lot can shut up and take it”.

A: But that “context” you talk about is a sack of crap. Clearly the point of the joke was to show the image, not to make a point that the ABC are going to go too far when… see, I’ve seen the sketch a number of times and I can’t even remember the context. They wanted to show the picture, and they built a “joke” around it.

B: So what? It was on a comedy show, it clearly wasn’t real – it was a joke that only people looking to score points off the ABC could possibly take seriously. And judging by the ABC’s caving in, they’ve succeeded.

A: But the ABC wouldn’t have had to have caved in if it wasn’t such a shit joke. We’ve seen this urge towards pointless shocks time and time again with The Chaser – ever since the Osama Bin Laden / APEC bit which grabbed loads of headlines but as a joke had no point whatsoever. The “Make a Realistic Wish Foundation” sketch was the same thing: they come up with the outrage first then try to put together a rationale to justify going on with it. It’s sloppy, and it creates material that’s all but impossible to defend if it’s challenged.

B: I don’t think that’s quite how The Chaser works. I’m sure they’ve said somewhere that they expected trouble in that season of The Chaser’s War on Everything, they just didn’t expect that sketch to set things off.

A: Which proves my point: when it comes to handling shocking or offensive material, they’re just not skilled enough to pull it off. Which is probably their aim: a more subtle and funny sketch making the same point about Kenny wouldn’t have got them anywhere near as much publicity.

B: So is the problem just that this is a bad time for The Chaser – and the ABC in general – to be stirring up the Right, or do you think there’s never a good time?

A: There’s never a good time when you don’t know what you’re doing. I’d say that Mad As Hell has scored harder hits on the Right than The Chaser have ever managed –

B: You would say that, what with our well-known love of all things Micallef.

A: – but that hardly anyone noticed because those hits have been smart and funny rather than crude and blunt. With News Corp controlling what, 72% of Australia’s newspapers, unless you piss off the right wing enough to get them howling for your blood no-one’s even going to know you’re on the air. Subtle comedy and nuanced takedowns aren’t going to get you a full page spread in the Daily Telegraph:

I wouldn’t even compare what The Chaser does to Micallef’s show – they’re more on par with Wil Anderson calling Senator Richard Alston a “right-wing pig rooter” on The Glasshouse.

B: Ouch.

A: And considering Morrow spent this morning cracking jokes about the disappearance of MH370… well, it’s business as usual there.

B: But this brings us back to the right to offend. MH370 jokes might be tasteless – though really, we’re well past the whole “too soon” stage by now – but they’re still clearly jokes. Comedy with any kind of edge to it can’t survive in an environment where anyone can stand up and say they’re offended and shut the whole thing down.

A: The trouble is that the people making the free speech argument in Australia at the moment are largely people who want the right to be openly racist towards powerless minorities. Do you really want to side with racists to defend The Chaser’s right to make shitty non-jokes?

B: But Bolt is being offensive about things people can’t help, like the colour of their skin and their social standing. Politicians can choose not to be right-wing dickheads.

A: True. Tho I feel many right-wing dickheads would argue their horrible hateful values are as much a part of them as their skin colour.

B: They would be wrong about that.

A: True. Skin colour is on the outside of your body and often hidden underneath your clothes. Having no compassion or empathy for others and hating strangers based solely on ignorance – that lives in your heart!

B: I think we’ll leave it there.

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7 Comments

  • Urinal Cake says:

    The interesting question for Scott is why now? I mean it has to do with money. Is it to stop Kenny with proceeding with his court case and potentially winning? Is it to appease the Liberal government’s accusation of left-wing bias and avoid being forced out? Probably all of the above.

    From what I followed of Bolt’s 18c case, Bolt was putting a convoluted (not nuanced because that would require intelligence and compassion) argument that people with white skin with ‘notional’ Aboriginal heritage and ties were getting in on the Aboriginal benefits gravy train. It’s a bit different to the ‘right to be a bigot’.

    Ultimately it comes down to the right’s belief that ‘taxpayer’s money’ should not be used to finance freedom of expression- especially if it’s attacking them.

  • Andore Jr. says:

    I don’t understand this argument.

    So if Bolt was instead to push his case about white-skinned people choosing to identify as Aboriginals as a ‘joke’, and ‘satirical’ but ‘making a humorous point’ – all legitimate given the context of his argument – who exactly would you be siding with? Shut him up or let him speak?

    Oh, and responses in the vein of “Bolt is a shit comedian”, “Right wing doesn’t do comedy by its nature”, and “His argument is offensive” are pissweak cop-outs in my view.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    We’ve never argued that everything is fair game for all kinds of jokes all the time – the point shouldn’t be simply to make a joke, but to make people laugh. If Bolt claimed his (unchanged, bullshit) argument was a “joke”, where’s the laughs? What point is he trying to make? Who’s he trying to entertain?

    If you’ve read anything we’ve written over the last near-decade, it should be clear that we’re all about shutting up crap comedians. Sorry if you thought you’d painted us into a corner.

  • Andore Jr. says:

    No apology needed – you are a great read and I fully support your effort in shutting up crap comedians.
    But for the sake of argument – Bolt, Chaser, whoever – and politics aside, take his central argument.
    If that argument:
    – was presented in a comedic context, such that it was actually funny
    – got a whole round of laughs
    – got its point across

    Would you support it, given that it is good comedy, or reject it, because it is deemed offensive?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    We’ve laughed at pretty much everything in our time, including a whole lot of stuff that would generally be considered highly offensive (we’re all fans of Chris Morris here). But as the point Bolt was trying to make was a firm case of “punching down” – or as it’s better known, bullying – it’s extremely unlikely that it would be possible to make that point and be funny (to us).

    It’s got nothing to do with being offensive. It’s got everything to do with a millionaire using a massive bully pulpit to attack welfare recipients as somehow “unworthy” of the small benefits they’re receiving, followed by telling them they’re lying by identifying as aboriginal. Because being aboriginal gets you so much respect and so many bonuses in Australian society

    Appeals to middle-class outrage over the idea that someone else is getting something they’re not don’t usually make us laugh – unless we’re laughing at the middle-classes.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    ‘attack welfare recipients as somehow “unworthy” of the small benefits they’re receiving’
    While I’m sure Bolt has attacked these people in the past, the article which Bolt got censored for actually named prominent Aboriginal ‘elites’ such as academics, artists, lawyers etc who he believed used affirmative action to get ahead in their respective institutions. It’s why they actually had the means to take him to task.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Thanks for the clarification. Still, it only slightly alters the power dynamic involved – it’s still a case where he’s having a go at members of a minority claiming privileges he doesn’t think they deserve. As it’s pretty much entirely the case across the board that the majority in our society is the group with the power over the minority, supporting that situation isn’t really a solid gold path to laughs.