Saturday, June 25, 2016

The first rule of comedy...

I heard many years ago that the first rule of comedy is...timing. But I've been thinking after the events of the last week that this isn't true.  I heard Toby Halligan on RRR a while ago, saying something else about comedy.  He was explaining the rule of 'never punching down'.  It's been swirling around my head, yet I didn't hear anyone else mention it.

Unless you were blissfully living under a rock, you probably heard the controversy of Eddie McGuire 'joking' on radio that he'd pay money for someone to drown a female journalist.  Not surprisingly the other 'blokes' on air with him joined in the fun.  This was said during white ribbon week, a week designed to highlight and support women facing violence from men.  There was outrage. Eddie was made to apologise (it took him a few goes to get this right) and it looked for a day or two that serious consequences were actually going to result from his 'joke'.

However, just when you think that everyone was finally beginning to understand how this was inappropriate, in steps Jeff Kennett leading the 'but if this was said about a man it would be ok' argument, and Sam Newman well, just being a fucking idiot.  Again, all I could think of was how they just don't get it.

I think the new first rule of comedy should be shared with everyone. Never punch down. Think of a school yard.  There are two kids; one large and one small.  If the large kid starts punching the little kid, it's bullying. It's not fair as they're not on an even playing field.  But if the little kid starts punching the big kid, he's the underdog and we cheer him.  Now, Australia LOVES an underdog.  Watch any sporting contest and teams ridiculously try to claim the underdog status.  They know how much crowds love to cheer for the 'little guy'.  Yet, somehow this is lost when it comes to society.

I guess this is because society is actually set up and controlled by rich, white guys.  Whether we like it or not society has a pecking order.  Life, unfortunately is just that little bit harder for certain people.  And this is the reason particular personal attributes are protected under discrimination law. Gender, sexual orientation, race, mental or physical disability, colour and religious beliefs.

You can make jokes about a particular group, if you are part of that group (disability- think Stella Young's Tales from the Crip, colour -  think Indigenous Comedians Black Comedy or Nazeem Hussain's Fear of a Brown Planet,  gender - think Amy Schumer's Last Fuckable Day etc).   No other group could make these comments.  They are biting satire about the challenges faced in a diverse society.

Getting back to the comments made in support of Eddie.  "If a man said this about another man it would be ok".  Well, yes, this is true.  One white, rich powerful guy making fun of another white rich powerful guy is an equal playing field.  Go for it.  Knock yourselves out guys.  Just stop punching down.

If you see who Eddie was surrounded by in the studio, you begin to understand how this happens.  I tried to picture an alternative, a studio filled with diversity.  Eddie hosting with a woman, a gay guy and a muslim.  Could I imagine him making the same jokes?  Probably not.

The reality that this radio commentary is listened to by many men.  And perhaps this is why it's so vitally important to hear a different narrative.  One that understands Australian police statistics show an increased rate of family violence.  Something Rosie Batty calls an epidemic.   Even our current Australian of the year David Morrison weighed in, stating "let me tell you, there are people dying and people whose lives are absolutely ruined as a result of domestic violence".

For all these reasons, we need to stop and think before we speak.  It's not political correctness gone mad.  It's us, as a society evolving.  Taking a stand to say 'that joke isn't funny anymore'.  It really is as simple as that.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


It's hard to believe now, but a couple of weeks ago our suburb became a battlefield.  There were over 200 police, some in full riot gear, some on horseback, patrolling our streets.  All because a local councillor organised a rally called 'Moreland says NO to Racism'. It was designed to be a peaceful rally with speakers from different groups.  Bring the kids, share the love, everyone is welcome because that is what Moreland is all about.

The rally was gatecrashed by the far right 'patriots', waving aussie flags and wanting to stand in one of Melbourne's most multicultural suburbs and say this was wrong.  This also brought the far left to the streets to stand up against the far right.  Two things happened that day, but only one of them was mentioned on the media.  The far right and left chased each other through our streets, clashing with each other and the police.  The other thing that happened, which the news didn't bother to report on was that the planned rally of locals still went ahead.  Outside the local library, surrounded by police, a group of a few hundred locals stood in the rain listening respectfully to great speeches.

There were many very moving talks.  Abby Benham is from the Brunswick Uniting Church.  They have declared themselves a 'sanctuary' church and will offer space and support to asylum seekers.  They will test the legal powers to offer sanctuary in the face of a government determined to punish vulnerable refugees.

Naz Almasi is an asylum seeker.  He arrived just days before the law changed which meant he would be detained in Australia rather than offshore.  While in detention he learnt to read, write and speak english.  He now works in Swan Hill as a landscape gardener and (he pointed out) pays tax.  He spoke of being on a train in Melbourne.  A woman said to him "you have an aussie boys face, but I don't know what language you are speaking".  He replied that he spoke 4 languages, but this time he was speaking to friends from Afghanistan.  She ordered him to stop or she would call the police.  He thought it easier to move to another train carriage.

And then came a 5 foot spitfire - Nasrin Amin.  Her speech had me in tears and the crowd cheering.  She spoke of the racism she and other Muslim women encounter due to wearing a niqab or hijab.       "Stop daydreaming about liberating us.  You cannot liberate those who are already liberated.  We are free to choose what we wear.  I wear hijab and I am a free, intellectual and professional woman".  This highlights that all that many of us are shown in western media is how modest clothing is used to control or punish women.  This sentiment does not, of course, translate to the streets of Coburg.  Nasrin also highlighted how the hate speech and violent threats made by the the far right groups goes unchallenged by our political leaders and law enforcers.  She rightly pointed out that if it was a Muslim spouting a hate filled tirade they would have the police busting down their door.  But somehow white fascists spewing hate is seen as 'free speech'.  I have found both the text and video of Nasrin so you can enjoy her speech for yourselves.

The advertised rally took to the streets and we all walked to a local park, away from the violence happening in surrounding streets.  As we turned past Vasili's Garden  people stood out the front and clapped and cheered us.  I saw a woman with her young son.  He was wearing a sign 'one world. one people'.  This was what the day was all about.

In the days since the rally I've thought a lot about all the issues raised.  Nasrin really challenged me.  You see, I love self expression.  I love difference and seeing someone's personality expressed through clothing or hair styles.  I have often looked at women wearing the hijab and thought how their individuality was gone. But listening to Nasrin I realised that the hijab forces people to look past the exterior and focus on who this person actually is.  And the only way we can do this is by talking.  We also need to challenge our own preconceptions as all as what the media is telling us.

I've also been thinking about sanctuary.  Moreland, weirdly has also been my place of sanctuary.  When my previous long tern relationships ended, I moved and rented in west brunswick.  Twice!  It became a safe place where I rebuilt myself.  Peter and I now live in Coburg.  Walking down to the local shops the thing you notice is the diversity.  Every socio-economic group is represented, from people begging on the streets to the gentrification of pubs, shops, houses and apartments.  Moreland's demographics show how multicultural this community is.  What I felt when we moved here is that there was room for everyone.  No matter who you are, what you wear or what you look like these streets have room for you. I know this isn't always the case, but I think it's something we should all keep striving for.

The important thing is to keep an open mind and heart.  To talk.  To understand. To challenge ourselves rather than others.  To ensure our streets are a place of sanctuary.