Tag Archives: race

John Safran: Misogynist Until Proven Otherwise

A few nights ago at the Standard, I found myself agreeing with a friend (Zoe, who else?) on the topic of John Safran’s Race Relations (you can watch the whole episode on the ABC website here). Despite my railing, it seems audiences love his personal-essay-on-screen style. Audiences are daft. For example, why do the opening credits imply that the show is going to help us with race relations, but the show itself focuses exclusively on Safran’s experience. Where are the Hindus, dammit?

Nonetheless, this is not the shows fatal flaw. No, the problem with Race Relations is that we have no idea what the man is thinking.

Safran, as many will know, has a very distinctive voice. A weedy twang that we’ve become accustomed to, whether interrupting the indignant stuttering of Father Bob on Triple J or in his previous incarnations versus God, racing around the world or hosting a music jamboree. It is somewhat ironic then, that most of what we’ve heard so far on Race Relations is Safran’s seemingly ironic musings on retro books about intermarriage. Episode Four was no different. The show opens with Safran holding up a book, and explaining its thesis: Asian women are more marriageable as they age better and stay attractive longer. Presumably, that’s ironic right? Presumably we’re supposed to laugh a bit and think, but of course race doesnt’ really have anything to do with longevity of attraction.

Safran then goes about asking four of his ex-girlfriends if they could request their mothers to make out with him, to see how well attraction ages. Logical, I know. Already in the series, Safran has run around like a naughty little boy stealing panties of ex-girlfriends so that he can sniff them blindfolded. He’s also already asked and procured a make out session with an Aryan woman in Anne Franks’ attic. With that in mind, we come to the living rooms of four mothers with their daughters, three of whom end up making out with John Safran on air. Like with most of the series, it’s essentially one sketch where the punchline is “it’s for research, right!”

The first woman hesitates, but agrees in the end. The next seems to consent a little more readily. The third’s reaction isn’t shown. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the last mother, a traditionally dressed non-English speaking Japanese woman declines a kiss on the the mouth, but compromises with a kiss on the cheek.

We’ll never know how many women Safran approached, or how that third woman responded. What we can be sure of is that it’s totally unfair to be asked to kiss a documentary maker, and a former friend of your daughter while the cameras are rolling. Noone wants to be uncooperative, let their daughter down, or indeed, seem uncool on the television.

Now I’m not saying Safran and his team wouldn’t have respected the explicitly stated wishes of anyone they film. They probably did. The bigger issue is that which is less explicit. Did those women feel like props? Do they have partners who might have problems with it? Were they were given time to think about the request? How did the ex-girlfriend who completely freaked out mid-kiss deal with it afterwards? Do any of them regret it?

All this comes back to that problem I raised earlier: Safran’s lack of editorial voice. See, when you ask a rhetorical question like “do Asian women stay attractive longer?”, you also need to equip your audience with an easy and obvious answer. Aside from the one-sketch-ness of it, Safran fails to deliver thoughts on the matter outside “Yes! Definitely prefer the older Asian woman!”. In doing so, Safran fails to convince us that he’s thought about what he’s doing: a unsettling trait when what you’re doing is treating awkward sex acts with the same offhandedness as a lab experiment.

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Taxidriver

Yesterday evening, decorated like a cupcake and teetering on offensively high heels, I was forced to choose between a half hour wait for the tram or a cab ride towards the city. Sharing this fascinating choice with me was  a friend who, while not attending the same fancy party as me, lived on the way into town.

Having spotted and hailed down the distant glow of an available cab, we slid in and were greeted by an oil-slicked Indian yoof clutching a really fucking big computer-and-mobile-in-one thingo and a phone card. No news there. Having let friend out after five minutes, this person proceeded to make an overseas call in Urdu, realise he’d been hung up on, swear really loudly in English, make another call to complaing about the first call and all the while, drive really slowly.

Meanwhile, the passenger seat covering was shifting uncomfortably as I tugged down at my hem and tried to make my thoughts of “talking on the phone is illegal” and “drive faster please!” well-heard, but also remain silent, because I’ve been raised not to interrupt phone conversations. Foremost in my mind was trying to repair the perception held by this tired-faced worker that I was not a stupid westernised slut; that I was worth listening to and indeed was paying not to be ignored.

Anyway, we came to the part of Bourke St that’s closed off the traffic and yet another fascinating desicion had to be made: get out now, or get Mr. Fucking Large Phone to drive back around so that I could get to my destination on the other side of the road blockage. A particularly judicious fiscal desicion saw me ask this person to please stop the meter then. After some to-ing and fro-ing, he turned off the meter but proceeded to drive in the direction of said fancy party.  Waving down my protests, he justified this act of kindess with those wonderful words: “I was going in that direction anyway”.

Now I’ve seen kindness from taxidrivers before, especially from older subcontinental ones who can only see their daughter in my face. This one was different. Having made it about halfway around the blockage, he was hailed down by another woman, whom he obliged, but asked me if it was OK first. On the last leg of this very brief journey, Mr. Fucking Large Phone rapidly but emphatically explained to this other woman, whose meter had already hit three dollars, that he wanted to drop off this “beautiful lady here”, but she’s “on the way, so that’s OK yes?”. It’s hard to overstate how quickly all this happened. Here was a man who I had assumed thought nothing of me, but turned out to find my beauty worth compromising his vocational integrity for (though these may be the same thing). The whole thing was bewildering, but also raised some pretty interesting questions. What did this guy want? What had I given up? Would he have done the same for that other woman, who wasn’t brown like me?

The key question, though, is this:  do I give up my rights to be valued for more than appearance, if I use my appearance for personal gain?

PS. Speaking of Indian student/taxi drivers, here’s a pretty golden video that some guys I know made.

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