TV & Radio

Oct 8, 2009

The world sees red over Hey Hey‘s blackface

Whilst reanimating the fetid corpse of Hey Hey it's Saturday, the show's producers decided to also revive some ol' fashioned 20th century bigotry, by putting on a Minstrel Show. Pundits across the pond didn't quite see the funny side.

Because Australia doesn't cop enough flack for being a racist backwater, the good folk propping up the reanimated corpse of Hey Hey it's Saturday decided last night that no nostalgia trip into the country's murky cultural past would be complete without reviving some ol' fashioned 20th century bigotry. And so it was that, amidst three hours of tired puns, dubious puppetry and that very special Daryl Somers-brand of awkward ad-libbing, was this: [youtube][/youtube] Yes. They put on a Minstrel Show. And it seems a few people got a little offended. And by "a few people", we do mean "pretty much the entire world". Naturally, the fallout started pretty early on the pulse of the people, Twitter. Ironically, Daryl Somers himself had anointed #HeyHey and #Plucka as the "official" hashtags prior to the show, which ended up providing a neat little way of collecting the world's grievances over the stunt. The show's 10:30pm finish time (which was more like 10:50pm, because three hours just wasn't enough time to contain all that fun) meant it ended just in time for those across the pond to wake up to clips of the "sketch" buzzing around the social media web. It didn't take long for the outrage to begin -- and it came thick, fast and dripping with scorn and sarcasm. In The Guardian: Harry Connick Jr weirdly unimpressed by Australia's blackface Jackson 5:
In Australia, of course, it is perfectly acceptable, and we thank the nation for yet another important contribution to the annals of human culture.
For The AV Club: G'Day, Blackface!
In case you were wondering what the country of Australia in 2009 has in common with fictional 1960s advertising exec Roger Sterling, well, apparently, they share an unbridled love of blackface. Really, they just can't get enough.
Still Fresh And Funny In Australia: Blackface, scoffs The Awl:
You know what never gets old for the folks on Prison Island? Blackface! Oh, how they chuckle!
And you know you've really cocked-up when the world's leading media industry gossip snarkers, Gawker, project some of their particularly acidic bile in your direction:
Wow, an American is being the voice of cultural sensitivity? Australia must be really messed up.
And the fallout continues, from the likes of New York mag, Movieline, dlisted and more. For the 1980s anachronism Hey Hey, it was a harsh lesson in just how differently the media works in 2009: just because your target demographic is slack-jawed suburbanites and pensioners, the whole world is now watching. And once again, the whole cringe-worthy affair has hammered home just how out-dated the show really is. On the upside, the international scorn virtually guarantees this is the last time we'll ever see Hey Hey rear its tired, shoe-polished face on our screens again.

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58 thoughts on “The world sees red over Hey Hey‘s blackface

  1. Rhino

    I really didn’t equate the portrayal of black people as black as ‘racist.’ I know it’s easy (and common) to use the R-word towards almost anything that identifies anyone by race/nationality/religion, but then it’s also a mis-use which cheapens the examples of genuine serious racism which we may see around the world.

    To me, the skit was no different than Robert Downey Jr doing the Blackface in the film “Tropic Thunder” – for which he received an Oscar nomination! No scream of “racist” there…

    By logical extension, if it was ‘racist’ for some black people to portray black people as black by blackening their faces (the leader, playing Michael jackson, is Indian), it is also racist for actors to adopt foreign accents when playing foreign people. Meryl Streep in “Out of Africa,” for example, had her portraying a South African by assuming the appearance and accent of a South African…

    In summary – overreaction?

  2. frank

    This whole debacle must raise the question, who were the out of touch morons who filtered the acts to decide who would appear. It seems that there is an opening for cultural and racial sensitivity courses to be run at the channel.

  3. gef05

    “international scorn”

    The Guardian.

    Got anything else?

  4. Adam Barker

    Seriously, I think the whole thing is being a bit overdone. I could see Harry Connick Jr was getting upset but he’s a yank and they’re all precious. The people doing the routine are not yokels, they are well educated doctors holding respectable positions in the community, and in fact, the group themselves are made up of a number of different ethnic backgrounds.

    The sad part is this PC bullshit will overshadow what was two Wednesday nights of fun and nostalgia. They did the same thing 20 years ago and to be honest I thought it was a good flashback.

    If you want to be mad about something be mad about the war in Afghanistan or the Bankers still collecting big bonuses with taxpayers money – don’t be mad at a little sketch on a one off show in a small, fararway land.

  5. jeebus

    Yeah it was a lame sketch and shouldn’t have been chosen for the show, but for the love of christ, let’s not over-react with a political correctness sh*t-storm. Deal with it the Australian way and take the piss out of it instead!

  6. Stivette J.B. Smythe

    O H G I V E M E A B R E A K !!! Get a life and liven up you painful catbum faced killjoys!

    LET ME LAY IT OUT FOR YOU SIMPLY. Firstly; The show was fun, I still have a smile on my face – didn’t know how much I missed seeing it until the last two weeks and was never even a die hard fan. Thanks HeyHey and Jackie/Ding Dong/Ozzie it was great you came back last night and joined the crew.

    NOW, the “incident” – I didn’t even think anything of it again until Daryl handled it perfectly by inviting Harry Connnick to explain and “have his say”. Not that most of us needed to have it explained – but given that he is American, a friend of Hey Hey and THIS WAS LIVE TELEVISION it was the right thing to do since he was upset. It’s no big deal – he’s cool, and we’re cool. And Journos can you HOLD THE SUPERLATIVES PLEAESE ! … I would hardly call it factual run a headline within 60 minutes of the show saying “Hey Hey Condemned” – give me a break! Your headline should have read “I Hereby Condemn Hey Hey”.

    Let’s all take a deep breath and remember this was not a Hey Hey skit or send up but an act on the often distasteful but often hilarious Red Faces.

    One loveable Aussie trait is that we don’t take ouselves too seriously and while respecting other people WE STILL LIKE TO POKE FUN AT OURSELVES and others. If you want and need everything dumbed down, controlled and your humour censored by government and/or religious leaders then move to Iran and leave us 2 million or so other viewers to have a laugh. Like yelling out at the football that your team are playing like a “bloody bunch of poofs” (while sitting next to your gay friends) – this innocent skit was just an “Aussie bitta fun”.

    Now for the more important issue – when is channel nine going to listen to us all and bring this fantastic show back. Chook Lotto was such a laugh and Plucka as usual was a hoot – the weird thing is I don’t even know why I love this show but that I guess is part of it’s magic And NO it is NOT a FLEETING infatuation…. Come on Nine and come on ADVERTISING EXECS – give them a run for a couple of years and we’ll show you we mean it!

    Daryl and Team – 2 million aussies know this was just a little hiccup caused by a small oversight re one of your guests – and the fact it is LIVE TV. Like spilling wine on an old friend at a party – the shirt dries, the party goes on – and after a few days we are remembering the party and not the spilt wine. Well done – we LOVED THE SHOW!

  7. Hochfelden

    Retiring as I did to Australia in 2002 (after 31 years living in Switzerland) I noticed so many elements of Australian life that reminded me of Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. The Black and White Minstrel Show which was the most popular TV show and which even the British became offended by so that it was taken off the air in 1967 appears to be alive and kicking in multi-cultural Australia. Talk about the Tyranny of Distance.

  8. Jeff Waugh

    Rhino: It’s not a matter of identification and portrayal. That can be done with taste as actual comedy or artful commentary (often at the same time). This skit was neither. It was straight down the line teasing, based directly on race, and without any sensitivity to historical expressions of racism (the minstrel shows).

    No screams of racism or inappropriateness about Robert Downey Jr.’s role in “Tropic Thunder”? Oh how quickly you forget… there was a lot of controversy about it before the film was released, but by the time people had seen it, the “art” of the film’s parody (however funny it may or may not have been) was better understood. It was certainly a risky move, which the creators and Downey Jr. understood and spoke about.

    Turns out “Tropic Thunder” was poking fun at actors and Australians — not African-Americans — so you win two awards for insensitivity and thoughtlessness today!

  9. stephen

    FCS Stivette & Co. you would be up in arms if your sacred cows where insulted let alone you personally. Well Stiv you seem pretty cranky because Hey Hey is being criticised.
    Adam Barker is the pot calling the kettle black with your prissy response.
    Jeebus what’s your point?, that’s exactly what people are doing, and don’t impose the dreaded “aussie way” on us please. You can’t speak for twenty million, speak for yourself!

  10. Me

    Oh good gravy!

    I enjoyed Hey Hey in the past and enjoyed the reunion shows – Yes. Even WITH the ‘Jacksons’ skit. Red Faces wouldn’t be Red Faces if there anyone was to appear there with real talent, would it?! Anyone who knows me will tell you that I abhor racism but …. really!?

    The skit was a ‘flash back’ and did not appear (to me, anyway) to be a ‘minstrel show’ but a bunch of guys imitating -badly – the Jacksons. I guess the fact that the participants were not of (recent) African origin (that’s where everyone in the world originated, remember) probably necessitated the blackened faces & hair to depict the Jacksons – and granted it was ridiculously overdone – but ‘racist’?

    If it were a skit about a Dutch group and they dressed in clogs and funny hats and carried tulips, would THAT be offensive? We all know that’s not how the Dutch really appear and this is just a way to depict them in a skit, so I’m assuming not.

    I guess I’m not black skinned so I may not understand the situation fully – and I stand to be corrected by any black skinned person who was insulted or offended by the skit. Until then all I can say is: “Please stop this precious ‘cultural insensitivity’ nonsense!”

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