No laughing matter

col-dvir-abramovichDVIR ABRAMOVICH

BY now, many have watched the antics of John Safran’s deliberately provocative Race Relations. Supposedly, Safran’s show is about the shock-comedian’s exploration of deeply personal attitudes and obsessions about race and intermarriage.

Yet, in essence, Race Relations is about Safran’s search for a way to escape and erase his Jewishness. It’s as if being a Jew has ruined his life and left him emotionally and psychologically scarred. So he attempts a circumcision reversal, participates in an African death ritual to purge himself of the past, wants to create “Jellystinian” -— a new Jewish-Arab baby — by donating sperm to a Palestinian sperm bank and, in the ultimate obliteration of his Jewish identity, is nailed to a wooden cross in a crucifixion ritual in Manila.

And then he uses the murder of millions as material for cheap gags.

Sixty-one years ago this month, the Nazis unleashed a two-day spree that came to be known as Kristallnacht. Six years later, Anne Frank died from typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Her testimony has become a symbol for the senselessness of bigotry and a plea for universal tolerance.

That is unless you’re Safran. I squirmed in my seat as Safran claimed he was “brainwashed, played like a two-dollar chump-machine” by the Jewish community because it has used the Holocaust to make him feel guilty about dating non-Jewish women.

That’s right, the enormity of the Holocaust has been reduced to a manipulative tool by the Jewish community to induce in Safran a fear of intimacy with non-Jewish girls.

In order to “get rid of this bullshit”, he convinces Katherine Hicks, in his words, a “blonde-haired, Aryan”, to make out with him in Anne Frank’s attic so he can break free of that fear. As visitors walk around the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, taking in the images and information, Safran and Hicks wait for their opportunity to passionately kiss.

A student told me he nearly died laughing watching Safran. Well, I said, millions actually did.

Had Frank survived the Holocaust, she would have been 80 this year. I’m sure she would not have had a chuckle at Safran’s tasteless skit.

Safran’s exploitative approach drains the Holocaust of its tragic context (the death camps, the starvation, the shootings, the gassings, the burning of bodies, the mounds of hair, shoes and glasses) at a time when one in 20 British children¬† think Hitler was a football coach, and 15 per cent believe Auschwitz is a theme park.

Safran’s carnival approach to the Holocaust continued in last week’s episode when he mock-gassed Holocaust denier David Irving.

Wanting to prove that he is not a self-hating Jew, Safran employs “old-school Simon Wiesenthal Nazi hunting” tactics to fight anti-Semitism and “take out” Irving. While eating a sausage, he notices the barbecue’s gas bottle, and his lame scheme is hatched. Safran not only distorts Wiesenthal’s message of justice, instead of revenge, but given that his own grandmother lost her family in the Holocaust, he should have known better.

Prior to “luring his prey” for the interview, Safran “rigs” the radio studio by inserting a pipe through the ventilation system so as to convert the room into a “gas chamber”. Taking a pause from their chat, Safran walks out, jams the door with a broom, and opens a gas bottle while screaming at Irving through the glass: “You’re locked in a room and it’s filling with gas, and if you try and tell anyone, I am going to deny it.” Irving seems visibly amused by the stunt.

The ABC may have figured that any publicity is good publicity and will lure viewers. But the inclusion of these two hurtful pranks reveals a troubling abdication of responsible judgement and a bewildering lack of sensitivity. Why didn’t anyone tell him that this was a bad idea, that there was no humour to be mined from atrocity, that trivialising genocide for silly comic pay-off is inexcusable?

What a comedian does is up to him, but when the ABC, and our tax dollars, fund such a show, the question should be asked — is this the role of a public broadcaster?

Comedy does not bring with it unlimited licence. There will be those who will say that since Safran is Jewish, this makes it alright. But this is no justification. The insult does not become sanitised or acceptable just because it is made by a Jew.

When the Holocaust is used to attract ratings, it is not just a failure of the imagination. It is a sign that in this age of moral trespass, nothing has remained sacred.

Dr Dvir Abramovich, the Jan Randa senior lecturer in Hebrew and Jewish studies, is director of The University of Melbourne’s Centre for Jewish History and Culture.