A controversial serial petitioner has set his sights on the ABC, calling for an end to certain language on TV after a recent comedy sketch.
Melbourne man Brian Mc made headlines earlier this year when he called for the iconic Golden Gaytime ice cream to be renamed, gathering hundreds of petition signatures along with much criticism.
The Pythonesque meta opening scene of this season’s episode 11 involves a character in a shop asking to buy a sketch.
“It’s a bit ironic, sir, and a bit derivative,” says the shopkeeper.
The discussion between characters develops into a debate over whether the sketch is sufficiently representative of the community.
“Plus, the guy playing the shopkeeper’s got a fag in his mouth,” interjects one.
“Well, it’s not lit. And don’t say ‘fag’,” he replies.
Writer and presenter Shaun Micallef responded to Mc’s concerns about the double entendre use of the term.
“We would never use the word as a slur because we wouldn’t find that funny and we don’t make that sort of show,” Micallef told Pink Advocate.
“We felt that acknowledging that a word can be used as a slur is not quite the same thing as using it as one.
“We don’t always get it right, and I appreciate intention counts for little where offence is caused, but for what it’s worth, the sketch – as stated by a character in it towards the end – was about ‘political correctness and the risk averse culture at the ABC’.
“We tried to cram in as many things as possible that the ABC is rightly careful about, and this included not only gender representation, cultural appropriation, stereotypes of the marginalised, religion, and the sanctity of the ANZAC legend, but also the portrayal of characters smoking on TV.”
The veteran comedian noted that ABC editorial policy is that either smoking must be shown as frowned upon or the cigarette must not be lit, as pointed out in the sketch.
“As a general principle though, we do not think words should be banned from TV or anywhere, as we’d worry about the extent of the authority granted to those doing the banning,” said Micallef.
“But we’re all for decency and responsibility and respect, as well as crediting the audience with the ability to read context.
“Dealing with the subject of offence in a comedy sketch without causing it is a tricky one.”
Aged in his late 30s, Mc said he objects to hearing ‘fag’ used even in the sense of a cigarette because of its association with harassment.
“Like many young gay men, I was called a fag in high school and was bullied,” he said.
“I’m not happy to reclaim the words of haters, and I feel when even members of the LGBTQIA+ community use it that it’s a word of hate and not something that we should use.
“I’d rather the focus be that it’s a word that shouldn’t be used at all – no reclaiming, no colloquial meaning as a cigarette.
“If you can’t say it in an office, you can’t say it in the community, including TV.”
Mc has taken his concerns to the ABC, saying that the word should not have been used and that the broadcaster should apologise.
A response from the Audience and Consumer Affairs unit disagreed with the complaint, finding that ‘fag’ had been used in “its common colloquial meaning to refer to a cigarette”.
“[This is] about the ABC using a loophole to put ‘fag’ on TV in 2021,” said Mc.
“It’s a loophole that needs to be closed to protect all members in the community.
“’Fag’ has been offensive for years, and anyone who defends the use of the word is outdated and plain wrong and needs to be stopped.”