I thought I’d better weigh in on the whole Hey Hey it’s Saturday blackface incident since it seems to be getting a lot of international attention and I don’t particularly want to be tarred with the same brush (oh man, that sounds like a really bad pun, sorry) that so many of my fellow Australians seem to be being tarred with.
(If you don’t know what it’s all about, just Google it)
The important facts that a lot of commentators seem ignorant of are as follow…
1: Blackface doesn’t have the same notoriety here in Australia as it does overseas. We have a different culture here to the United States and don’t have the long and shameful history of blackface on the stage and cinema. Sadly a lot of Australians are completely ignorant of this history and are hence unaware of the pain and offence it can cause.
2: The performance on Hey Hey was a recreation of an act originally staged 20 years ago. Idiotic football celebrities aside it’s a rare and notable thing to see anyone done up in blackface in modern Australia for any reason (and if it does occur it’s met with disapproval and severe criticism).
3: The performers are of various racial backgrounds, including Indians and Asians. It’s not a simple case of a bunch of white Anglo Saxons blacking up.
4: Hey Hey is (God knows why) a treasured and well loved piece of Australian culture, attacks on which by ‘foreigners’ seems to trigger a strange and disproportionate form of ‘my country right or wrong’ defence from some sectors of the community.
Basically the act was not intended to cause offence, or reference the blackface stereotype. It was just a bit of really badly thought out idiocy that never should have gone to air if anyone at Channel Nine had actually stopped and used their brains for a few seconds. The fact that it did go to air, and that it did cause offence is something that should be unreservedly apologised for.
Now, onto the reactions. While the innocent (albeit thoroughly stupid) intent of the performers can be defended, the resulting act and the offence caused cannot. There seems to be a certain sector of the Australian population (many of them members of the anti ‘political correctness’ brigade) who are leaping up and down over some perceived right to slather boot polish on their faces and go around loudly eating watermelon on the basis that “it’s just a joke” and “people shouldn’t be so sensitive”. A lot of these people are hitting on two particular points in their arguments, which I shall now address.
1: Harry Connick Junior once took part in a sketch parodying a black preacher, and used makeup to darken his skin. Hence he’s a hypocrite.
2: Robert Downey Junior was made up as an African American man in Tropic Thunder and no one complained.
Neither of these points is particularly valid. Yes, Harry Connick Junior was made up with darkened skin for that sketch, but there’s a difference between the slight darkening employed there, and the wholesale boot polish job employed on Hey Hey. Similarly in Tropic Thunder the make up and prosthetics employed actually make Robert Downey Junior look African American – as opposed to a white man painted black – and much of the humour in the movie is based around the inappropriateness of using make up (and plastic surgery) to make a white actor look black. This subtlety seems to be lost of a lot of people defending the Hey Hey act.
So that’s my two cents. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s plenty of Australians – such as myself – who were outraged, disgusted and embarrassed by the fact that such a performance should be put to air in modern day Australia, and who are just as outraged, disgusted and embarrassed by the ignorant loudmouths trying to defend it. Insomuch as I can personally apologise for the actions of my fellow Australians I do so, completely and unreservedly. Sorry.