Chasers “Make a Realistic Wish Foundation” Sketch

Posted on 14 June 2009

For those of you not living in Australia a comedy sketch show The Chaser’s War on Everything has once more made the news for one of their sketches. For some reason our media loves waggling its finger at controversial comedy coming out of our public television channel the ABC. You will not find the same scrutiny over commercial comedy shows such as Good News Week (which I also love).

The sketch is about a fictional charity called the “Make a Realistic Wish Foundation” . The mock ad for this charity portrays dying children making extravagant wishes, then being given more “realistic” but measly gifts. If you actually watch the sketch, rather than reacting to the reporting made by commercial channels, you will note that the children are dealt with sensitively. It’s the adults who are made to seem small-minded and insensitive, and intentionally so. The Chaser is sending up the cynical use of children to influence public debate and to make people feel good while making the least charitable effort possible. Certainly worthwhile topics of discussion.

The sketch ends with the line, “Why go to any trouble when they’re only going to die anyway?” This evidently upset the very real Make a Wish Foundation. The foundation was afraid that the people seeing this sketch might think twice
about using the charity, because it would seem like signing something that says “Now my child will pass away.” That’s reading an awful lot into the potential response to a short comedy sketch. However, commercial news channels picked it up, and soon the ABC was receiving complaints from people who had never seen the show in order to understand what was actually portrayed or to be genuinely offended.

The results of this controversy are that The Chaser has been pulled from broadcast for two weeks and Amanda Duthie has been demoted and removed from her role as ABC’s head of television comedy.

This raises a number of questions. Why wasn’t a public apology enough? Nothing in this sketch contravened any sort of broadcasting code of which I know. Why was Amanda Duthie demoted, rather than The Chaser reprimanded? Was this a convenient moment to deal with a difficult ABC staff member? Why did our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd bother to weigh-in with a comment when he hadn’t seen the sketch? Why was it even of concern to him?

Personally, I believe a number of charities, including the Make a Wish Foundation, should have a critical look-in. How much are they really benefitting children? If you think about it, how comfortable are we with the ethics behind their activity? Does sending a child to Disneyland really “make it all better”? Perhaps our money would be better spent on a charity to develop clown counsellors: people trained to provide a safe and trustworthy ear to listen, shoulder to cry on, and a bit of a laugh on a week by week basis to ill children who need consistent friendship.

I also feel it is vital we continue to give our comedians the right to create satire, rather than our public and private media falling over in a heap the instant anything becomes controversial (and of course who created the
controversy). A functioning free society must have its jesters who will speak truth to power and also speak truth to the masses. Sometimes our jesters will get it wrong, but then at least we have a point of discussion and that’s important too.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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