Some people are just too anxious about race and racists. At The Stump, Sophie Black (Crikey‘s deputy editor) writes about last night’s Hey Hey It’s Saturday reunion Harry Connick Jr protest against a ‘Jackson Jive’ Red Faces sketch. Connick’s problem was that the performers had blacked-out faces, which has a cultural meaning in the US that it does not here. But Black sees more sinister potential:
Ray [Hadley] should ask Daryl [Somers] this question over lunch – do Channel 9 capitalise on this incredibly negative publicity by taking the Howard on Hanson approach? Don’t condone any racist undertones, but by all means, exploit the ignited base. Pit the PC snobs against the true blue battlers.
It’s the old assumption that racism is a big part of the Australian psyche, with any reaction to an issue with a racial or ethnic angle evidence for this nasty undercurrent in Australian society, one unscrupulous politicians and – it seems – TV entertainers are just waiting to exploit.
But in this case, if there hadn’t been a Red Faces judge from the old slave-holding, black-lynching American south it’s unlikely there would have been any ‘race’ controversy.
The joke was in the not-very-good-but-funny-as-a-result impression of the Jackson Five’s dance moves, the same basic joke that runs across many similar acts (such as the kid Elvis impersonator clip they also showed). It wasn’t making fun of black people in general, and it wasn’t even making fun of the Jackson Five in particular. These acts are more homage than ridicule.
Impersonators changing their skin colour to look more like the original act is incidental to the impersonation; it doesn’t make race the joke. The only possible ethnic commentary angle was that the person playing Michael Jackson – who is ethnically Indian - coloured his face white, a reference to the late entertainer’s fading skin colour. But if this had any real meaning, it was that Jackson shouldn’t have worried about having dark skin.
I did not realise until I first went to the US that there is sensitivity to a near-paranoid state about white-black relations. The Hey Hey team have dealt with many Americans and should have thought about how an American judge might react to this sketch. But this is cross-cultural misunderstanding, not racism by the performers or the audience that enjoyed the sketch.