I wasn’t going to weigh into this debate, but here goes.
Let’s get one thing very clear: a white person putting on make-up and pretending to be a black person is not inherently offensive.
This may seem obvious, but I have a feeling that this ridiculous Jackson Jive skit is going to cause some to disagree with that.
Let’s take a recent example: a few weeks ago the US series Mad Men had one of their white characters perform a minstrel show to an amused garden party.
Far from being offended, The New York Times (that bastion of liberal politics) hailed it as one of the best episodes of the series. So what’s the difference?
Simple. The Mad Men episode was relevant, poignant, funny and meant something.
The Jackson Jive skit? It wasn’t funny and it meant nothing.
It may have been a sad indictment on the state of Australian television but it said nothing about racism in Australia. If you want to find evidence of that just google “stolen generations” or “Cronulla riots”.
The point is that any reference to old American blackface shows in the Jackson Jive skit is a projection on the part of Americans. The performers weren’t aware of it.
Should they have been aware of it? Maybe. But maybe they’re just not as steeped in American culture as some of their detractors. That’s hardly a crime.
The people who should have known better were the producers of the show.
What the hell were they thinking getting Harry Connick Jr, not just an American but a white southern gentleman, to judge this thing? Did it not occur to them that he might be offended?
What next? Getting Cat Stevens to judge a pork-pie-eating contest?
No wonder it went viral. US cultural sensitivity around this stuff is running hot right now. The timing couldn’t have been worse.
What I’m worried about is this falling over into knee-jerk censorship, whereby any white actor in black make-up is automatically deemed censurable.
That would be a bad reaction.
Worse, it would mean we were giving trash like Hey Hey it’s Saturday an influence that it just doesn’t deserve.