Go on, admit it: you’ve been making jokes about the Hey Dad..! sex abuse scandal – AKA the “Hey Dad Predator” or “the Hey Dad House of Horrors”, depending on which episode of A Current Affair you saw – ever since you first heard about it. Don’t look so scared: we’ve all been doing it. Even by Australian sitcom standards Hey Dad..! was such a bland, flavourless pile of remorseless unending crap that the juxtaposition of it with something as awful as child sexual abuse can’t help but get a nervous laugh. Hell, one of the main characters was called Nudge: this stuff writes itself.
Problem is, we all know that there’s nothing at all even remotely funny about child abuse. It’s a ghastly, appalling crime that rightly shocks and disgusts us all. So there’s really no other response for a right-thinking person to have than to applaud A Current Affair’s decision to once again highlight its horrors. Night after night. For an entire week. In lurid, lingering detail. Drawing the story out using every trick in the tabloid TV handbook. Making sure the victims signed exclusivity contracts to ensure they didn’t talk to anyone else. Hang on a second!
The question about all this that sticks in my mind isn’t “why, if A Current Affair is so concerned about the sexual abuse that may have happened on the set of Hey Dad..!, did they not only show cast members telling their stories together on-air – thus making any prosecution based on those stories much more difficult – but held off on handing over their evidence to police until after they’d ran the story on-air for over a week” – though that one does seem to come up a fair bit.
No, it’s “why did everyone from Hey Dad..! say that they were too afraid for their careers in Australian television to come forward even after years had passed, when everyone knows that the second Hey Dad..! finished their Australian television careers were well and truly over?” If the entire cast kept quiet in the hope that the sinister forces behind Hey Dad..! wouldn’t crush their careers, then the string of commercial and critical success enjoyed on-air by Julie McGregor (Betty), Christopher Trustwell (Nudge), Chris Mayer (Simon), Simone Buchanan (Debbie) and Sarah Monahan (Jenny) since Hey Dad..! is proof enough that they made the right choice in staying silent. Uh, maybe not.
In fact, looking at the amount of prime air-time Ben Oxenbould – AKA “the replacement Nudge” was given on ACA for his one actual story (he saw something once, he talked to executive producer Gary Reilly, who told him to keep quiet and that he should “consider this a lesson in professionalism”), you’d have to think coming forward would have been a massive boost to their profiles.
Well, at least abuse victim Monahan is getting something out of it now. The exact amount that ACA and Woman’s Day paid her for her story isn’t clear: rival current affairs show Today Tonight has claimed six figure sums were involved, while The Age reported that Sarah Monahan was paid $15,00 for an exclusivity contract with Woman’s Day, on top of a payment from ACA of $40,000.
Really, it doesn’t matter: the fact is that ACA paid someone to talk about their childhood sexual abuse. Isn’t there a law against profiting from sex crime? And if not, isn’t there a law against showing a clearly unsettled Oxenbould talking about how he’d gone onto ACA to help his abused cast-mates because he “felt that, as a man, they needed some male support”? Or that “this is a purge for me”? Or that what he’d seen had “destroyed his faith in humanity”. Which does explain why he could go onto make Comedy Inc with a clear conscience.
Yeah yeah, cheap shot. But why else did A Current Affair run the story non-stop in episode-filling length for over a week, if not to get people talking about it and yes, making jokes? What, you seriously thought they spent night after night on reports of child sexual abuse on Australia’s most wholesome family sitcom because they wanted to warn parents? Of what? Don’t let your kids appear on Australian sitcoms? Sorry, the television industry’s already cleared up that particular hotbed of sex crime all on its own.
[Though it is fun to think that the real reason we don’t make sitcoms anymore has nothing to do with economics or a lack of talent and everything to do with stamping out a wave of sex crime. Somehow, if you’re a fan of comedy, it’s a slightly less depressing explanation than “we just can’t be bothered”.]
With this story, ACA and Woman’s Day whipped up a perfect storm of moral outrage and rubber-necking curiosity. They want people to think up “Hey Dad… stop touching my arse” jokes – c’mon, you know they were making them around the office – but they’ll attack anyone for saying them out loud. Comedy is about telling the truth, about saying what we’re all thinking: these creepy, pandering shows are about pointing at something and saying “don’t even think it”.
[though speaking of pointing at things, here’s a quote from the Murdoch press about the latest round of abuse allegations: “One allegation is that stated Hughes would ask to be woken from a daily “nap” by a female crew member, only to be found in the nude on each occasion, his penis erect.”]
Still, it’s not all bad news. The memory of Hey Dad..! is now so completely tainted that… well, it’s just completely tainted. Which is really how it should be, because even by Australian standards it was total rubbish without merit or virtue. Apart from those “little fat kid” jokes they used to make on The Late Show, of course.
But don’t take my word for it; how’s this for a gripping episode (taken from the sleeve of The Best of Hey Dad..! volume 1 DVD): “Generation Scrap: Dad and Debbie just don’t seem to get along. Meanwhile, Betty has become addicted to an electric pencil sharpener”. Actually, that might be describing the deleted scenes. You know, with “the footage they couldn’t show on television”…