It’s satire, geddit?
Back in 2003, there was a furore in the US, after Vanity Fair Magazine posted an article titled “Ask Dame Edna“. It contained fictional questions and the character’s answers to them. One question asked “Should I learn” Spanish?”. The Dame’s answer was “Don’t bother, why would you want to have a conversation with the help?”
I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist of it. There was an uproar and the mag issued an apology.
But Dame Edna isn’t a person. She’s a caricature of a certain class of people with bad taste and a touch of hypocrisy to their morals that do look down on the help. Barry Humphries couldn’t hold the racist views that Dame Edna has; he wouldn’t be able to do the character so well if he did. Edna’s comments were a nod, a wink and a roll of the eyes from Humphries to the informed reader that makes fun of people who hold these racist views.
It’s satire, folks. It’s the mocking of a certain set of behaviours or beliefs by exaggerating them.
The current controversy over comedian Chris Lilley is similar. We all know by now that it’s a bad coincidence that one of his scenarios has had a bizarrely similar real-life parallel. But people still don’t seem to understand the concept of satire.
The article I’ve linked to, above, says:
Comedian Chris Lilley’s hit show Summer Heights High, which is centred on a fictional school, on Wednesday night poked fun at the ecstasy death of a blonde, teenage student named “Annabel”.
But this is wrong.
Neither Chris, nor the show, were poking fun at “the ecstasy death” of anyone. Chris, and the show, were poking fun at the insensitive attitudes that some people have towards tragedy (a fatal overdose in this case) and how some people will go to the most appalling lengths, exploiting community grief and ignoring taboo, to feed their own egos.
We all know someone with a big ego. They might not go the the lengths of Mr G to inflate it further but by taking the concept to the extreme to highlight the behaviour, Lilley invites us to draw our conclusions about that behaviour.
The irony of the Edna incident was that at the end of the reply, she says “If you’re American, try [learning] English”, which, I think is more insulting to Americans than the “help” reference was to Hispanics.