Last night, a show that I – and probably a lot of you – had been waiting a while for sparked up on our collective television screens. A joint project between SBS and NITV, First Contact is a show that throws “ordinary” white Australians into Aboriginal Australia. Simply put, that’s the show. Oh, and Ray Martin hosts it because he found out he has some Aboriginal heritage, presumably.
“Six out of 10 white Australians have never even met an Aboriginal Australian,” goes the show’s tagline. “These six represent those people.”
The eclecticism of these colourful characters is well designed, from a Northern Beaches surf bum to forty year-old professional idiot. There’s also a nutritionist who does yoga, a cop (duh) and some girl who works at a supermarket. Oh, and a stay-at home mum with a FIFO husband, who was characterized by what appears to be one of her favourite hobbies: sitting on her arse and watching TV.
The reasoning behind the choosing of these people is pretty clear, just from what comes out of their mouth within the first five minutes; they’re all pretty ignorant of Aboriginal culture. What sets them apart is how they approach that ignorance. While some are willing to learn, others adopt the time-old “be afraid of what you don’t know” approach, and expect conflict from the start.
“I’m pretty nervous about how many arguments I’m probably going to get in,” says Sandy – who was become the show’s star attraction in less than 24 hours since it’s broadcast – as she stares up at Uluru “With these people [pointing to the rest of the cast] and with all the Aboriginal people I meet.” That’s pretty clear, since you ridiculously cling to the eugenicist conspiracy that race equals level of intelligence, and you’re afraid of letting your kids hang out with black kids.
Sandy, let it be known, also believes that Aboriginal people are good for nothing more than petrol sniffing, burning down houses and generally being the disgusting stereotype we associate with skinhead dickheads and crazy people. “If you think I’ racist, then I don’t fucking care,” came Sandy’s committed answer to, oh, I don;t know, the entire online community calling her out on Twitter last night. It’s come to light now that, during tonight’s show, Sandy leaves, never to return, and nothing of value is lost.
While it would’ve been a worthwhile experience to see Sandy be a fucking idiot throughout the three-part series, there is definitely no point to it other than the entertainment factor. SBS, NITV and Blackfella Productions (the house behind First Contact) have built this show as a confronting, unique and groundbreaking look at race relations in Australia. For a part, that works, but the effusive ignorance and stupidity of some of the cast makes this aim a little opaque at times. Take Jasmine, for example, the TV-loving mum. Her greatest fear? Having to eat bugs, because in her mind, all Aboriginal people eat bugs. And while, yes, she is forced into that position in the very first episode (again, entertainment factor), that kind of frustrating ignorance is the basis from where we are all starting as we watch this show, in one way or another.
If you’re one of the people who are actually sitting down to watch First Contact, you’re probably one of either two groups in Australia; an Aboriginal Australian, or someone who cares enough about Aboriginal culture to want to embrace it. The racists who make up a small but not unimportant ratio of our population are not watching this show. Why would they? What are they getting out of their dye-cast beliefs, evil as they are, being challenged?
I do believe that First Contact is a show that has to exist. But, on the surface, it’s nothing more than a platform to cringe at people’s ridiculous ideals. What we have to do, as an active audience, is note just how ingrained these stereotypes become in people’s minds. We have to remember that, yes, we are trying to make a difference when it comes to racial equality in Australia, but for every nine good people, there’s one dickhead who will hold back racial integration. First Contact is about more than just changing the minds of six white people; it’s about starting another, necessary, dialogue. Ray Martin, in all his pepper-haired glory, knows this. It’s not the show you should be paying attention to, but the dialogue the show has already started within the wider community.
Go ahead, laugh at those racist idiots tonight. I will be. But remember there’s more to it than that.