Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lest I forget... The Race of Sham

Something I have strangely not ranted about at this point is... John Safran. I know, I'm well behind the times here. But hear me out - I watched an episode of John Safran's Race Relations... okay, not quite an episode, maybe two-thirds, and there was nothing in it to make me laugh. So why is it exactly that The Guide was hailing him as Australia's best comic genius, rating him head and shoulders above the Chaser, who ended up having their funniest year by some margin.

To sum it up... John Safran wants to find out why he likes Eurasian women. Maybe talking to sociologists, psychologists, people in modelling and plastic surgery and other people with knowledge to the cutlural construct of 'beauty' would make sense. Exercises in assessing what aspects he finds particularly attractive, cross-comparisons with his peers as to what they find attractive, etcetera. Sure, it would only last 30 minutes at best and wouldn't make any headlines, but it would address the issue.

The truth is Safran wasn't interested in the slightest in actually answering the question. He came up with a button to press - the big race card for people all round the world - and wanted to jump up and down on it. He didn't have a reason so instead he settled for an excuse. No matter how hard they try, even the people who avidly watched his show, could make no logical progression from "I'm curious as to why I find Eurasian women attractive" to "I'd better dress like a ladyboy, make out with the mothers of past girlfriends, crucify myself and encourage my cameraman to masturbate over videos of Barack Obama" It cannot be done. And without that logic you're left with the world's most deranged sketch show.

A sketch show that... isn't funny.

The episode I saw was possibly the second most infamous stunt of the show, where Safran used Hollywood cosmetics to 'transform' himself into a black man. The interesting thing was the episode showed the genesis of the idea, when Safran was talking to a white American culture expert about the race issues in the United States - she in passing mentions the seminal work Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, in a specific kind of you-should-read-this-because-you'll-never-do-anything-near-as-good.

The book is very famous for the fact that the author, without the use of Hollywood, transformed himself into a black man (er, superficially - he was not able to re-write his genetic structure and nor was he a superhero) and travelled the deep South of the US for six weeks and just wrote down all of his experiences - the absolute unbiased truth followed.

The interesting thing is that this idea is so well known it has already been duplicated in massively unsuccessful form - I can't remember the title or author but a lesbian woman disguised herself as a man and worked in a car factory or some such for a month. The review I read of this book was absolutely scathing of both the deliberate angle for marketing and the fact that all the effort was wasted - she understood so little about men that the only 'revelations' she included was stuff about men 'being less outwardly emotive'. MY GOD, SURELY THIS CANNOT BE SO??? Anyway, back to TV land..

Safran took this as his cue to say "SO, you're saying I should do that - I should become black just like he did??" Causing the talking head to mirror the audience's reaction by staring at him for a moment and saying "No... why would you want to do that? It's been done already..."

Cut to Safran walking around as a black guy. First stop - a black militant headquarters! Specifically the friendliest black militants in the world. Who show up the problems right away as a) one of them is an amateur anthropologist who is saying within minutes that Safran looks "almost like a white guy who's painted himself black" and b) Safran is the worst interviewer ever. Or simply the fact that what results is an interview in the first place.

He makes no effort to connect, to actually talk and try to convince them that he is a genuine black person - using the fact that he is from Australia as cover to not even do anything with his thoroughly nasal Jewish-Australian drawl, and asks clumsy question after question starting with "Do you find, being a black person", making no effort to segue at all. He also shows that he has no quick wit at work at all - every attempt at a joke comes via the post-production voice over. Which is itself not funny. The only faint whiff of humour comes from the two black guys presuming that every black dude on the planet can freestyle resulting in a truly embarassing display.

Following on from this Safran decides he needs to experience racism. A logical course of action, to me, would be to just walk around for a few days as a black guy. However, he clearly only has three or so days to work with and this is television - you don't WAIT for things to happen you MAKE em happen. His idea of experiencing racism, and understanding it, though was truly embarassing. Go to a hotdog store in New York famous for tensions between the black staff and the white customers, encourage the woman behind the counter to abuse the customers more and more, until one guy says variations on "Shut up", "You're so ignorant" and "Are you actually cooking food here or what?" and drops the N-word as he goes to leave.

Safran is like an eagle onto a lame mouse as he practically jumps the counter and races to the guy, demanding "Why are you so racist??" and "Why are you calling us niggers???". The scene is awkward because this is barely even a racist display and small fry for this story which has a well-established reputation for it. The white guy he attempts to button-hole for his accusations looks worried that Safran will break into tears if he doesn't apologise, such is the whining nature of his voice in the scene.

Then Safran went to a black people-only speed dating night, and spent the night, with his usual subtlety, asking every woman why they didn't want to sleep with white guys instead and what they thought about interracial relationships. Jesus.

The biggest problem was that the show offered glimpses into an interesting culture that is alien to we of the isolated white middle class, and these remained only glimpses because some tit with pretensions to either comedy or journalism kept getting in the way with bloody stupid questions. Not only was he spoon-feeding the audience facts, he did so without a message. And without any jokes.

For me, John Safran's Race Relations was The Worst Show of 2009.

Sorry, I actually found TVBurp to be a guilty pleasure. And do bear in mind I don't watch much TV...

9 comments:

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Thank you, good sir, for helping me on my way to becoming the official most popular blog for spambots!

Youth of Australia said...

....quite.

No, I have to say I didn't particularly enjoy JSRR, which basically didn't have much to say beyond its title sequence. I was entertained by it, but I only watch Safran in a kind of 'how-low-can-he-go?' sort of schaudenfraude.

I was amused at the insane and ridiculously stupid lengths he would go to, as if cursed to forever commit Chaser-style stunts of depravity ENTIRELY BECAUSE HE DIDN'T LISTEN TO INSTRUCTIONS.

Out of his shinanegans, the only good bits were
- snogging his ex girlfriend's mothers (mainly cause the mums were funnier than he was)
- trying to seduce the Japanese robot woman (again, it was the robot who was the interesting one)
- dragging up as a Eurasian (only because the guy seemed to spot the drag right away and not mind, and also the fact JS started slagging himself off while drunk).

The "dramatic reconstructions" were good too, but ultimately there's only about fifteen minutes of any genuine intelligence there, the rest being Safran playing up to expectations of him as the One What Goes Too Far. Like his fake marriage: you laugh in horror for a moment, and then wait impatiently for the next bit.

All in all, I think the trailers were better than the episodes. I mean, the IDEA of him digging up his dead mother doesn't get any better when you watch it. Nor does him doing a Mel Gibson. Only the bit where he gets a geriatric escort to sort out his mother issues was in any way 'worth watching', since there was no attempt at humor. He just said the things he couldn't and a nice Asian lady listened and gave him a hug.

His ultimate conclusion that none of it matters wasn't exactly thrill a minute - the audience should have worked that out before they saw the damn series.

The Elephant Man stuff was bloody awful at all - the fact that he became famous for being a Really Nice Guy who looked hideous didn't hit Safran, who demanded people judge him on the crappest makeup since the Vinvocci. You're ANGRY they tried to judge you on personality? Get over it.

Safran's coming across to me as someone stuck in a vicious cycle of media preconceptions. A bit like Michael Jackson. Except Safran's intelligent enough to get over it. So he really should.

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

as if cursed to forever commit Chaser-style stunts of depravity ENTIRELY BECAUSE HE DIDN'T LISTEN TO INSTRUCTIONS.

Damn, this made me remember my habit of forgetting things I meant to write - I agree with this point, and it segues into what I wanted to say about the similarity of this show to Lawrence Leung's Choose Your Own Adventure. Lawrence did the exact same thing, making no real effort to excel at the 'cool' things he was learning, but because he wrote for the Chaser he knew how to make it all very funny.

- snogging his ex girlfriend's mothers (mainly cause the mums were funnier than he was)

I happened to see that bit one time when I walked past the TV with the sound down. I was freaked out a little because one of his exes was a dead ringer for a girl in my year in high school.

I mean, the IDEA of him digging up his dead mother doesn't get any better when you watch it.

...he did what now?

His ultimate conclusion that none of it matters wasn't exactly thrill a minute

Yup.

The Elephant Man stuff was bloody awful at all - the fact that he became famous for being a Really Nice Guy who looked hideous didn't hit Safran, who demanded people judge him on the crappest makeup since the Vinvocci. You're ANGRY they tried to judge you on personality? Get over it.

So it was another one of those cases where he tried to provoke the result rather than just observe what happened? Unsurprising I guess. And it was not very convincing, I agree.

Except Safran's intelligent enough to get over it. So he really should.

I remember liking Music Jamboree. That series had a focus, of course..

Youth of Australia said...

Damn, this made me remember my habit of forgetting things I meant to write - I agree with this point, and it segues into what I wanted to say about the similarity of this show to Lawrence Leung's Choose Your Own Adventure.
Yeah, I can see that.

I happened to see that bit one time when I walked past the TV with the sound down. I was freaked out a little because one of his exes was a dead ringer for a girl in my year in high school.
Like my mum being on the back cover of a Doctor Who Annual...

...he did what now?
Yup. I forget why, but he did it. For real.

So it was another one of those cases where he tried to provoke the result rather than just observe what happened?
Definitely. He got three girls round and they were all polite and friendly, and not in a OMIGODYOUFREAK kind of way. He finally lost his temper in a scene in all the trailers: "How can you find me attractive? I'M THE FREAKING ELEPHANT MAN!!!"

I remember liking Music Jamboree. That series had a focus, of course..
Or Father Bob.

BTW, discovered that the infamous "groping DT" sequence in EOT was not down to RTD at all, but improved by the cast. What is it about these 1970s comedians that they always have to go Richard Briers on Doctor Who?!

Anonymous said...

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Cameron Mason said...


What is it about these 1970s comedians that they always have to go Richard Briers on Doctor Who?!


Hey!

Felicity Kendal kept it together when she played Lady Eddison...

Cameron

Youth of Australia said...

Felicity Kendall, we can all agree, is better than all the others. Especially Richard Briers.

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