Monday, 26 October 2009

In Praise of John-anism

I’m just a victim of myself
There’s no abuse like self abuse they say
Abuse - The Aloof (Sinking 1996)

A warm, slightly clammy handshake of welcome back to our television screens to John Safran, whose new show Race Relations kicked off on the ABC on Wednesday.

The clamminess will be understandable to those who saw the first episode, in which Safran (a reluctant Jew) and his Palestinian soundman quite literally made contributions to world peace by sneaking into sperm banks on either side of the Middle East conflict in the hope of creating little ‘Jelistinians.’

Their filmed donations were the salty icing on the cake after 30 excruciating but mostly hilarious minutes of television in which Safran somehow engineered a situation whereby Australia’s largest public broadcaster paid him to steal and then sniff women’s dirty pants in the name of science. He also bagged a free flight to Africa just so he could find out if he was better looking than a Togolese man who pissed him off at parties.

The concept of Race Relations – challenging the idea of ‘stick to your own’ when it comes to relationships - was a bit loose as a premise and mostly played second fiddle to the acts of subterfuge and silliness, but this didn’t reduce their impact. The rapid-edit truncation of interviews with the soon-to-be underwear-deprived women who were clearly up for some Today Tonight-style self-promotion was pure joy. It was simple and childish but effectively highlighted Rove, Grimshaw, Coren et al’s shows for the pseudo-celeb suck-fests that they are.

There’s no doubt Safran is mining a similar vein to that of Sacha Baron Cohen but it’s refreshing and somewhat more engaging that he does so as himself and not hidden behind prosthetics and dodgy accents. It does leave him open to a higher degree of personal criticism (some reviews have been quick to dismiss the show as little more than ABC-funded undergraduate humour) but there’s no denying John Safran’s commitment to his craft or – given
what we already know about future episodes – his dedication to self-abuse in all its forms. He may be a wanker – but he’s our wanker and he's damn good at it.

John Safran’s Race Relations is on ABC1 on Wednesday nights at 9.30pm

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