Seems we made an error in our review of the first episode of 8MMM Aboriginal Radio. Lots of commenters have told us that the constant racism from the show’s training manager Dave is entirely realistic. Guess there must be lots of white people in Alice Springs who can’t even buy bread in a supermarket without slagging off indigenous folks. They must be quite annoying!
Having said that, this is the kind of thing that the very first episode of a comedy series set in a location that’s unfamiliar to most of its audience needs to explain. Comedians who blame their audience for not getting the joke usually don’t stay comedians for long. It’s fine (and based on the feedback we’ve had, totally correct) to say “that’s exactly what people are like up north”, but if you don’t take the time to set the scene – if you don’t explain that yes, this offensive behaviour is actually considered par for the course in some parts of the country – then you’re not doing your job as comedians.
Because the fact is that for most Australians – us included – this part of Australia is unfamiliar. And if you’re going to use comedy to educate Australians about life in the Northern Territory (a part of the country inhabited by less people than the audience for the Seven Nightly News in an east coast capital city), then “educate” is part of the process. It doesn’t make it impossible to set a comedy there, but it does mean you have to work a little harder to let us all in on the joke.
One positive that came out of our gaff was that we were offered the chance to preview the rest of the series*, which we’re happy to report improves a lot, with all of the characters becoming less cartoonish and more nuanced. Even racist Dave starts to befriend some of the indigenous characters. Kinda. Look out for the scene in this week’s episode where he wakes up with his arm around an indigenous man (we won’t spoil the punchline). And there are more Dave laughs coming in episode five, when his re-enactment of John McDowell Stuart’s founding of Alice Spring is ruined by Jampajinpa and friends, while Koala hilariously proves that he isn’t a decedent of Stuart after all.
This is all classic sitcom humour, and funny because it’s full-of-himself Dave copping it. Less amusing are the moments that reflect the harsh realities of life. In one episode Jake and Lola ask for funding for a new water pump, but in a The Games-esque moment find that while they can’t have the money for the pump they can have as much bottled water as they like. Who needs sustainable solutions?! In another episode the team from 8MMM celebrate with a few (actually rather a lot of) drinks, but on the way home the slightly drunk Jampajinpa is hassled by the cops, arrested and jailed, while the same cops let the incredibly drunk – and driving – Dave go about his business.
The double standards, stupid bureaucracy and in-your-face racism are shocking, but there’s nothing to laugh at here. It’s like watching a 4 Corners story about the after-effects of the intervention or a John Pilger documentary: utterly depressing. But laugh at this we’re invited to. 8MMM actor, writer and producer, Trisha Morton-Thomas, and producer Rachel Clements recently promoted the series on ABC Melbourne’s The Conversation Hour, and spoke, amongst other things, about how they wanted to use humour to explore the truth of life in indigenous communities.
We have to laugh, otherwise we’ll just be a little heap on the floor crying constantly. You can’t do that you, you have to get on with life.
Fair enough, and we’re sure this plays well to those familiar with this world, but for us it’s been more of an “eye opener”. And like most eye openers, it wasn’t that funny. If you disagree we’d like to hear why – tell us what made you laugh.
* Our source wishes to remain anonymous, but we can assure you has no connection with the production of 8MMM.