The Chaser comedy team had its top-rating show, The Chaser’s War on Everything, suspended by the ABC for two weeks after an outcry over a sketch screened on June 3 that joked about the Make a Wish Foundation charity for sick children.
The sketch presented an alternative - the Make a Realistic Wish Foundation, in which charity workers callously denied dying kids their fantasies. For instance, a girl who wanted to meet teen idol Zac Efron got a stick instead.
The response was a hailstorm of outrage led by the conservative media, which whipped up a lynch-mob mentality. The Sydney Daily Telegraph dedicating an entire section of its paper to attacking The Chaser.
The ABC responded by suspending the program and announcing a review of its editorial approval process. On June 10, the ABC’s head of comedy Amanda Duthie was sacked for approving the sketch.
The Chaser issued a statement apologising for the sketch. They said they didn’t intend the sketch to be offensive, thinking it so over-the-top no one would take it seriously. On their suspension, the statement said: “we are disappointed by the decision, and we don’t agree with it”.
No doubt many took genuine offence at the sketch. However, the extent of the attacks indicates something more at work than genuine offence at a misjudged sketch. Since when did one sketch in poor taste justify suspension of an entire show?
By such criterion, neither the AFL nor NRL versions of Channel Nine’s Footy Show would ever appear. Both are infamous for their misogyny and homophobia. They have been largely left alone by the same media voices savaging The Chaser.
The Chaser team is extremely popular - the second series of the War on Everything was regularly watched by more than a million viewers. This success is tied to their willingness to challenge the status quo. They are at their funniest in their role as outsiders throwing rocks at the establishment - irreverently mocking its pretences and pomposity.
War, racism and attacks on civil liberties are recurring targets. The Chaser performed at anti-war rallies against the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Their most famous stunt occurred at the 2007 APEC summit in Sydney. The city was locked-down and highly militarised, with civil liberties all but abolished. All this to protect the war criminal George W Bush. The Chaser sent a fake motorcade through supposedly impenetrable security into the heart of where the summit was being held, before Chaser member Chas Licciardello jumped out dressed as Osama bin Laden.
The stunt exposed the lie that the extreme measures were to stop terrorist attacks, rather than stifle dissent. Along with the thousands who defied the police state laws to march peacefully in the streets, The Chaser stunt helped catalyse public opinion against the repressive laws.
The stunt mocked and humiliated the authorities. It exposed the spin from our rulers justifying measures that made ordinary people’s lives in Sydney at the time a nightmare.
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