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Triple J Incident Unearths need for Holocaust Education Revamp

August 15, 2012 – 8:39 pm13 Comments

By Anthony Frosh
Triple J, the national broadcaster’s youth oriented radio station, prides itself on unearthing Australian musical (and even comedic) talent. However, in an incident last week, it was not talent that was unearthed, but rather a surprising level of ignorance and prejudice.

The incident is clearly described on the music news website, ToneDeaf.

The pair of Tom Ballard and Alex Dyson played a game on their show yesterday with guest, former Spicks & Specks captain Alan Brough, in which they got listeners to call in and play a game of ‘six degrees of Hitler.’ Listeners were given a random topic – in this case wind farms – and asked to link them to Hitler.

What followed sparked the ire of many listeners, who were upset and offended when Ballard made a joke that linked wind-farms to the infamous dictator, saying “wind farms, fan-forced ovens, let’s not go there…” Though he didn’t connect the dots, the damage was already done.

Almost worse than the actual incident was the reaction that followed from Ballard, who initially refused to apologise, writing on Twitter, “If you don’t like the show, just don’t listen”. In the end, and probably with some prompting from the ABC, he did apologise, but the apology was about being sorry people were offended rather than demonstrating an understanding of why people were offended.

Apparently, Ballard likened himself to such comedic greats as Mel Brooks and Charlie Chaplin, to name a couple. While these comedians did make famous parodies of Nazis, this is not all the same thing as making light of the actual murder and suffering of the victims.

However, the most alarming aspect of the whole incident was arguably the reaction from followers on social media. Some continued to make more jokes on a par with Ballard’s original, and many more supported the airing of such jokes (for example, see here).  In some cases, the motivation for these comments is pure anti-Semitism. However, in many instances, I suspect that these comments are made more out of ignorance than anti-Semitic prejudice.

Several comments were to the effect of, “It’s been 70 years already, get over it!” However, this is clearly not an accepted argument when it comes to other genocides that are closer to home for Australians. For example, despite the fact that nearly two centuries have passed, no Australian with a modicum of cultural sensitivity (including Triple J presenters) would make light of the horrific massacres of Tasmania’s Indigenous population.

Sadly, there have been a number of other on-air incidents over the last few years, in both Australia and New Zealand that have demonstrated a similar lack of sensitivity when it comes to the Shoah.  And if this is happening on-air or in public forums, one can only imagine how often similar comments are made in other public forums and casual conversations.

There is no shortage of Holocaust education in our society. Additionally, there are more Holocaust themed films being released than ever before. And yet despite this, the message does not seem to be getting through. That is, the messages are not being contextualised (at least by a significant minority) in a way that results in a real understanding of the scale of destruction that was the Shoah.

Instead of simply trying to increase the quantity of Holocaust education, it might be time that we do some serious research to evaluate current programs. One scenario I can imagine is that a number of focus groups are organised where some groups include people who have experienced some Holocaust education but still think these types of jokes and insensitive comments ought to be acceptable. As radical as this might sound to some, perhaps only then can we discover how Holocaust education programs could be revised so that the Ballards of this world can properly contextualise the essential lessons.

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13 Comments »

  • Levi a refugee from the USSR says:

    Going to a Jewish day school, I grew up on holocaust education – as a matter of fact it was the only education that given to me by the secular Jewish day school network that was even remotely Jewish (with the exception of eating falafel balls on yom hatzmut). It was only later, that I discovered that there was a lot more to Judaism than just the Holocaust and falafel balls. When that very dark and depressing phase of Jewish history is the only thing that the majority of Jews or for that matter non Jews are exposed to when it comes to Judiasm, it’s
    great values and history, than many people switch off, disengage or worse ( as we saw on that Facebook page.) Perhaps, focusing on a living and vibrant Judiasm – i.e. on our great sages, their works, wisdom and philosophy (and on what this has to offer to humanity as a whole) is the actual solution. If Jews are willfully ignorant of their background, culture and beliefs and show disrespect to these things…than how can one expect non Jews to respect us and even empathize with us?

  • frosh says:

    Hi Levi,
     
    I agree with you that very often Holocaust education trumps all other forms of Jewish education. 
    That is one of the reasons why I have argued that the answer isn’t more Holocaust education.  However, there still is a need for Holocaust education, as the Triple J incident demonstrates. We just need to evaluate why the message isn’t getting through to some people such as these radio presenters. 
     
    I think what you have said is important. Perhaps current Holocaust education programs only focus on the suffering, death, and destruction. Maybe they also need to focus more on the value of the culture that was destroyed (but at the same time, lives on).  I think it’s time the community invests in some research to find out.

  • Brendan Bensky says:

    Various Israel Program organisers that offer their participants Poland experiences have tended away from death and destruction being their sole focus. Some focus on cultural history and others place their focus toward developing relationships with contemporary Polish Jewry.
     
    This Holocaust humour debate has been strange a little strange for me. Unless I’ve missed some of the conversation, I havn’t seen any acknowledgement from the Jewish community that Holocaust humour is a hot-topic, one that we’ve internally grappled with for years.
     
    In my experience in the Jcom, many madrichim that are teaching Holocaust use humour as a coping mechanism. And amidst the third generation, many of us find humour to be our only outlet. The jokes we share are ‘worse’ than what JJJ aired.

  • I think what’s needed is to universalize the messages of “never again” so they make sense to the general community. To explain that humans are capable of the worst atrocities no matter how civilized their societies may seem. So that the message is genuinely accepted, it can’t just be about the Jews.
     
    Here are my thoughts on the Triple J incident: http://davidknows.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/triple-ignorance.html

  • Mandi Katz says:

    hey Brendan – Holocaust humour in the Jewish community is often about our obsession, the impact on subsequent generations, that sort of thing. I have never heard Jews I mix with joke about the mechanisms of killing. Maybe it’s generational so I’m interested in  your thoughts about how the jokes within the JCom are worse…

  • Mandi Katz says:

    And just to add to that – even within the Jewish community I think there’s a bit of a hierarchy of who can make jokes. Children and grandchildren of survivors have a different kind of standing to make jokes about the sort of things I have mentioned – because it’s their stories.  Others, not so much… i

  • Levi a refugee from the USSR says:

    “Maybe they also need to focus more on the value of the culture that was destroyed (but at the same time, lives on). ”

    Not only does it live on but it is and will become more vibrant and stronger than ever. To say it was destroyed only hands the perpetrators their desired victory. This culture – i.e. The Torah of Moshe, Rabbi Akiva, the Rashbi, Rambam etc is what they wanted to eliminate. When we focus on this and embrace it whole heartldy than we are victroious. but when we focus on just the negative. – constantly lamenting the destruction of our communities – than we have lost. After all, the Nazis built special museums devoted to Judiasm – designed to show case to the public an extinct nation that they had destroyed. And thats exactly what the Jewish day school network and many mainstream organizations do – they build museums and make memorials lamenting the death of Jewish life. how sad, depressing and untrue.

    @Brendan, I’ve never been privy to any gas chamber jokes within the Jcom…perhaps I’ve missed something. But it wasn’t so much what Ballard said that is worrisome, (I only read the transcript) it’s what followed – his arrogant, insensitive attitude, Triple J’s arrogance and inscere apology and then the most disturbing development of all – the reaction of his fans via the Triple J Facebook “apology” page. I haven’t listened to Triple J in years, but from what I remember their demographic was always aimed at the young, educated, bohemian types who usually come from middle class to wealthy backgrounds. they are the future journalists, academics and policy makers of this country. To have these people incite hatred and make jokes about the mass murder of Jews, should make everyone in our community – (especially those who bend over backwards to try and fit in and assimilate into mainstream society)wake up and smell the
    coffee. It’s wasn’t a coincidence that pre Nazi Germany and Austria were the most egalitarian and cultured societies in the world and the Jews there were the most assimilated. This was where the haskalah movement was born and the idea that a Jew should only be a Jew at home but a German in the street, reigned supreme. Ironically, this way of life in turn creates a cesspool where antisemitism thrives…. breeding ground of hatred. The only way to drain the malaria infested swamp is to re-embrace our true identities and learning about who we are and why we are here. Once we become comfortable with who we are, are knowledgable and respectful of our culture and at peace with this, then this will create the ultimate remedy to antisemitism. it’s no secret that an individual who does not respect themselves and is not at peace with themselves and tires to be something that they are not, automatically attracts the Ire of others. The same applies to a group or nation of people and even more so to Jews as history has shown time and time again.

  • Yaakov says:

    The Great Dictator was an anti-Nazi film, put together by a genius, a Socialist, during wartime as a piece of anti-Nazi propaganda.  Chaplin’s socialism got him expelled from the US and his autobiography is a wonderful explanation of how his poverty as a child informed the politics of some of his film e.g. Modern Times.  
    Nothing remotely political or anti-Nazi about the childish stunt on JJJ.

  • sfrosh says:

    I have not witnessed Holocaust humour amongst my jewish acquaintances ever, and I wonder about the jokes as a “coping mechanism” mentioned by Brendan. Even the Mel Brooks dark satire on Nazism, “The Producers” which has also been filmed, would not be all that widely accepted by my contemporaries as OK, and Mel is jewish as we all know. 

  • PM123 says:

    Wondering how many people took the time to officially complain.
    This is what I received from the ABC :
     
    Thank you for your email concerning triple j Breakfast presenter Tom Ballard’s comments made on Thursday 9 August during a segment with co-presenter Alex Dyson and guest comedian Alan Brough.
     
    As your correspondence raised concerns of offensive content, your email was referred to Audience and Consumer Affairs for consideration and response. The unit is separate and independent from ABC program areas and is responsible for investigating complaints alleging a broadcast or publication was in contravention of the ABC’s editorial standards. In light of your concerns, we have reviewed the broadcast and assessed it against the ABC’s editorial requirements for Harm and Offence, as outlined in section 7.1 of the ABC’s Editorial Policies: http://www.abc.net.au/corp/pubs/edpols.htm. In the interests of procedural fairness, we have also sought and considered material from ABC Radio.
     
    The ABC’s editorial standard (section 7.1) for Harm and Offence states that “Content that is likely to cause harm or offence must be justified by the editorial context.”
     
    In this case, although the joke was not complete before Mr Ballard’s guest and co-presenter intervened to stop him, it was clear that he was going to reference the gas chambers of the Holocaust in a joke. This was undoubtedly highly offensive to any survivors of the Holocaust, their families and many other people who may have been listening, and was not justifiable in the context.   Unfortunately any mitigating effect of the other presenters intervening was undone by Mr Ballard initially defending his actions on Twitter.
     
    Mr Ballard, however, realised he made an error of judgement and on the afternoon of Thursday 9 August  an apology was published on Facebook and Twitter.  Mr Ballard made an on air apology on the Breakfast program on Monday 13 August.  
     
    Additional apologies have also been issued online at http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/musicnews/s3565105.htm and on Tom and Alex’s Facebook page:  “I’m very sorry that on my breakfast radio program, I offended and upset a lot of people. That’s not what I like doing; I like making people laugh and I like making people happy.  I never set out to vindictively offend or belittle anyone or any group with my comedy, that’s not what I’m about. I sincerely apologise that’s how I came across in this instance. (Tom)”
     
    The triple j breakfast team have been counselled by network management, and presenter Tom Ballard has been specifically reminded of his obligations under the ABC’s Editorial Policies, particularly in relation to Harm and Offence.   ABC Radio apologises sincerely and unreservedly for this lapse in standards. 
     
    Accordingly, Audience and Consumer Affairs conclude that the broadcast was not in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards for Harm and Offence.
     
    Thank you for taking the time to write; your feedback is appreciated.   Should you be dissatisfied with this response to your complaint, you may be able to pursue your complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority, http://www.acma.gov.au .
     
    Yours sincerely
     
    Mark Maley                                 
    Audience & Consumer Affairs

  • I formally complained and received the identical letter.

  • frosh says:

    Non-Jewish Bondi surfer likes Bondi Jews, doesn’t seem to like Bondi hipsters, and worries that Holocaust could happen against because young people are ignorant about its history.
     
    http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/opinion/blogs/the-tiger-of-happiness/is-history-doomed-to-repeat-itself-20121010-27cfx.html

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