Eddie McGuire Needs To Speak To My Nine-Year-Old Son

Banter is supposed to be funny.

22/06/2016 6:02 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:54 PM AEST
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"My son thinks about what he says and expects others to do the same."

My nine-year-old son is not remotely an academic genius -- but he's a comedic one. In fact, his teacher once said he has the most sophisticated sense of humour of any child she's met in her 20 years of teaching. That proud parenting moment is only equalled by the first time I watched him successfully moonwalk.

Apart from the hilarity gene being part of his DNA, I've raised my kid on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Friends, so he gets sarcasm and friendly teasing as elements of humour. He's watched me and my sisters and closest friends have silly 'conversations' like:

"Oh my god, are you wearing vinyl pants?"

"Whatever, your face is vinyl!"

But one thing he does not think is funny -- and he absolutely won't stand for -- is genuine unkindness in the guise of humour. We've read a lot of Anh Doh's comedy in his brilliant Weirdo series of kids books, so my son understands the impact of your words is essential if you want the recipients of your jokes to laugh, otherwise they may feel alienated -- or bullied.

Recently, a visiting adult entered the classroom and immediately commented on the number of brown-skinned kids in the Year 3 class by saying: "We could have a whole Indian cricket team here!" My son was appalled. He understood that firstly, not all of the brown-skinned kids were Indian, and secondly, that those nine-year-old boys would have felt immediately defined by their skin colour, and by their difference -- and that's not a comfortable feeling at that age. It was a totally unnecessary comment about those boys' identities, and my clever kid knew that better than that adult.

And this is what sets my nine-year-old son's understanding of what is funny, what constitutes banter, apart from Eddie McGuire's. My son (generally) thinks about what he says and expects others to do the same. He is sensitive to how a recipient may feel about a joke -- before opening his mouth. When I told him about McGuire's Adam Goodes playing King Kong comment, my son recognised that was offensive because it would not have been said about a white man, and was thus a direct derogatory (by likening Goodes to a massive gorilla) comment on Goodes' personal appearance. When my son heard about McGuire's drowning conversation about Caroline Wilson, he knew it sounded threatening, and violent.

But my son also gets there is a difference between humour among good friends and family, and that which can be used with people he is not so familiar with, such as his teachers, fellow BMX competitors, players from other teams on the soccer field, kids he's just met. My son, at age nine, can identify that humour is largely about context; the recipient, the appropriateness and the timing.

Much has been made of McGuire's comments being similar to those expressed simultaneously by Wilson's 3AW colleagues. But there are a few key differences. McGuire and Wilson are not colleagues; in fact, there is a history of mutual dislike. McGuire and Wilson were not in each other's presence at the time; Wilson did not have the opportunity for rebuttal, so it was not in the course of banter. And there was no reason for Wilson to be drawn into McGuire's commentary, other than that he wanted to choose an unlikeable (in his opinion) target for his joke.

There have been calls for McGuire to be sacked over this most recent debacle he's gotten himself into. I don't think that's necessarily the solution, because he will always be one of Australia's most influential media identities due to his past contribution and roles. But I do think McGuire needs some sensitivity training and an update of his media skills to bring them to a 2016 standard.

If I met McGuire, I'd ask him to consider thinking about how he would feel if one of his children were the subject of one of his jokes -- and decide then if it is actually funny. But I think the most useful thing Eddie McGuire could do to salvage his reputation and not repeat his many mistakes is to have a conversation with my son about the true meaning of humour.

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