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. lobrow

    I have two words for those in the UK with short memories:

    Papa Lazarou…

  2. monkeyboy

    So a white guy apologises to another white guy because of a black joke – there’s your punchline to a shitty skit – comedy gold.

  3. Stivette J.B. Smythe

    Stephen my dear – it’s Stivette to you thankyou.

    And whilst chastising Jeebus for speaking on behalf of 20 million, I must ask that you refrain from a less numeric but still notable transgression – that of assuming you can speak for me.

    In fact I don’t get up in arms if my sacred cows are insulted. I simply don’t take them on board if ever I come accross them as insults (rare anyway) and if they are a laugh then all the better.

    And yes I’m cranky that Hey Hey is being criticised, because I will always defend the very defensible especially if said defensible is also entertaining and a lot of fun for 2 million of us.

    Your problem and everyone else having a whinge is easily solveable, just reach for your remote if Hey hey gets back up. Or would you like our programming habits to be dictated to us perhaps by a government department.

    HEY! Has anyone called Kevin about this? Surely he’d love to add his populist “total and complete” condemnation for this “outrageous error of judgement that has no place in today’s Australia” (yaaaaaaawn…). Oh – and annnounce an immediate judicial inquiry into facial boot polishing for light entertainment!

  4. stephen

    Stivette, I’m not your dear and I’m not speaking for you in the least. Maybe you can speak up for youself like a good chap, but racist based humour is hurtful, and toxic to a healthy society. It was wonderful that Harry spoke. He was gracious and couragous speaking up for others, whereas you are gracious and courageous speaking up for yourself. It is no co-incidence that you, who is sensitive about your name being abbreviated would lack empathy

  5. Dom Ramone

    Stivette wrote:

    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

    That’s ok then, it was the red faces skit that was at fault, not Hey Hey. Of course.

    From this contorted piece of logic, I guess nothing would offensive or indecent so long as the ‘comedy’ is staged within the red faces segment.


  6. afoxrussell

    Racist? Probably not. But, in extremely poor taste? Absolutely.

  7. Glenn

    Geez whats all the fuss about I didn’t even see a problem at all until I saw the media this morning.

    I mean the Jackson 5 are colored aren’t they ????

    Just get over it.

  8. Aus_Roh

    The “Jackson Jive”, Red Faces, and the show was not making fun of black people. (Funny, when I was young, using the word ‘black’ was considered offensive.) The group was making a goofy parody to a specific pop group, not a race in general. The attempted (and in my opinion successful attempted) humour was the gaudy *imitations* of specific persons, not a comment on the subjects themselves. That included costumes, moves, and yes of course some sort of personal recognition.

    It’s Red Faces, they were making a joke of themselves trying stupidly to be someone else, not the other way around. Being so pro-actively offended should be considered offensive in itself. Yes, there are significant historic blackfacing issues in the US, but this is our country, it was not in the US. We are the ones being viewed with bigotry now. Can white people be offended by the Michael Jackson figure who was white-faced? Or would that be too much now. (In that instance that could be a joke on a specific person, but it is still not racist.)

  9. Chris Graham

    Great article Ruth. You hit the nail right on the head, as did Hochfelden with the comment: “Talk about the Tyranny of Distance.”

    What I love most about this issue is that so many people are prepared to come and defend it, claiming everyone else is thin-skinned. The rest of the world thinks we have a problem with racism and we think the rest of the world is wrong. Well, South African thought the same thing.

    I particularly love the many “I’m not racist but” style comments above. We truly are a very very ignorant nation.

  10. jacks

    I remember all the politically correct idiots on youtube from america making comments about the Chasers impersonation of the Jackson 5 – “its racist” they all screamed. No, its a parody of the group. It has nothing to do with race, what it has to do with is looking like the original singers. I saw a comment a little while ago that I agreed with – remember the film white chicks? about two black actors who dressed up as white women? any PC idiots start screaming then?
    All you people think you’re helping but all you’re doing is increasing racial tensions by making a big deal out of nothing.

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