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.