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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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