EDITORIAL THURSDAY 04.06.09.
The Chaser’s War On Everything is supposed to be a satirical comedy program. It has made a point of offending people, flaunting bad taste, crossing lines, pushing boundaries, disrespecting authority, humiliating the high and mighty, and cutting tall poppies down to size. It works because most of the time the target of the attack can be seen by the audience as being in some way deserving of the ridicule. This style of humour works precisely because the audience, although sometimes shocked, generally stays on side with the presenters. To achieve that, two ingredients are necessary. The satire must have a point, and the comedy must be funny.
The ill-considered skit presented by the Chaser this week about the “Make A Realistic Wish Foundation” failed on every count. It makes no salient point, it serves no useful social observation purpose, it isn’t very clever or inventive, and is simply not funny. Worse than that, it is downright cruel to anyone who has ever had anything to do with a dying child. How tragic that some people struggling with this precise situation were actually watching the show, possibly as a way of looking for something to laugh about in the face of their own adversity, only to have this travesty thrown in their faces. Yes, cruel is the right choice of word.
Of course, there is such a thing as “black comedy” and as “existential comedy”, and presumably that’s what the intention was. Black comedy can work, and work very well, but the cardinal rule must be that it is funny. An excellent example of “existential humour” is Monty Python’s Meaning Of Life. It’s shocking at times, even disgusting, but it is funny. But if that was the aim of the Chaser, then the skit was incredibly poorly thought out. While all humour comes at the expense of somebody, that “somebody” cannot be your own audience, or even anybody with whom your audience strongly identifies, unless for some reason of existential agony of your own, you feel the strange need to sabotage your own career as an entertainer.
And perhaps that’s the explanation. Perhaps after lampooning politicians, corporate high flyers, the media, and just about everybody else, the Chaser is running out of victims. Already they have had to resort to perpetrating stunts overseas because they have become too recognizable in Australia. Now that John Howard has left office, Georg W. Bush has faded into obscurity and Sol Trujillo has been packed off to the land of the brave, there’s nobody left for the Chaser to attack. So, lacking any clear direction, there is nothing left for the Chaser to do but attack themselves by alienating their own audience. They have become the very thing they once lampooned… an establishment. And more to the point an establishment which is guilty of its own excesses and is now itself worthy of being lampooned.
In short, they have lost the plot. In “Happy Days” terms, the have jumped the shark. Thanks guys, it was fun while it lasted, but most of us have now decided to exercise our democratic right to tune out. All that remains is to get my lawyers to send a letter to the ABC asking for eight cents a day to be returned.