What is the logical next step for Chris Lilley after a series of race controversies have seen his TV shows pulled by broadcasters and streaming services alike? A podcast staring one of his characters, of course! As The Age describes it…
The audio series [Ja’miezing] re-acquaints audiences with Ja’mie King, the melodramatic private schoolgirl character who first became a household name in Lilley’s 2005 mockumentary We Can Be Heroes: Finding the Australian of the Year.
Ja’mie King, lest we forget, hasn’t been seen or heard from since 2013, when she was the star of Lilley’s mockumentary Ja’mie: Private School Girl, a show which infamously concluded with a scene featuring Ja’mie topless, an effect achieved by superimposing Lilley’s head onto the (partially-blurred) body of a teenage girl.
And given that Lilley’s portrayal of Ja’mie’s teenage sexuality was problematic in 2013, Lilley’s portrayal of Ja’mie as a sex-positive adult will, if anything, be even more problematic post-#MeToo. Certainly, large parts of Ja’imezing (now on Apple Podcasts and YouTube), are a pretty uncomfortable listen if you have any awareness of structural sexism.
Lilley is famous for researching his characters, reportedly spending weeks observing teenagers in high schools and scouring social media and TV archives for inspiration. This led to gushing articles in the media about how realistic his characters are, articles which, with very few exceptions, failed to point out that his work isn’t without its problems…
What Lilley always forgets, perhaps blinded by the media hype which surrounded him, is that he, as a white cis heterosexual man, can’t just play a woman or a person of colour and get away with it, even if he has done some research into the type of person he’s portraying. His performance is always going to look problematic given the history of how the people he’s playing have been treated by the type of person he is.
In Ja’miezing, for example, Ja’mie is extremely frank about her sex life – something lots of women in their 20s are – but we discover that there are nude photos of her on the internet and that she is proud of this. She also talks about “going down on herself” aged 11, about how she sort-of engineered to be naked and using a vibrator in front of her father, and how she gives men hand jobs.
On the one hand, you could argue that Lilley’s created a realistic contemporary female character who has internalised a lot of sexism. On the other hand, Lilley’s created a character that we’re supposed to laugh at for her how she expresses her sexuality. It doesn’t take a feminist to find this problematic coming from a 46-year-old heterosexual cis man.
It’s also difficult to find the character of Ja’mie funny in general. She’s not just entitled, ignorant, attention-seeking and horrible to other people, she’s also seems a bit disturbed, screwed up by an absent father and a drug-addicted mother. Not a whole bunch of laughs, there.
At the end of the first episode of Ja’miezing, Ja’mie asks listeners to send in questions for her to answer as part of an advice segment. It will be interesting to see what results from this, and what the reaction to this show is in general. Being a podcast, it’s unlikely to attract the level of attention Lilley’s TV series have had. And given the recent controversies surrounding Lilley, and the decreased tolerance for everyday sexism from public figures in general, the near-universal praise Lilley has come to expect from the media may not be forthcoming.