The nature of television is a double-edged sword. Some programs provoke while others delight, some educate while others infuriate. Yet, despite our country’s demand for the unique and interesting, one thing is unanimous – don’t mess with the sensibilities of the Australian TV audience.
Last week on ABC1, the new season of The Chaser’s War on Everything lived up to its famous (or infamous as some would argue) reputation by making a joke about a very serious issue. Unfortunately for the boys, the sketch pulled a little too hard on the emotional ties of the Australian public and they were subsequently suspended from the air. ABC Managing Director Mark Scott said The Chaser’s War on Everything would not screen for two weeks after the sketch because of the uproar it caused amongst its 1.5 million viewers.
What this event demonstrates is the ability for the slightest insult to project an entire nation into a morally driven defence against the provocative and offensive. However, when there is a general understanding amongst viewers that The Chaser is (and always has been) a provocative and politically incorrect program, why are people so furious?
The joke at the centre of this debacle was the “Make-A-Realistic-Wish Foundation” – a sketch that satirised the original “Make-A-Wish Foundation” and poked fun at the “selfish demands” of seriously ill children. As Chris Taylor (the main Chaser host at the centre of the skit) was quoted saying: “the ‘Make-A-Realistic-Wish Foundation’ is here to help thousands of kids to lower their extravagance and selfishness in the face of death”.
After the sketch aired on Wednesday 3rd June, it sparked a hugely heated debate both online and on talkback radio. For most the sketch had clearly crossed the line between black comedy and bad taste by satirising such a sensitive issue. The last line in particular – “why go to any trouble when they are going to die anyway?” – ignited furious responses from Australian viewers.
However, it wasn’t just the Australian public that was outraged, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also put in his view, saying that The Chaser team should “hang their heads in shame [because] having a go at kids with a terminal illness is really beyond the pale”.
The Chaser brand, first and foremost, is about upsetting, offending, satirising and stereotyping our society. However, should this be an excuse for the heartless offence caused by the sketch?
While I do not endorse what The Chaser has done, I do believe that people can be quite short-sighted when it comes to matters of controversy. As journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Idato put it, “we cannot applaud the Chaser crew for their mischief at the APEC Summit and the Vatican and then chastise them for crossing the line with our charitable and medical sensibilities”.
After having watched the sketch again and analysing both sides of the argument, my opinion remains unchanged. While I often find the nature of television program complaints to be utterly ridiculous (and even The Chaser satirise this), I can not find the humour in this particular sketch. Quite simply, it didn’t make me laugh. While I believe that failing to insult anybody would go against the nature of the programming, I also believe that insulting cheaply and humourlessly is just unacceptable.
However, while I don’t find this joke funny or acceptable, I also do not want to watch a polished and politically correct program that glorifies the ways in which our society functions. Let The Chaser review their material over the next two weeks but don’t let them change their delightfully provocative ways.