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:
My only real quibble is the H. Would have gone for Hateful, Horrible, Hackneyed, Hypocritical or Heartless myself pic.twitter.com/h1eozr5yqY
— Jules Morrow (@julesmorrow) April 15, 2014
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.
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.