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Safran pushes the boundaries

October 26, 2009 – 5:26 pm16 Comments

source: abc.net.au

source: abc.net.au

By Jewin’ the fat

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.

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16 Comments »

  • frosh says:

    From the reports I’ve heard, episode 2 (screening this week) is genuinely fascinating, with Safran apparently going undercover as an African-American (with help from world-class makeup artists) to experience what it’s like in someone else’s shoes.

    This is the type of cool thing social-psychologists would have done in the 1960s. However, these days the timid ethics committees, afraid of law-suits and public relations complexities, would never allow such a thing.

    An episode not to miss!

  • Henry Herzog says:

    I don’t know about this week’s episode, but last week’s was a complete let down. I mean, when did the definition of contraversial change to boring. This thing with the Jewish mother, for example, now original was that? I thought Poitnoys Complain had the copyright on the Jewish mother complex.

    Then he had an opportunity at being funny at the sperm bank when he said to the nurse, “see you in a few minutes”: I mean, he could have said in a few seconds or hours.

    John, you are not funny and so far I can’t see what your show has for race relations, but I’ll take frosh’s advise and give it another try tomorrow.

  • frosh says:

    Just finished watching the 2nd episode. I thought it was excellent. It was less comical than the previous episode, but it was more interesting – some really great dialogue.

    Also, the customer relations at that hotdog place initially reminded me of some places in Israel I have eaten at ;-)

  • Henry Herzog says:

    The irony here is that Safran had to disguise himself as an Afro-American to experience racism: I mean, didn’t and don’t Jews experience racism. He didn’t have to go to all the trouble with the make-up, he just needed a kippa, or doesn’t Mr. Safran think Jews are subject to racism?

  • James says:

    Henry Herzog, enough is enough.
    you don’t like John Safran- WE GET IT.
    But for G-D’s sake please let those of us who aren’t completly boring and bitter to enjoy his comedy.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Henry,

    I don’t think Safran ‘going black’ should be interpreted as him not believing that Jews are subject to racism.

    However, the type of racism African-Americans experience is different to the type of racism Jews typically experience.
    For example, when I walk into a department store as a Jew, I am not greeted with a particular suspicion of being a shop lifter. This is something claimed by African-Americans.

    On the other hand, I haven’t heard anyone accuses Barack Obama of having a problematic dual loyalty to Kenya etc, but those accusations are often thrown at Joe Lieberman etc.

    These are rather simplistic examples, but they illustrate that these ethnic groups experience different manifestations of prejudice.

    Furthermore, I don’t think “experiencing racism” was Safran’s primary purpose of ‘going black.’ I think his primary purpose was to be able to interview African-Americans in a way that he felt would not have been possible as ‘white’ person (I’ve used inverted commas here because I personally don’t subscribe to these simplistic colour labels, but that’s another story for another day.)

  • Henry Herzog says:

    frosh, I was in America recently and I saw no more racism towards Afro-Americans than towards Jews. I know what you mean though, there has indeed been a much longer and bitter history of racism towards the Blacks than Jews, but it’s just how Safran goes about ridiculing Jews that erks me. Did you hear him on Red Symon’s the other morning? Red was making fun of him and Safran didn’t even know it. This week Safran invites a girl to make out in Ann frank’s hiding place. Do do you reckon that will amuse? The guy is not funny and James if you get a laugh out of his “comedy”, let me suggest; no I better not say it, I am supposed to be nice and clean.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Henry,

    I don’t think it is a question of which group has more racism directed at it – I certainly was not arguing one way or the other. Rather, I was arguing that the racism directed against African-Americans is manifested quite differently to the racism directed against Jews etc.

    Still, I am reminded of a quote by Herman “Hesh” Rabkin (a complex Jewish character from the Sopranos, who when accused of exploitation by an African-American adversary, remarked: “You’re talking to the wrong white man, my friend. My people were the white man’s nigger when yours were still painting their faces and chasing zebras.” (Discuss amongst yourselves!)

    With regard to Safran, I haven’t heard or yet seen those incidents you refer to, so I cannot comment.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Hi frosh, I reckon you are entering dangerous territory by saying that racism towards Jews and Afro-Americans is different. I mean, all racism is manifestly evil. The way Afro-Americans were treated in the US was very similar to how Jews were treated in Europe. If however, you were arguing only about American and how the Afro-American people have been treated there, I take your point, but it’s still all about history, and I still hold that Safran could just as easily worn a kippa in some southern bar full of red-necks, but I agree, he was out to show how the Afro-Americans have been treated.

    PS Love your work.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    PS Safran’s tasteless invitation to that girl has been used as a promo for his show on the ABC all week.

  • heather says:

    i found the second episode disappointing. The first one was funnier and had a point. The “trying to experience what it’s like to be black” came across very contrived. The pseudo fight at the fast food shop was ridiculous and the speech in the church had no point, unless he thought he couldn’t give the same message as a white person to that audience? As a social experiment it failed – he seemed to just enjoy pretending to be black, and not actually put himself in any situations to test the racism aspect. At least walk into a shop and see what that’s like after the guy told you how black people are treated! He seemed to be testing racism against whites by blacks, not the other way round. I couldn’t help but think that he’s running out of smart ideas and he’s just going for shock value. See how tonight’s episode goes! Hope it’s an improvement!

  • Henry Herzog says:

    heather, don’t hold your breath, although I reckon James will have a coldy in the frig and his pop-corn in the oven. Me, Iam going to hear Wyne Swan speak at the SZF, a much better waste of time.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Anyone see the rib tickling john safran on telly last night? I bet our good mate Fred Toben would have got a big kick out of the “making out” scene at Anne Frank’s hiding place. Maybe next week laugh a minute johnny will have sex at Auschwitz, I mean he is so funny.

  • frosh says:

    The scene in the most recent episode where Safran is in Japan, opening up to this surrogate Mother…

    I thought that had an amazing simultaneous mix of genuine sadness and hilarity.

    You had the great sadness of  man trying to come to terms with the loss of his mother and the feeling that important aspects of life have passed him by, while at the same time the comedy derived from the absurd situation that this Japanese woman he had never met was standing in for his deceased Jewish mother, and playing the part with as much dignity as she could muster.

    Henry Herzog, I await your disagreement :-)

  • Steve Brook says:

    Safran is all things to all people.

    To antisemites, he is proof of Jewish smartassery.

    To some Jews, he is just plain offensive.

    To other Jews, he is a bearer of home truths — but I wish he wouldn’t.

    To me, he is all the above, but at least he’s got people talking about things other than football, and that can’t be bad.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Steve

    He is a bad looking Eurasian woman.  :P

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