Are Australians Really Dumb, Drunk and Racist?8:50 am - 06/26/2012
The premise of the six-part series revolves around a whistle-stop, three-week tour of Australia undertaken by four Indians, in which they’re planted in various situations. They’re traveling with the host, Joe Hildebrand, a laconic, left-wing newspaper commentator whose role is to decode Australia for the Indians and the Indians for Australians.
The four – a call centre worker, a law student, a television news anchor and an overseas education advisor – were selected to take part, as most had experience relevant to the show. One woman had been racially abused during a Sydney holiday seven years earlier, while another had reported extensively on interracial relations.
Australian attitudes towards race have been under the scanner in recent years in India, after highly publicized violent attacks on Indians there led to breathless, often hysterical, media coverage in India.
The effects were immediate: Within months, student enrollments to Australian universities fell dramatically, an issue of great alarm to education institutions which rely heavily on foreign fee-paying students.
Earlier, in 2005, ugly scenes of a drunken mob directing their fury towards Lebanese Muslims at Sydney’s Cronulla Beach – known locally as the “insular peninsula” – were aired around the world. This, too, did little for Australia’s desire to raise its profile in the international community.
The show is essentially an attempt to hold a mirror to Australian society and work out just how dumb, drunk and racist it really is.
One episode has so far gone to air, receiving substantial publicity and ratings in Australia. Shot vérité style, the first of six episodes introduces the concept, the participants, and follows them around Sydney, during which they stumble across a verbal altercation between a potty-mouthed Muslim man and a seemingly erudite artist painting a wall mural reading “say no to the burqa,” in a liberal inner city suburb. For the first time, they witness the confused rhetoric of Australian attitudes towards race and religion.
- ABC TV
- Pictured, Ms. Budhwar and Mr. Hildebrand.
A blog post written by the host on a news website has garnered more than 600 comments (a lot by Australian standards; remember, this is a country of just 22 million people – less than that of Haryana). And during the airing of the pilot last Wednesday, Twitter was aflame with commentary.
“Some revelations were more obvious than others,” said series producer Anita Jorgensen in an email interview.
“It was surprising to discover that our survey in India about Australians confirmed our reputation as ‘dumb drunk and racist,” claimed Ms. Jorgensen. “When it came to racism we wondered if we’d struggle to open the debate in any meaningful way, but once we took four Indians into the streets, strong opinions soon found us. I was appalled to see our Indian travelers openly abused in the street.”
In another example the experiences of call centre workers are recorded, and the kind of comments made by Australians don’t make for easy listening.
“There’s so much abuse, I’m embarrassed to even say,” says Radhika Budhwar, one of the Indian participants, before listing a stream of foul-mouthed abuse that would make a sailor blush.
But other experiences were a surprise: one episode takes the four to a Bachelor and Spinster Ball, or B&S Ball, a cherished tradition in country Australia of drunken, earthy revelry. “The boys had a great time,” says Ms. Budhwar. “And everybody, boys and girls, kept flashing us.”
“The racism debate is often characterised by either knee-jerk anger and defensiveness or a complete lack of interest. We hope the show will open up discussion as to what the word ‘racism’ actually means and to what extent we see it here,” said Ms. Jorgensen.
Still, both Ms. Budhwar and Ms. Jorgensen are tight-lipped about revealing too much of what ensues during the journey across Australia: producers are hoping that an Indian network will pick it up.
So are Australians dumb drunk and racist? Ms. Budhwar won’t say on the racist point, as all is revealed in the final episode. “Dumb, no, I don’t think they’re dumb, I met many very intelligent and wonderful Australians. Drunk is, well, there’s an episode dealing with all the drunk encounters. I’ve travelled all over the world and in comparison I think yes, Australians do drink a lot.”