Joke crackdown no laughing matter
How do you sink an Italian battleship? You put it in water. OK. That really makes no sense; the Italians have been pretty good boat builders since they nicked nautical designs from the Carthaginians, but I still found it funny. Maybe you did, too, which might be a problem because the Human Rights Commission has a swanky new campaign urging us not to laugh at even the smallest racist joke. Even a nod can lend currency to the racist scourge sweeping the country.
That took me by surprise. I was ignorant of this outbreak, but then I am an old, white, capitalist male. I’m far more likely to be the racist than the victim. But still. I have issues with this latest nonsense from Dame Susan Devoy, head of the Race Relations Commission.
For a start, while individuals commit acts of racism, real race crimes – such as genocide, mass deportations and slavery – are always committed by the state. The idea of a government hectoring its citizens not to be racist is as credible as Todd Barclay lecturing on privacy.
Equally, it seems implausible that there are any white supremacists who are going to experience an epiphany after watching a Taika Waititi video. Past efforts to waste tax money have focused on behaviour; don’t speed and don’t hit your children. This message is darker; the State is telling us what jokes to laugh at, or not to laugh at. This is different from pointing out the illegality and indeed economic stupidity of refusing to employ, rent to or engage with someone based on their race. A joke is usually a private thing, often between intimates. It is not a place where the Human Rights Commission or any government agency has any business or moral authority being involved. The explicit message in Waititi’s narrative is that it is wrong to even think racist thoughts; the ideas in my head are wrong, even if they lead nowhere – an Orwellian thought-crime. This is a problem for me as my head is filled with the most appalling misanthropic darkness.
A day doesn’t pass where I do not contemplate impaling someone with a soldering iron (I have issues). I can no more control these ideas than I can agree with James Shaw on economics, yet despite my poor taste in humour and dark inner rages, I should be judged on my actions and on those alone. Being the moral arbiter of jokes people tell in private should be outside a democratic government’s remit.
Director Taika Waititi is the face of a new Human Rights Commission video urging people to stand up to racism.