Safran pushes the boundaries
Come to the edge, he said. They said: We are afraid. Come to the edge, he said. They came. He pushed them and they flew.
— Guillaume Apollinaire
John Safran is arguably Australia’s King of Satire. After the ‘Make a Realistic Wish’ debacle by the Chasers’ War on Everything, and with the Gruen Transfer going MIA, it was a personal pleasure of mine to see Safran, of John Safran’s Music Jamboree and John Safran vs. God, back on the ABC. This time, he is diving head-first into the messy world of Race Relations, asking the hard questions about racism and religious prejudice, and examining whether we should stay with our tribe or leave it.
The eight part series premiered on Wednesday night amidst a mire of controversy- as with most of Safran’s work- drummed up by the PC police and their minions. Headlines screaming ‘racist’ ‘immoral’ and ‘offensive’ only drove the public interest in the series higher, and the masses were not left unsatisfied.
In an article on ABC Unleashed, Kim Dalton, the ABC‘s Director of Television, laid down the gauntlet. With the show tackling holy cows and pushing the boundaries of good taste, Dalton applauded the intelligence of Safran’s audience, and suggested;“If you think you are going to be offended or outraged (or want to be offended or outraged) then don’t tune in.”
But tune in we did. In a circumnavigation attempt to rival that of Jessica Watson, Safran takes his peculiar brand of squirm-producing, power-subverting humour on the road, crossing state lines, continents, ideologies and even races, in an attempt to push the audience to discover what really keeps them apart.
Is it skin colour? Is it guilt? (In Safran’s case, of the ‘Jewish mother’ variety) Is it simply tribalism? Are we able to leave our prejudices behind, and bring all nations together to become a truly global community, living in peace and harmony? Should we get funky, set some mood lighting and make rainbow babies?
In the series opener, Safran takes gene-based dating to a whole new level, consulting a scientist to determine if his penchant for Eurasian woman is justifiably a genetic preference. As it turns out, a panty-sniff test is just what the doctor ordered, and after stealing a dozen pairs of underwear belonging to childhood friends, a Balinese Princess and Nicole from the Pussycat Dolls, the aromas are put to the blindfolded-test.
Though obscene (“Ooh, good … Oooh, less good”), it is part scientific-fascination and another part creepy. But the fun doesn’t stop there. Throwing in his school-yard Rabbi, a few ex-girlfriends and even some racially-charged pixelation, we are off and running. Oh yes – we head over to Israel and Palestine, land of political (in)correctness, for Safran’s efforts to create the ultimate mixed-race – the Jalestinian.
An image that will probably be imprinted on my brain forever is Safran smothering a giggle, as his Palestinian boom-operator masturbates about two feet away from him. Crass? Yes. Hilarious? Absolutely. And that is just the beginning of this irreverent, devil-may-care series, which takes public propriety and shoves it back in its box. Of course, ripping through the PC shield we have been covered with for so long requires some grunt (thanks boom-operator guy), and undoubtedly as the series progresses, we will be compelled to take a look at our own prejudices, forced or imbibed, and evaluate their legitimacy.
Not a bad idea, especially considering the trigger for such self-reflection is mostly sexual innuendo, awkward situation comedy and simple laugh-out-loud-can’t-look-away-oh-no-he-didn’t-did-he funny.
Safran hits the G-spot of satire gold with this one. He is bold, unafraid, and blissfully unpretentious in his geek-makes-good style. After Hey Hey It’s Saturday beamed stupidity and crass across the world, Australia gets a chance to redeem itself with a man who is not afraid to push the limits of good taste, as long as he makes his point.
And it is a point excellently made.
John Safran’s Race Relations airs Wednesday nights on ABC1 at 9.30pm, AEDST.