Many blackfellas, understandably, have a cynical view of whitefellas. 8MMM Aboriginal Radio, a new ABC1 sitcom set in an indigenous radio station in Alice Springs, says this in its name. From the press release: “non-Indigenous people who come to work in Aboriginal organisations easily fall into one of three categories – missionaries, mercenaries or misfits – the 3 Ms”.*

The attitudes of white people and white organisations towards indigenous people and indigenous organisations are a big theme of this show, and are well illustrated by a scene where a number of new-looking four wheel drives belonging to indigenous charities are shown to be driven by white staff members while the black people they’re supposed to be helping and empowering are either in the passenger seat or not in the car at all. Cut to the radio station where the white people in charge are supposed to training the indigenous people to take over from them…except that’ll probably never happen. These are fair points, perhaps expressed in a heavy-handed way, but they set up the series in a way that suggests that this will be a satire. And let’s face it, after 200+ years of us white folk buggering up this country, it’s about time we saw some indigenous satire on ABC1.

Further potential for laughs and satire comes in the form of the station’s new training manager Dave. He’s got decades of experience in broadcasting, he isn’t pleased to be there, and he’s more than happy to express his strongly-held views…views so strong and so often expressed that they make Reclaim Australia look subtle. While no doubt a very real character type encountered by the indigenous community, it’s hard for us whiteys to view him as anything other than a comic book racist. As programs by Louis Theroux, John Safran and others illustrate so well, racists aren’t as dim-witted as we’d like them to be, they can be very subtle about how they express their racism, and all the more dangerous for it. Most racists would never be racist to black people’s faces, as Dave is. Maybe white people act differently in central Australia, but for us Dave’s racism was unrealistic and overdone.

Equally unrealistic, stereotypical and poorly realised are the indigenous characters, who are variously portrayed as militant, dumb, lazy, guided by weird myths or just plain nuts. Watching this show you wonder if indigenous cynics wrote the white parts and white supremacists wrote the indigenous parts. But in reality, it’s just bad writing. The characters and situations have lots of potential for comedy, but when there’s an attempt at comedy at all – for much of this show is a meandering light drama – it’s not exactly top shelf stuff. There’s some slapstick that isn’t timed quite right, there’s some zany characters who either don’t get to do much zany stuff or who do zany stuff that isn’t set up well enough, and that’s kind of it.

We assume (hope!) that this show works for an indigenous audience, but we’re city slicker white folk and we can’t even laugh in recognition. And so, without the context explained (which it mostly isn’t) or any funny characters to enjoy, we found 8MMM a difficult watch. We can’t think of another sitcom set in either Alice Springs or an indigenous community, let alone an indigenous satire, so we’re glad someone’s tried it, but that’s all we can say that’s positive about this show. Like the radio station and the other indigenous non-profits depicted in this series, its heart’s in the right place, but its execution leaves a lot to be desired.


* This gag would have worked better in Victoria, where radio station call signs start with 3, but it still works.

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  • Trisha Morton-Thomas says:

    Fair play on the review hon, though sloppily written and uninformed as it is. Very liberal on the use of the word “we.” Am I to assume you’re speaking on behalf of all white Australians, especially those in Victoria? Whom your review suggest are far too dopey to grasp the context or humor in this series. I for one think not as a great majority of Victorian city slickers I’ve encountered are sharp minded people with a wonderful sense of humour. Have you considered the possibility it might just be you who doesn’t “get it?”

    As for racists being far to intelligent to be racist in front of an Aboriginal person… Leaves me to ponder… How intelligent are you?

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    We give our own views on this blog and aren’t claiming to speak for anyone else, whether it’s other city slicker white folk or anyone else. (One of our writers does live in Victoria, although not the writer of this particular post.)

    Fair enough that you liked this show, but we’d really like to hear why. Calling us “dopey” isn’t a good way of explaining why this show’s hilarious, why we’re missing out and what we don’t “get”.

    Another of our readers, who has experience of Central Australia, verifies what you say about white racists being openly racist in front of indigenous people. We’ve personally never seen this kind of thing. People being really patronising to indigenous people’s face – we’ve seen heaps of that – but out and out racist, nope. We’ll take your word for it, but that character still seems very over-the-top and clunkily written to us. Oh yeah, and not funny.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    As a Victorian city slicker, I wasn’t impressed with 8MMM. It may have been on the money issues-wise, but last I checked I watched comedy for the comedy. And in much the same way that many intelligent people can laugh along with shows that don’t align 100% with their personal set of beliefs, it’s perfectly possible for smart folk to think a well-meaning show holds all the right views yet is as funny as an Andrew Bolt diatribe.

  • yeps says:

    Completely different topic, but one that is perhaps more disturbing than our country’s shameful history of entrenched racism…

    There’s a Guardian interview with the inexplicably successful Rebel Wilson for Pitch Perfect 2. And honestly, there is so much contradictory, oblivious, or just surreal nonsense in there that my brain is melting.

    She admits to using the N-word repeatedly on stage in her US stand up shows – you know, because that went so well for Kramer – and not seeing any difference between it and the the word ‘fat’. She slags off her cameo in ‘Night At The Museum’ as being too brief, because ‘boy’s club’ – she’s ‘too good’ and clearly overshadows the male leads apparently, so they edit her out. She throws down with male executives in Hollywood – she likes to hit back at them with Jewish jokes (even Kramer didn’t go there). She might be, she implies, genetically a genius. And ‘Super Fun Night’ was compromised by network executives – not just an ungainly, tonally scattered, unfunny piece of shit on its own.

    Also, don;t you dare think that she’s not responsible for her own career long cavalcade of fat jokes. According to her, the fact she’s known only for her string of grotesque weight-shame caricatures is because of all those mean directors who edit out all of her other brilliant improvised material and leave in only the fat jokes. …you know, the fat jokes that she made.

    That’s Rebel Wilson, the comedian who’s funniest work (according to Rebel Wilson) is seemingly always cut out, edited down, or ignored, leaving only characters like Fat Mandi (who she created) and Fat Amy (who she is now happily promoting as a great role) and Toula in Fat Pizza and what I assumes is Fat Chick in Fat Security Guard Suit Outfit in Night at the Museum. Fat.

    That’s why she’s going to win an Oscar. Because it’s easy to boast about how you gave the greatest performance ever seen, when no one actually ever gets to see it.

  • simbo says:

    Maybe white guys shouldn’t tell black guys how racism really looks? Just suggesting…

  • Bernard says:

    yeps – yes, I read that article. Rebel is like a stuck record. She keeps blaming everyone else. The previous interview she did she blamed all Australians for forcing her overseas by not appreciating her massive talent.

    I sat through Bogan Pride TWICE. I sat through Super Fun Night. I’ve seen all the Youtube clips of her. I can safely say there are single-celled organisms living under the antarctic ice-sheet that are funnier than Rebel Wilson.

  • blerg says:

    Dave’s racism was DEFINITELY not overdone. Even if it was, it’s a comedy.

  • Jim Holt says:

    What a magnificent series and so beautifully acted and directed.

    It’s not easy to create a piece of work that ends up on TV and I admire the producers and the original writers and the end writers that produced such a wonderful piece of work that is truly a beginning for them.

    Comedy is not always about laughing and I admire the subtlety, of the writing and the context and a world that I don’t experience on a daily basis. Great writing for me changes my point of view and lets me know about the world I inhabit and this series does that for me.

    One thing I actually do know about this series is my own experience of working with Trisha Morten-Thomas and I was struck dumb at times by her authenticity and that shines so much for me in the series. I would watch her each evening we performed from the wings and was always captivated by her authenticity and deeply moved by her performance. It wasn’t only that though – I saw who she was spiritually each evening and that was a wonderful gift for me. I literally transcended who I was each evening and felt myself being a bigger part of the world each time I watched her. It’s truly one of the magical experiences of being an actor and one that I will never ever forget.

    It’s no surprise to me that she is one of the creators and writers and producers and of course one of the actors in the series. She sells herself short about how she came to the role she plays because it required her authenticity for it to be so real. She’s a wonderful woman and it is no surprise to me that women are the focus of the series. The women in the series are the ones that make things happen and Trish is a woman that makes things happen and I was delighted to see her as the ‘magical’ component of the series.

    I loved the satire that the writers and producers created in the series. I have to admit that I recorded it and watched it all in the one sitting and that always makes a difference to me. I’m sure it would make a difference to any viewer.

    For me this series was about the diversity of all of us and how we all misunderstand each other – my opinion’s right, right – it’s got to be if your’s is, right?

    I’m a migrant myself and that colours how I see Australia. I’ve been here since 1968 and that’s a lifetime for me but it never ever has erased the cultural difference that I feel – it’s subtle and if you met me you wouldn’t ever think I was a migrant and I abhor any person who speaks with what they consider to be the Australian way. Mateship for me is truly an Australian thing but it’s not to do with Gallipoli and the first world war.

    I believe that being an Australian and to embrace the Anzac tradition is about being inclusive and understanding that we are all Australians – to deny anything is futile and we must understand our real heritage. Mateship is something more than a concept and it’s a wonderful concept.

    I’d like to see us all treat each other as if we we too were in the trench.