Taking the Piss: Why I Love Australia #134

As Japan is known for its freaky-as subcultures, Australia is known for its political correctness.

Lol jks, I mean its total lack thereof.

Australia is one of those countries where getting a laugh is of utmost priority throughout the course of the day. Aussies will mine a situation for humour the way Durin’s kin mined Moria for mithril – and I’d say their country is just as rich for it. Any opportunity for humour, they take it.

Puns are the rulers of the slogan world.

Let Us Remove Your Shorts

And prime ministers don’t mind kicking it back and skulling some ale.

Their search for humour is a no holds barred wild west, meaning there are some lines that the rest of the world has drawn which Australia has yet to see fit to put into effect. I can’t even imagine the outcry humour censorship would cause.

“Don’t be a whinger!” would come the ornery response. “Where’s the fun in drawing a line?”

So indeed humour has extended past the border and into the shadowlands where most dare not set a single sarcastic retort, nor even extend a tentative quip.

I’m talking about politically incorrect humour.

I’m talking about Coon Cheese (Tasty!).

IMG923

I shit you not. This cheese is everywhere. And it’s not even like it means something different in Australian. Everyone here thinks it’s hilarious, and they all stack their sandwiches with some good ol’ coon slices, have a coon melt, or snack on a healthy stack of coon and grapes.

According to the Wikipedia page, the company got its namesake from Edward William Coon – which would be fine and not at all ethically questionable, except for the 2008 anti-racism campaign that was launched against the product. It claimed that Mr. Coon wasn’t an innocent dairy man after all, but rather that his persona was created to market the cheese under a more socially acceptable guise than its original etymology. Research contends (albeit with much contrary evidence) that the actual genesis of nomenclature came from (and here’ s the best part) “a black wraparound in which it was originally sold”.

Only Joffrey is amused.

That said, the cheese is as popular as ever – as its generously stocked shelves show – and if I were to hazard a guess, it would be because of all the humourous publicity surrounding it. I mean, who *wouldn’t* like to buy an offensive cheese, if for no other reason than the fact that cheese is otherwise one of the most placid objects on the planet? It’s like taking the moral high ground and siding with Beyonce that her photo should be removed from the internet.

[EDIT]: Well, maybe the cheese name does take it too far, since it borders the line between gentle ribbing and unnecessarily offensive. Intention is, of course, everything. If it is true that the name came from that original packaging, then yeah, I’d have to agree that it’s not really okay. Were I allowed to hazard an analytical guess, however, I’d say the humour isn’t in any way related to racial intent, but rather is in the prospect that a cheese might have been named something so shamelessly outright ridiculous and offensive from back in the 1930’s. It’s more like Australia’s taking the piss out of itself for the shamelessness of its past than it is  trying to be derogatory in its present. Kind of like when you’re reading Victorian literature and come across surprise racism – and you laugh because how could anyone have ever written something so horrible so casually??

[EDIT CONT’D]: That said, I completely understand why an anti-racism campaign would have been launched against it, and if the people the word might be used against feel it perpetuates an idea that is more hurtful at present than it is a country’s self-mockery of the past, then I’d be the first to sign the petition to have it changed. For the moment at least, on the ground level, anyone I’ve talked to while in Australia about it has ignored its name and instead spoken of it with only an enthusiasm and appreciation of it being a tasty cheese.

Looking at Australia’s appropriation of such questionable humour, I say again: intention is everything. I don’t say any of this to excuse actual racism where it’s present. I only mean to say that one of the main ways Australians seem to celebrate life comes from milking a situation for all the laughs they can get. To underscore: this isn’t done maliciously, hatefully, or destructively, but rather appreciatively of anything that will give their guts a rolling good time (with chuckles, that is, not the digestive process). In fact, one of the things they enjoy taking the piss out of most is themselves.

I’ve come across a few people who’ve expressed concern for the outward appearance of racism in Australia, most recently a fellow foreigner in Korea who said he, “hates all Australians because they’re racist” (I’ll just let the irony of that statement saturate your brains for a minute). Normally, I’d’ve just up and walked away –

– but I’d been drinking, and alcohol made me volley back to his wholly unworthy-of-the-oxygen-used-expressing-it comment.

I said: “1) You can’t say all Australians are racist. You just can’t. And 2) a lot of the time if you think they’re making fun of something, it’s probably just because they more widely appreciate the humour available in a given culture, most especially their own. But if someone’s actually being a racist dickhead they’d be the first to tell him to go suck a saggy flapjack tit.”

Perhaps I didn’t manage to slur it out so eloquently as that.

In fact, it probably sounded more like, “Dickhead!!”, but I had the fetus of that thought floating unbirthed in my brain’s amniotic fluid.

Anyway, I don’t mean to excuse an entire country of racism (because it certainly does exist there, as it does in all corners of the world), but it’s like saying Japan’s a “big freak” because it finds stuff like this appealing:

(Seriously, where’s the joy in culture if you can’t get a kick out of its quirky differences?)

Bottom line, you can’t judge a culture for what tickles their funny bone – so long as it is in jest – because it’s just what they find funny. French and Korean comedy doesn’t set my chuckles a-chuckling, but then a lot of French and Koreans don’t like British humour and I lose my shit over it.

And I love that Australia can so unabashedly overlook the increasingly over-sensitized world, undercut political correctness, and bring a situation back down to earth where we can all enjoy a good belly laugh. It’s that laid back feeling of never getting too wound up about anything enough to let it bother you. Which I feel, at the end of the day, is what life’s really about.

There’s no point in wasting time and energy getting your feathers all ruffled – your knickers in a twist – your lid all flipped – when there’re more important things to worry yourself about.

This is the philosophy I’ve gathered is at the heart of Australian humour, and is why I love it – and its umbillical twin, political incorrectness – so dearly. You can almost feel your blood pressure lowering as you start to swing sledgehammers of faux-pas’s against the walls of propriety. Suddenly the whole world becomes hilarious.

And so I will leave you with one of my favourite Australian TV shows, the surrealist YouTube satire of Danger 5, a live action Thunderbirds meets Mighty Boosh meets the special effects of every science fiction and horror B movie ever made. The premise: a team of four special agents and their bartender go up against all odds and try to kill Hitler (who looks like someone’s dad they pulled out of a basement and stuck a moustache on) at the orders of their eagle-headed Colonial. To give a taste, it boasts episode titles such as, “Lizard Soldiers of the Third Reich”, “Hitler’s Golden Murder Palace”, and “Fresh Meat for Hitler’s Sex Kitchen”.

If you like that taste and want to sink your teeth in, here’s a link to episode 1. Season 2 is airing soon!

I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you are blessed with much exposure to Australian humour in the future.

(Oh, and what the hell: one last one – a public service announcement about not skipping school [warning, gore]).

EDIT: [Note: I realize, given the sensitivity of political incorrectness, that this might be a delicate topic for some. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t in any way endorse the excusing of racism/sexism/homophobia, nor the violent, destructive, hurtful, cruel or malicious acts of hate these include. Off-colour humour walks a fine line, and it’s certainly understandable if you don’t find this kind of subject matter funny; I only mean to extend appreciation for this kind of humour when it’s done in (ironically) good taste, ie. without hateful intent, only as a teasing/gentle ribbing, with an open mind and a wink in your eye. I also don’t mean to imply that all Australians find this kind of humour funny – this is a generalization. I hope this disclaimer soothes any unsettled grimaces! Cheers.]


13 thoughts on “Taking the Piss: Why I Love Australia #134

    1. Actually funnily enough I love the white anglo jokes the most! I think it only works if you’re able to laugh at yourself the whole time, just as hard (or harder) than at the other kind of jokes. If you’re constantly dishing out the jokes and they border on crude racial slanders (as Andrea says in her comment, flat out dumb teeth-sticking-out, squinty-eyed deriding with no purpose other than to mock a certain group of people for being who they are), then it’s obviously not okay. Additionally, company matters: if you’re among company who’s of a certain group of people and you crack a non-politically correct quip while they’re not okay with it, then that moves from being funny to just being a dick. It’s always important to be respectful of people – most especially if youre directing humour at their particular racial/gender/sexuality group. But if a male friend of mine makes a joke for me to “Go make me a sandwich, woman!” or one of my old French coworkers teased me for being incurably anglophone, or someone (ex Andrea ;P) makes fun of me for being a bumbling, confused super-aryan person who’s ignorant of the finer details of other cultures, then my belly laugh will be louder than anyone else’s. I know it’s not true – and more importantly I know THEY know it’s not true either.

      Humour is all about perspective, and again: you can’t just make fun of something for mocking, destructive, or hateful purposes. You also can’t just go up to a stranger and start making unwise politically incorrect cracks, because then it’s just insulting. Humour is a delicate art that usually walks a very fine line anyway between the raucously hilarious and the you-missed-the-mark-there-buddy. Politically incorrect humour is no different. But if someone says a really clever, non-PC remark, well it’s the cleverness I appreciate, not the racist/sexist/homophobic implications.

      Hope that clears it up a little!

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  1. I love a good Asian joke. The more terrible, the better. If it doesn’t make everyone gasp and scream, “OOHHH HO HO NOOO!” while a smile is, despite the better judgement of their conscience, cracking as wide and fast across their face as a California fault line, it just isn’t pushing it far enough!

    I think my second favourite is cracking the joke myself and watching the confused wobble on the recipient’s lips. Should they laugh? It was funny, but they feel bad for laughing in front of an Asian…but the Asian made the joke, so does that make it ok??

    It’s important to be able to laugh at ourselves and just let our guard down. You can always get a feel for a person’s intentions, no matter what they say. There’s a difference between a gentle ribbing and deriding a person. Obviously, if someone just came up to me and started laughing at me for being a slanty-eyed gook and stuck out their teeth, I’d rip them a new one. It’s all about having that underlying feeling of respect, the way a sibling can tease you mercilessly, even aggressively, without losing that feeling of love. If you can laugh with another race, you show a special kind of understanding with them. If you can laugh at yourself, you develop a certain openness.

    And sometimes, when you’re among friends in a private conversation, it’s about feeling comfortable enough to admit that you’re all fucking terrible people and just letting your dick hang out.

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  2. Humour has often ruffled ire…especially religious, political, language, gender, or racial humour; usually any humour that hits on what is considered sacrosanct to someone’s identity. And while it is a very fine line to tread, and easy to fall into the abyss of missing the mark, it is essential that we keep trying to laugh at ourselves and try to see things from the Wonderland side of the Glass in order to question the validity of the value we place on these things. Think of how gallows and trench humour even took the seriousness of horrific situations and found something to guffaw about. Life is a lot easier when we can roar with laughter and go about grinning like Cheshire cats than when we purse our lips or frown. But it is always a challenge to make the corners of the lips head upwards rather than downwards. Stand-up comics take risks every time they head onstage as to whether their risqué topic will ruin their career or skyrocket them to stardom.

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    1. So true! I’ve seen some pretty cringe humour (I think the worst was a father joking about his daughter’s vagina…just…don’t go there, man), but also some humour that despite its absurdly inappropriate content had me laughing anyway. It’s certainly true that it’s easier to frown than laugh, so if there’s an opportunity for harmless laughter, I always say take it. Thanks for the insightful comment!

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  3. just reading some of this material cracks me up and I get a good belly laugh after a serious day of being PC in a room of complete strangers or a large field of people from every corner of this small planetoid

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  4. It’s only partly related and the details of the story have drifted off into the ether, but here goes anyway.

    More than a century ago Australia had a big problem with cattle rustling. Still it was Australia after all and to paraphrase Robert Service:

    There are strange things done in the land down under
    By the men who lust for gold

    The Aussie trails have their fabled tales
    Of outlaws in the days of old

    So the quick version as I remember it …

    A very wealthy and widely hated cattle baron had a huge herd in northern Australia. It was considered rustler-proof because of its isolation and the fact that the only way to the southern markets was by ship. Above all else, it was famous for its huge white bull.

    An outlaw nearly as famous as the cattle baron took it upon himself to relieve the baron of as much cattle as he could manage, including of course the renowned prize bull.

    Somehow he and his men did what had been considered impossible and got the herd across a great Australian desert (probably with help from aboriginal peoples) and down to a southern port city where the baron and his men were waiting, their having set sail after the cattle and the bull were discovered missing.

    So as you might have already concluded, the great white bull was a dead giveaway and the penalty was the noose.

    But then again this happened in Australia, so the rustler was greeted as a hero, the baron and his men were arrested for pressing false charges, and Australia had another great story filed away.

    That’s my best recollection of the legend.

    P.S. If you’re not familiar with Robert Service’s poems, you might find them quite fun.

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    1. That’s a great story! I definitely want to look into that. I took an Australia Lit class when I was studying there (ironically taught by a Canadian), and remember being a bit disappointed with the reading list. So always looking for good new Australian writers to come across! I’ll certainly be checking out Mr Service

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