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Educating the Dumb, Drunk and Racist

August 24, 2012 – 9:33 am3 Comments

By Malki Rose
I chuckled when Ali G was in Da House exposing stereotypes of the Berkshire Massif and giggled when Borat toured the USA uncovering some of America’s finest redneck and white supremacist past-times.

But when Sascha Baron-Cohen’s Dictator stood in his opulent entertainment room playing on his extravagantly oversized TV, selected the ‘Munich 72’ game from the main menu of his Wii, and began playfully shooting Jewish Israelis in a hotel corridor simulation – I felt sick.  Not annoyed, not offended, not culturally sensitive. Just sick.

It didn’t matter if he’s Jewish, which half of his family is Israeli, or if he were to reveal in the future that he is one quarter Iranian, two fifths Greek, four seventeenths indigenous Australian and married to a Palestinian transvestite … and it didn’t matter if it was intended as satire.

A glance at the thousands of online Youtube remarks reveals that despite its intentions,  The Dictator has incited a cascade of hate-speech and has propagated nasty stereotypes about Muslims and takes every opportunity to make light of the brutal murder of innocent people.

Baron-Cohen may have intended the piece to satirize Iranian ‘leader’ Ahmadinejad, which it certainly does, but sadly much of the world are poorly informed, especially young viewers. Many have never heard of Ahmadinejad and without a proper cultural context are unable to view the film as anything more than a hilarious look at Islam and apply violent tyranny to all Muslims resulting in online comments such as “camel-raping faggots, get out of australia and go home, stop shoving your dumb arse religion down our throats”.

The same can be seen in the Youtube video for Baron-Cohen’s satirical performance of “Throw the Jew Down the Well”. Although intended to demonstrate the idiocy of blindly accepting harmful racial stereotypes, the comments section under the posted video demonstrates a perhaps unintended outcome.  Tirade after tirade against those “money grabbing fuckers who control the world, fix national elections and should have been finished off in the gas chambers”.

Racially questionable terms are often used as a coping mechanism or as a tool of empowerment especially by those who’ve suffered persecution. Gay people call each other “poofs”, Black people using the taboo “N” word as a term of endearment, and Jews making Holocaust Jokes.

Although Jews were systematically executed and tortured as a top priority in Nazi German, we do not ‘own’ the Holocaust.  We do not own Auschwitz or Dachau and have no monopoly over being victims of Hitler’s concentration camps, ovens, or gas-chambers. While we wore yellow stars, others victims wore pink triangles (homosexuals), brown triangles (Gypsies/Roma) or black/red triangles (Poles and Slavs)

Hitler’s Nazi regime was responsible for the murder of no fewer than 20,000,000 people across Europe and beyond. This includes Roma (Gypsies), Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians, Serbs, homosexuals, Slavs, French, Russians, Greeks and countless others not considered worthy of breathing.

The on-air game played on Triple J two weeks ago, six degrees of Hitler, should not have caused an outrage from the Jewish community.

It should have caused an outrage from every sector of the Australian population because the game itself is a terrifying indictment of how low the western world have sunk its inability to recognise universal human pain and suffering.

Melbourne is filled with descendants of Holocaust victims from Serbian, Polish, Ukrainian, and Slavic families. The “fan-forced oven” comment targets them as much as those of Jewish families.

To those who’ve used this opportunity to target Jews online, think about where you come from, how your family came to be here, and what your own families have suffered ten, fifty or a hundred years before you posted online.

Every non-indigenous person in this land is a descendant of immigrants and refugees. We are all guests in this country, none of us having a greater or lesser right to reside on these shores.

Mel Brooks built a career out of poking fun at the Spanish Inquisition, at Nazism, at the Brutality of the Roman Empire. Jerry Seinfeld wrote “The Soup Nazi” episode making a mockery of Fascism. But at every turn the intention was always to mock the persecutor, but NEVER the victim.

But in their plight to stay current, relevant and ensure laughs with original quips and hooks, comedians are forgetting themselves. The boundaries of what is considered acceptably humorous keeps being pushed to ever more daring extremes in comedic attempts to be cutting-edge, but at what cost to our moral fibre or desire to stop soul-rot? What they said on air is sadly much like most other humour flying at the pub, over dinner tables, on Twitter or Facebook walls. Comments of this nature are rarely said with eye contact. This makes it so much easier to be loose with one’s words.

Websites like ‘encyclopedia dramatica’ purport to exist for the purpose of “promoting free speech” and propogate wiki-style articles on topics such as the ‘Lolocaust’ or ‘Hitlol’ or ‘Lolschwitz’ and encourage content which generates maximum ‘lols’ at the hideous expense of almost every person, group and ideology known to man, we start to see the cracks in the abused free-speech argument.  However, free speech should not be employed as a cover for hate-speech.

The jokes may well be hilarious. And “six degrees of hitler” certainly sounds like a viable ‘car ride’ game with significant longevity and laugh value.  (All of about 6 seconds)

But when we’ve finished laughing and picked ourselves up off the floor we still need to ask, is it right? And who are we hurting?

Yes, we use humour to cope with some of life and history’s more unsettling aspects, (as mentioned here in Ben Pobjie‘s article, the essence of which I agree with, that the purpose of comedy is to laugh at things which are inherently unfunny). But an innocent Gypsy man murdered in an oven is no more a laughing matter as a child sodomised by a paedophile. For those who hold by the South Park school of thought  ‘has enough time elapsed for something to be funny?’, perhaps give it another 5000 years and both might well come up utterly hilarious.

If Tom and Alex want to assert that they were attempting to make fun of Nazism rather than intending to insult the memory of the 20,000,000 victims, then why issue any kind of apology? Why preface the forced apology with “if you don’t like it, don’t listen to the show”?

Instead, stand by the six degrees of Hitler game and its intention (whatever that is) and be prepared to responsibly handle any collateral damage or hate speech triggered in the fall-out.  Don’t throw words about on-air and then absolve oneself from any resulting moral responsibility of where or how they fall.

I have no doubt that neither Tom nor Alex had any intention of actually hurting another human being when the game started, and no doubt that their actions are merely a microcosmic example of conversations held each day as the lines between humour and hurtfulness become increasingly blurry, with most people engaging in cultural humour on a daily basis while very little protest is ever heard (except on occasion by lone representatives of community groups, who can always be placated with a completely vacuous public apology.)

“You fucking Jews spread syphilis and should have your dicks cut off” was probably one of the kinder comments written anonymously, so very bravely, on Triple J’s facebook wall.

Responses to hate-speech posted on Facebook and Twitter were overwhelmingly posted by Jews, and referenced the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany against Jews only.  There were few voices from other quadrants protesting the game on the basis of the pain it would cause to any other (non-Jewish) cultural groups murdered by the Nazis.

Australians are showing an ugly side of themselves, a way of thinking which broadcasters, community leaders, and politicians prefer to think does not exist except with minor, incidental exceptions.

But I call on all our leaders to instead recognise that not only does the problem exist in a very real, large scale way, but that our politically correct obsession with the mind numbing “apology” is a large carpet under which this issue can no longer be swept and is causing muffled anger to bubble and fester beneath the surface. The issue is bulging and imploding, manifesting in blurred lines, anonymous outbursts, and violent hate speech and action.

Tom and Alex, like every other person, must be accountable for the consequences of their words and actions, even if those consequences were unexpected and entirely unintended.

It would be wholly unfair to expect any more or even less of Tom and Alex than we expect of ourselves.

But what should we expect of ourselves?

So far, the western world has taken the approach of political correctness and when common sense fails to filter out harmful content, our almost obsessive default response is to be “culturally sensitive” or “apologise for any offense caused”. The empty “sorry” button is taking its place on the list of stuff white people like.

The Anti-Defamation Commission has been running the Click Against Hate program in secondary schools,  both Jewish and non-Jewish, private and public, with the recommendation of the Department of Education in government and independent schools across Victoria.

It explores the real reasons, rarely discussed, as to why they should not engage in hate-speech. Asking them to exchange the term ‘offended’  (code = ‘stuff I cannot get away with saying out loud’) with the more genuine ‘things I should not say because they are hurtful, untrue and damaging‘ and replace the term ‘tolerance’ (code = ‘cultural groups I have to put up with’) with the more proactive ‘understanding, education and respect as equals’.

The goal of the program has been to educate a generation of young people who mostly have no idea about other cultures, who form opinions based on hearsay. The program challenges the existing language around hate speech and multiculturalism, encouraging honest discussion around stereotypes and how they are formed.

Participants indicate time and again when presented with photographs that they have no idea of the difference between a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, or a Sikh. Despite this, most are happy to opine that the ethnic looking fellow in the turban wearing a silver bracelet is probably a Jewish or Muslim taxi driver who is going to steal all your money… then blow you up.

Australia has a much larger problem than a handful of racially insensitive hooligans and our image as dumb, drunk and racist is becoming increasingly well-earned.

A program like Click Against Hate is poised with an educational solution which is already shaking-up the ‘normalised’ mindsets of its participants and offers something a lot harder hitting than the more politically overcautious ‘Cultural sensitivity training’ (*cringe*) or ‘walk through a museum’.

Last week Triple J was offered the program. The following response from Triple J’s manager Chris Scaddan, did not ask any questions relating to programs content or structure, nor was there comment on how Triple J intends to take responsibility for the hate speech which has been triggered as a result of this incident.

Thank you for this. While your offer is appreciated, the ABC is unable to accept. The ABC Editorial Policies set out the principles and standards that we are committed to and we provide ongoing training to ensure staff are fully aware of their responsibilities in meeting these editorial standards. This includes focussed training from the ABC’s Legal Team.

Triple J has apologised for any offence caused by content in the Tom and Alex Breakfast program last week and have dealt with the matter. The Program team is well aware of the limits of humour and their responsibilities as ABC broadcasters.

We’re confident that the matter is settled and will not be repeated and apologise again for any offence caused.

Thanks & Cheers

Chris Scaddan, Manager, Triple J

To paraphrase:

 Thank you but … we’ve run this by the ABC’s legal team … we’ve already apologised for any offence caused …. we feel the matter is settled … we apologise again for any offence caused … yay we managed to weasel out of addressing the source of a much larger problem … insert friendly Australianism.

The ABC, Triple J’s parent body, has purported to be a platform of multiculturalism and a beacon of moral conscience.

Yet it appears that instead of taking genuine responsibility for the extensive collateral damage incited by the on-air ‘game’, they’ve altogether abandoned any moral responsibility and instead resorted to corporate-style communication with references to legal teams and of course the stock-standard “apology for offence caused” phrase.

To the ABC…. that’s just not good enough.

Not because a bunch of Jews in suits say so, nor because angry gays, Muslims, Serbs, or any other cultural community representatives write outraged letters expressing their offence.

It is not good enough because the Australian people, descendants of thousands of diverse cultural groups, refugees and immigrants for which you profess to be a moral social compass are no longer interested in tokenistic words like ‘offended’  or ‘sorry’.

Australian audiences expect genuine education to be provided and honest discussion to be facilitated. It is now time to put your energies where your mission statement is.

There is a slowly receding moral hairline of dark humour balding around our societal ears each day. It keeps happening again and again, saying stuff that sounded funny in our heads, but in reality has farther reaching consequences than we’d imagined. We joke around carelessly or commit thoughtless faux pas when making cultural comparisons (as with Macquarie Bank board director Michael Hawker this week), but this does not mean we should not be held accountable for what transpires as a result.

Education delivered efficiently at every level is the only answer to a growing national epidemic. That program is already here. Australia just needs to implement it. Then we can get about the business of transforming ourselves into the Australian people we keep claiming to be.

Joe Hildebrand’s hypothesis (ironically given a platform on the ABC) is in danger of being proven as inescapably accurate. Without education, our nation is looking at a very ugly and bleak multicultural fate indeed.

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  • Levi a refugee from the USSR says:

    As I’ve stated that on another thread here, your typical prejudiced anti-Semite, isn’t necessarily a dumb, drunk, red neck from a trailer park in some rural back water. On the contrary, many of them are “cultured” and “educated” types who might vote for the greens, read the age or guardian, watch the ABC…and listen to Triple J. The recent episode with Tom and Alex, only reinforces this point. There are millions of other examples – just take the recent the antisemitic statements of world renowned pacifist Johan Galtung or the publication of the antisemitic “foreskin man ” comic as part of attempt to ban circumcision in the liberal, bohemian san franscisco bay area. Antisemitism is a very unique type of bigotry and hatred. Trying to universalize this form of bigotry or the holocaust…won’t remedy the problem and make it go away.

    “It is not good enough because the Australian people, descendants of ….
    “Australian audiences expect genuine education to be provided and honest discussion to be facilitated. ”

    What you’re saying is very good and nice, but how can you speak for every Australian? Did you do a survey?

  • IlanaLeeds says:

    Yes, Levi I would have to say your ‘best’ anti Semites are usually not red neck drunks. They are actually quite educated, but misguided and extremely toxic.

  • Levi a refugee from the USSR says:

    Unfortunately, there are many who are not necessarily misguided…

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