A television comedy sketch featuring the Nazi swastika has sparked backlash for being “unfunny, inappropriate and offensive” and “authorising antisemitic hate”.
The clip poking fun at home haircuts during COVID-19 lockdown aired on Wednesday on youth news show, ‘The Feed’ on Australia’s multicultural broadcaster, SBS. It showed a woman calling herself a “freaking bald Nazi” after discovering a swastika-shaped birthmark on her head.
The stylist in the video said, “Ok can I just say I do find that symbol very racist. And we do not tolerate that sort of hate here”. The woman responded saying she is Jewish, and later said she’s been “kicked out” by her parents and must wear a hat or she’ll get “bashed”.
University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Professor of Sociology Andrew Jakubowicz, who specialises in race relations in the media, said the video can be interpreted two ways.
“Does the sketch authorise antisemitic hate or challenge it? That seems to me to be the heart of this and it seems to me to do both, depending on how different audiences interpret it,” he told HuffPost Australia.
“As someone whose grandparents were murdered by the Nazis, I am very sensitive to the horrific implications of offering the swastika as a cultural meme of any sort. The actor refers to the swastika initially as a Buddhist symbol, which of course it is. The Nazis stole it from the eastern religions.
“However in the West it has an overwhelming meaning as a symbol of horror – having been trolled by neo-Nazis I can tell you how angry/hurt/sad I was.”
Jeremy Jones, Director of International Affairs and Community Affairs for the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, said the swastika “is a unique symbol of evil”.
“While we are not alleging that there was racist intent in the sketch, the widespread offence it has caused demonstrates the need for sensitivity when dealing with the swastika, which is a unique symbol of evil,” Jones told HuffPost Australia.
“Victims of Nazism will not be the only people who will find this skit unfunny, inappropriate and offensive.”
Jakubowicz acknowledged the “symbol has to be addressed” however the network could have “cautioned against” it being portrayed as a birthmark - “a symbolic engraving on a Jewish body that continues generation after generation”.
He said the sketch did however “foreground the resurgence of Nazism and racist attacks against Jews as well as Asians and Muslims”, and that Jewish groups seeking an apology may not be as helpful as using this video to encourage more awareness and conversation around antisemitism.
“Rather use it as a trigger for wider discussion of what the boundaries of satire can be, and how the exploration of the role of body ‘art’ in foregrounding and challenging the hate and intimidation that is erupting through the COVID pandemic can strengthen our social capacity to reduce hate and marginalise its proponents.”
In a statement provided to HuffPost Australia, SBS said: “The Feed is made by young creatives who explore a range of issues and share perspectives on matters that resonate with their audience.
“Satire is a significant element of The Feed’s format. In the words of the team behind the piece: ‘Our sketch, co-written by a young Jewish comedian, is not in any way an endorsement of anti-Semitism, Nazism or hatred. Humour is powerful and reclaiming symbols of hatred is a way to fight against oppression. We hope this sketch is viewed with that understanding.’”