The standard of debate around the traps on the subject of Andrew Hansen's infamous 'eulogy song' on Wednesday night's episode of The Chaser's War on Everything has been pretty deplorably low, with most people apparently unable to get past the 'for/against' dichotomy and expressing their positions, either way, in unattractively primitive terms.
[UPDATE: apparently this song was actually written by Chris Taylor -- my bad. Auto-correct as you read.]
As with so much expression of public opinion, much of this has been not about the subject in question but rather about thinly disguised self-aggrandisement. Either you proclaim your own respectability by saying loudly and indignantly that trashing the dead is icky, or you trumpet your own honesty and fearlessness by savagely attacking people who are no longer in a position to defend themselves, regardless of how ruthlessly they may have done so before they carked it.
I'm no fan of the Chaser boys as a rule, and must be the only person in the country who thought the APEC stunt was puerile and dangerous, but I admit it: when I watched Hansen singing his song, I laughed. Not least because he actually understands how to scan verse lines and what a real rhyme is, and the cleverer and more precise the scansion and rhyming, the funnier that Tom Lehrer-style song always is.
I'm in the camp (see self-aggrandisement and respectability, above) that says there is something uncivilised and savage, something pathetically cowardly, even something a bit evil, in the trashing of the newly dead. It reminds me of that 'Teenage King of Werribee' caught last year on video pissing on the head of an intellectually disabled girl, simply because he could do so without fear of repercussion. But I wasn't 'for' or 'against' the song. I thought it was funny, which is a different thing. (Although, having said that, one saw far more brilliant and subtle satire about Kerry Packer back in the 80s and 90s when he was still alive and richly equipped to wreak revenge, and did.)
One defining characteristic of satire is its profound instability of meaning. In good satire, you know that something is being sent up, mocked, savaged, traduced -- but, try as you might and using every tool of literary criticism that you have ever met or heard of, you just can't ever quite put your finger precisely on the word or moment that pins down the satirist's meaning. Think of Edna Everage, or, even more so, Sandy Stone. Think of Swift's 'A Modest Proposal', a savage essay on, among other things, English-Irish relations in which a straight-faced projector proposes (modestly) that the solution to the problem of the Irish poor would be for the Irish to farm their richest resource -- their children -- out for food.
(I thought of this great Swift piece during the Adelaide Festival of Ideas before last when economist Clive Hamilton got up on stage and, also with a straight face, proposed that the solution to the over-population of Kangaroo Island with disease-ridden and habitat-destroying koalas (given that the SA government refuses to allow culling on the basis that it would harm the tourism industry if the news got out -- particularly if it got as far as koala-loving Japan -- that people were shooting koalas out of the trees) would be to develop organised koala-hunting tourism packages and market them to Americans. It would, he predicted, be so popular that they'd end up deliberately breeding more koalas on KI in order to provide enough targets for the sporting shooters of the US.)
But back to the eulogy song. As many have already commented (including, after a fashion, the Chaser boys themselves), the Belinda Emmett moment was the song's self-deconstructing mechanism, making the double point that (1) yes even satire needs to draw the line and (2) anyway, more importantly, Belinda Emmett was, in fact, a sweetheart, so there was no satire-inviting hypocrisy involved in the modest public mourning of her death.
So far, so good.
I maintain, however, that the song had a second and more important self-deconstructing moment, and this brings me back to the point about satire's instability of meaning. For what are we to make of this?
... her dress was wet with Arab semen stains. / Stan Zemanek was a racist jock ...
Regarding this crashing non-segue from racial profiling of hypothetical semen stains (and all that that implies) in one line to scornful accusations of somebody else's racism in the next, there are only two possibilities: either Hansen did this on purpose, or he didn't.
If he didn't do it on purpose, then it reveals a staggering hypocrisy all its own, far outstripping the mild and culturally understandable hypocrisies involved in eulogising the newly dead that were the ostensible target of the song's satire: an even-less-than-skin-deep racial problem that smacks very nastily indeed of the classic white male fear of miscegenation, of 'our women' being sexually appropriated by men of other races.
But if he did do it on purpose, then it means that he was satirising his own song, which would then call its entire message into question. And if he was calling its entire message into question, then what was it really about?