Harry Connick Jr. is getting rave reviews around the world but not for his latest album release, which garnered its fair share of positive criticism, but for his stand-in judge’s performance on the Australian show “Hey Hey It’s Saturday,” when the New Orleans-born crooner showed his outrage for a performance of blackfaced individuals calling themselves the Jackson Jive as they parodied the Jackson 5. Harry Connick Jr. gave the skit a zero score. He commented that if the show had been aired in the United States, it would have been pulled.
And as commendable as Harry Connick Jr.’s words and act were, the show’s host, Daryl Sommers, subsequent words were equally as deplorable. He asked the singer-actor to rethink his score.
Sommers later apologized for the performance. Connick said, “I just want to say, on behalf of my country, 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.”
The Jackson Jive had been asked back to the show, which was a reunion episode of the popular show that ran for 27 years (until 1999), to reprise their 20-year-old performance. Their Jackson 5 routine, with four guys wearing blackface and one guy’s face smeared with white makeup, won the competition with that same performance in 1989.
Gawker slammed the performance, saying, “Sure, there are culture differences, but it’s not like they don’t have black folks in Australia who would get pissed off by this. Thank goodness Harry Connick Jr. was there to be the voice of reason.”
The Guardian criticized the performance as well. Marina Hyde wrote that the host seemed to be “oblivious” to the point being made, asking Connick to rethink the score and explaining that the Red Faces had worn blackface and won the competition before. “You know, in the olden times of 1989, when blacking up was totally acceptable.”
But there are those that are saying Harry Connick Jr. is being hypocritical, forgetting that he once portrayed a white evangelical southern preacher on Mad TV which many found to be racist and offensive. Connick says that he stands by his criticism of the Australian performance.
According to the Associated Press, Anand Deva, a member of the Jackson Jive, said that the act was not meant to be offensive but was meant as a tribute. He also said that the group would never have performed the routine in the United States.
Is this a sign that many have become overly sensitive to certain aspects of race or that some have become somewhat insensitive to negatively portraying another race? Could it be a little of both?
Ignoring negative portrayals and derogations does not make the practices disappear, nor does reacting to negative portrayals in such a way as to attain the opposite of the desired effect. But Harry Connick Jr. was correct in that American society, for the most part, has attempted to rid itself of its past use of derogations against black people. But it is his reaction — some might call it an overreaction — and the reactions of others that show that America is still very sensitive to the status of its race relations. It is also a sensitivity that other cultures may not truly share, for each culture has its own history of race relations.
Being American, it is difficult to know exactly what black people in Australia feel about such things as blackface make-up on whites. It may mean the same thing it does in the United States. And it may not. The Jackson Jive’s performance may not been so much an indictment of Australian insensitivity as it was American sensitivity. Unfortunately, Harry Connick Jr.’s response to the performance was also a sign that America still has a long way to go.
And yet, in the context of being American, Connick did the right thing.
“Hey Hey It’s Saturday,” Nine Network