Two more thoughts on Hey Hey

The Jackson Jive

The controversy over this skit, which involved five men blacking up (and one “whiting” up) to portray the Jackson 5, rages on.

I don’t think it’s as simple as some are making out.

Those offended (especially the Americans and Brits) should bear in mind that “blackfacehas no history in Australia, and the racial connotations, including that those participating are parodying stereotypical blacks, simply don’t exist here. And certainly it appears that the partipants meant no offence. (Note: most of them are not actually white.)

Meanwhile, those annoyed claiming that people are being over-sensititive and that apologising is “political correctness gone mad” should remember that now we’re a global village. Even without the presence of Harry Connick Jr, this was bound to be seen internationally, and by people who would be offended by it.

So why are people offended? As Wikipedia notes:

Stereotypes embodied in the stock characters of blackface minstrelsy played a significant role in cementing and proliferating racist images, attitudes and perceptions worldwide.

…and as Harry Connick Jr quite eloquently pointed out:

…I know it was done humorously, but we’ve spent so much time trying to not make black people look like buffoons, that when we see something like that we take it really to heart…

Society changes. Just because it was okay to show the same act in the 80s (and even in the titles of the 1999 finale) doesn’t mean it’s okay anymore.

When was it that smoking was banned in restaurants? About 2001? Today smoking in a restaurant (or even in a pub) seems totally outlandish. We’ve moved on.

I like nostalgia. But some of what was on Hey Hey in the past should have stayed in the past.

The Hey Hey mix

Beyond the current furore, I was pondering what makes Hey Hey tick. I’ve decided that it’s like a big dinner party conversation. They basically get a whole bunch of people in a room and wait for the humour to happen, guided through the show by the various segments. You’ve got the host, the assistant, the various puppets, you’ve got the voiceover man, the caption person, the cartoon-drawer, the sound-effects guy, the interjecting bandmembers and roving comic, all coming up with one-liners.

Hey Hey

When we tuned into the first Hey Hey special last Wednesday, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It’s been ten years since the show ended, which seems like a long time, but most of the regulars from back then are still around.

I first watched Hey Hey when I was a kid, when it was shown on Saturday mornings. It could be quite absurdist, and they’d freely admit when there was no audience present, panning the camera around an empty studio while playing audience sound effects. When it switched to evenings, I kept watching, and I certainly recall tuning in most weeks into the mid-90s, though I don’t recall if I kept watching to the very end.

What we got in the reunion was, essentially, the same show as it was in the 90s. I got some laughs out of it, and was fairly unimpressed by the musical numbers, just like in the 90s. (For me the musical numbers, unless it’s a guest artist of particular interest, just punctuate the rest of the show.) Likewise it seems people who never liked it weren’t impressed this time round.

But what surprised me was that, after a little encouragement, the kids got hooked. We were all sitting in the motel room in Bendigo, and possibly due to the style of humour (never too clever or subtle) they were rivetted to the screen until we switched off at about 9:40 to get some shut-eye. The Disasterchef skit, Molly’s dog and Dicky Knee, and the Red Faces Vegemite kid all kept us laughing. As did the old Maurie Fields joke, though I’m not sure why they bothered to splice that old and new footage together to do it.

In perhaps a similar way to the successful resurrection of Doctor Who (which is BBC1′s second-highest-rating programme), it would appear that “family entertainment” is a demographic that TV networks would do well to try and target more often — the Hey Hey special got more than 3 million people tuning in across the nation. (Note some media said 2.1 million — apparently this is capital cities only.)

Since we missed the end of the show, I hoped to set the VCR for Saturday’s repeat, but it was pulled at the last minute. No matter, we’ll be tuning in to the second special tonight. It’ll be interesting to see if the cast can maintain the momentum, and whether the huge audience numbers are sustained. If they can, and they are, then surely Channel 9 would have to seriously consider bringing back the show for a full season.

Sending my kids down the mine

(Posted 2nd October. Backdated to the day it happened.)

Originally the plan had been to go to Canberra for 4-5 days, possibly driving up via Lakes Entrance and perhaps back via Kelly country. One of the reasons for wanting to go to Canberra was that I’d been keen to see a display at Old Parliament House: the Living Democracy: Power of the People exhibition, because part of it highlights community organisations, and one of those featured is the one I’m involved with.

However, Kerryn was up in Canberra a few weeks ago, and it turns out that this is nowhere near as interesting as it sounds: merely a logo and blurb on a piece of cardboard in a display case. Oh well.

In any case, school holiday schedule considerations meant the break would have to be cut back, and I ended up with a completely revised plan: Bendigo for just two days. Short and hopefully sweet.

Southern Cross Station

So on Wednesday morning we set out for the station, V/Line tickets to Bendigo in hand. They have a Family Traveller deal which gets you tickets for two kids free with each adult, as long as you travel outside peak hour. And it includes metropolitan travel, which frankly makes it a bargain at $15.80 each way.

According to the V/Line web site, single tickets (of which we had two; they issue separate tickets unless you’re returning on the same day) are meant to be time-stamped by station staff, but both on the way and on the way back nobody seemed to think this was necessary. *shrug* Maybe they’ve realised that allowing only an hour of travel either side of your train trip isn’t very practical, especially when they advise you to allow at least 30 minutes interchange time at Southern Cross to ensure you make your connection.

We got to Southern Cross in plenty of time for the 9:15 to Bendigo, and spent the time observing four promotional people dressed as the Village People, singing YMCA, with a placard nearby dubiously linking this to Hallmark Cards.

The train zoomed out of Melbourne. Given it was a V/Locity train I wondered if we’d reach the full 160 km/h, but it turns out that of the two tracks that go most of the way to Bendigo, only one has been upgraded to 160, and the other only to 130, and the faster line is used for peak direction. So we had to satisfy ourselves with 130 km/h, which still seemed pretty fast from where I was sitting.

In-flight entertainment was courtesy of a family sitting opposite: a lady with her three-year-old girl (“Brooke Livinia! Get back here now!”) and a ten-year-old son (who spent the first part of the trip in a long and presumably smelly session in the toilet, then the rest of the trip trying to teach his sister what seemed to be an impenetrably complicated card game).

I thought they were going all bogan on me when the mum started ranting to the boy about how his father shouldn’t have “borrowed” ten dollars off him. But we got chatting later; they were doing a similar thing to us — a 2-day break in Castlemaine, sans motor vehicle, and they’d be riding the Maldon stream train.

Sacred Heart Cathedral, Bendigo

We got into Bendigo a bit after 11am and went and found the hotel. I’d booked one on View Street, which looked to be reasonably central to things, and had a room available with three beds. Despite the theoretical check-in time being 1pm, they were happy to let us into the room early, and we dropped the bags and things before heading out again.

Rosalind Park is closeby, so we went and climbed the old mining tower thingy there that now serves as a lookout. Back onto View Street for some lunch, then we walked along MacKenzie Street past the awe-inspiringly huge Sacred Heart Cathedral, noting the gargoyles looking down at us. We snuck a peek inside, though a sign warned there was a service going on.

Central Deborah mine, Bendigo

A little further along the highway we got to the Central Deborah mine, where I’d booked us in for a 2pm tour. We were a bit early, so got to look around the museum and so on beforehand.

The “Mine Experience” tour was fabulous. After donning hard hats with torches, we went down in a cage to 60 metres down (the equivalent of 20 storeys) and got shown around one of the levels of the mine. Having to wear the hats and tramp about in the dark just added to the experience, making it all terrifically atmospheric, and Bob our guide was excellent, and knew how to keep the group entertained as well as informed. I can’t recommend this tour enough; the kids loved it and so did I; it was great.

Down the mine

Back on the surface we got onto the vintage tram (it stops outside and they do combined tickets which include the mine tour and two days of riding the tram — perfect for us — $73 all up for the three of us). As in days of yore, the model we caught had no doors in the middle section, and we sat there enjoying the fresh air. The tram took us back through the city centre, with an automated voice recording describing the sights along the way. There was a short stop at the tram depot/museum, and we planned to visit it properly the next day.

We took the tram to the end of the line, then back a little way to Lake Weeroona. (For some reason at some places the tram only stops in one direction.) I’d read there was an Adventure Playground there, though it was a little underwhelming.

The tram conductor had warned us we had been on the last tram, but we had a plan. Bendigo’s bus network is reasonably fathomable (unlike, say, Geelong’s used to be, and partly still is), and thanks to the miracle of technology, it’s very easy to check bus times on the Metlink Mobile site — well at least it was as soon as I worked out that Bendigo is in their “Lodden – Mallee” category. Hmm. Still, simply noting the route number (8) on a nearby bus stop, and checking the times, we were able to know that there was a bus back to the centre of town every half-hour, and when it left.

The bus was dead on time, and I dug out my Myki ticket from Geelong which still had $3.20 on it, which worked like a charm (though the scanners were a tad slow), and got two 2-hour short-term tickets costing $1 each for the kids. Easy.

Back in central Bendigo, we went and found some pizza for dinner, and while we munched I tried to determine where the nearest supermarket was. Being the age of technology, rather than just ask one of the waiters, I tried White Pages online on my phone, and found there was a Coles just a couple of minutes walk away, where we picked up some bananas to eat later.

Back to the hotel, we put our feet up. I tuned into the Hey Hey It’s Saturday reunion, which I might blog about separately later. Eventually it was bed time, and we dozed off, a good day’s exploring behind us.

"I can’t feel my legs"

Went to a bit of a buck’s night on Saturday. A bit of a pub crawl through the city. There was one casualty of the evening, and it all happened before we even started! By the time we were in the restaurant chowing down some delicious Mongolian food, our missing comrade had already managed to get himself into a pub brawl, get thrown through a window, and rang from Epworth Hospital to say that he wouldn’t be able to make it.

“Chris”, we told him, “you might at least have waited for us before you started!”

In any case, we carried on, discovering along the way that if somebody published a pub-crawlers map of Melbourne, it would have made things a lot easier. We were only able to find two between the restaurant and Southbank.

It was just after ten when we reached the second pub, the venerable Young & Jacksons. We noticed that the final Hey Hey was running overtime, with Daryl “Rand McNally” Somers and crew obviously having scoured the tape archives for classic gems. Us in the pub were reminiscing, harking back to the good old days when Hey Hey was on in the mornings on Saturday after the Thunderbirds.

By the time we reached Southbank, Brian, the buck in question, was well sloshed, at times giggling uncontrollably, and having some difficulty in walking because he couldn’t feel his legs.

Eventually we reached Barcode, a fine establishment where one can partake in both alcohol and video games. Even though Brian claimed he couldn’t feel his legs and said there was a two second delay before his brain registered that an event had happened, he managed to win at Daytona, which was a pretty good effort.

By about 1:30am everyone was pretty stuffed. Alas, Chris was still indisposed and unable to carry out his plan to paint Brian’s private parts with permanent inks, so instead we joined the taxi queues outside Crown for a ride home.

Postscript: It turns out that another person who was expected on the night had an even better excuse that Chris: A crystal ball placed on his window sill caught the sun’s rays, and set fire to his house.