In case you missed out on that “ground-breaking journalism” in The Daily Telegraph, Tim Blair took the time to visit Lakemba, a suburb thirty minutes west of Sydney’s CBD. He spent a full night in the small enclave and proceeded to write an investigative piece on the “Muslim Land”. The newspaper presented this as double page spread, alongside a column reading, “Growing Terrorism Threat At Your Doorstep”.
This isn’t a joke. If you’d like to reminisce Blair’s courageous efforts from his Surry Hills office into Lakemba, take a read.
I’ve lived in Sydney’s West for most of my life and yes, I’m Australian born, and yes, I speak English. Unluckily for me though, Blair didn’t walk down my street. Instead, he gave out food recommendations of the best places to eat, listing Lebanese cuisine as the only advantage in Lakemba and claimed its main strip, Haldon Street, to be a monoculture.
After taking a quick glance over the latest Census data, Arabic accounts for one fifth of the languages spoken in Lakemba, while those born in Lebanon account for five percent of the suburb’s residents. Should we also mention that the suburb shares the state average of attending university or tertiary education? Or should we just shake our heads at the unemployment rate and blame it on the “level of ignorance” of those in Lakemba, as Blair does?
Rather than addressing these facts, Blair draws on his personal account and with the support of a major media outlet, writes, “If you’re unfamiliar with Lebanese food, just go for anything with the word ‘mixed’” and as readers we go along and laugh because bigotry is okay as long as it’s funny.
Similar to this humour, we can turn to the outbreak of “Humans of Bankstown” (the slightly-less-inspirational counterpart of “Humans of New York”), a popular Facebook page dedicated to documenting the cultural rhythms of another of Sydney’s Western suburbs in satirical fashion. HoB captures locals in the same authentic fashion of HoNY; sometimes funny, sometimes sad and sometimes, just a little questionable:
“I hate my wife. I’m not allowed to have Facebook so I use Internet in Bankstown Centro and log in”
“What if I took a photo of you and put it up on Facebook so she can see it?”
“Get out of my face”
What is this slightly ironic but incredibly stereotypical documentation really saying about Australian culture? Yes, it’s meant as light humour and while there’s not much else that’s more Australian than asking “Can’t you take a joke?”, forcing humour onto a culture or a religion isn’t so much of a laugh as it is a coping mechanism for those who refuse to understand the differences or why they even exist.
Why do we feel the need to pinpoint cultural differences, then satirise them in the attempt to understand how and why they are what they are? And why do we even feel we need to cope?
Blair snuck into his “last Anglo holdout” (and condescendingly commented on the lack of a Gideon’s Bible in the hotel room)…and so do we, at times. Behind the safety of our screens, we watch media outlets dictate racial stereotypes and learn to only ever understand the differences between them and us rather than the points of similarity we actually share.
In Sydney, 38 percent of the population come from a culturally and linguistically diverse background. More than one in three people speak a range of languages, cook a range of food, practice a range of faiths, partake in a range of activities and maybe some do not feel the need to align their lives to the “Great Australian Dream”. These cultural differences shouldn’t really be differences at all.
They should be embedded in our society, rather than the punch-line of what we deem a great joke.