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Posted by on Jan 30, 2013 in Culture, Debate, In the news | 7 comments

First bloke in joke furor

Tim Mathieson, the partner, boyfriend, bloke – or whatever the appropriate term may be – of Australia’s prime minister, Julia Gillard, got into trouble yesterday at a reception for the West Indian cricket team. Alas, Mr Mathieson made an “inappropriate” (what the hell does that mean?) joke about prostate examinations.

Mathieson apparently said: “We can get a blood test for (prostate cancer), but the digital examination is the only true way to get a correct reading on your prostate, so make sure you go and do that, and perhaps look for a small Asian female doctor is probably the best way.”

I’ve seen the clip on television, and can testify that this does not do justice to the first bloke’s comic timing, which was actually quite good. It got a laugh, and seemed to me quite appropriate as a joke about male anxieties over rectal probing.

So now the whole country is talking about whether Gillard looked embarrassed as her bloke was speaking (perhaps a little bit, but it’s hard to tell, and I love the way everyone is suddenly a goddamn expert on the prime minister’s facial expressions and body language); whether the joke was somehow sexist or racist (is it saying something bad about women or Asians? or maybe about burly white male doctors with fat fingers? who knows?); whether the comments were a product of nerves (he didn’t sound especially nervous to me, but again who knows?); whether they were “tasteful” (whatever, exactly, that means); and so on, and so forth.

Give me a break!

As far as I’m concerned, the first bloke’s witticism was perfectly legitimate, non-sexist, non-racist humour on a blokey subject, addressed specifically to blokes, by a bloke who, as well as being the country’s semi-official first bloke, is also a healthcare ambassador. I’m not even sure whether his advice is good (a lot of doctors and reports seem to be questioning the usefulness of prostate examinations, but who knows… and I damn sure don’t want to get into that (as it were)).

What I mainly take from the episode is that we have yet another example of how we now live in a culture where every even vaguely public sentence is likely to be scrutinised for whatever it might contain that is, if you squint at it hard enough, offensive to someone. Ours is becoming a surveillance culture and a “calling out” culture (I hate that expression, “calling out”, so redolent of the censorious pastor up in his pulpit, pointing his fat, white, male index finger at hell-bound sinners in the congregation… publicly naming, blaming, and shaming them).

Enough with all this moralism over trifles. This is exactly the sort of cultural development that we don’t need and should be resisting every centimetre of the way. Enough with all the micro-surveillance, the pious expressions of offence, and the sanctimonious critiques from self-important, self-righteous windbags. Enough already!

  • SmilodonsRetreat

    Thank you!

    Sometimes a joke is just a joke. Everyone used to laugh when I told my electrocuted deacons joke, now it’s an initial laugh followed by everyone looking around to see if they should have laughed.

  • Ronlawhouston

    Shouldn’t we be applauding him for bringing awareness to prostate cancer and the need for a digital rectal exam? As male old enough to need those exams once a year, I appreciate his humor and appreciate that what he is saying is very true.

    People need to get a serious grip on reality and stop wearing their feelings on their sleeves.

  • Vic

    It would be in the best interests of the author to quickly put a warning before the beginning of the article.

    “a blokey subject, addressed specifically to blokes, by a bloke” <- just casually mentioned. This phrase can cause serious medical conditions for postmodern feminists, including adrenaline shocks, heart attacks and brain aneurisms.

    The author's disregard for these persons' well-being has been noted. A petition to remove the author from the internet can be expected over the course of the next month.

    The Institute for Politically Correct Blogging

  • jjramsey

    To be honest, the joke seems, well, off. It’s hard for me to say that it’s straight-up racist since I’m not entirely sure if he’s riffing off of a stereotype or not. Indeed, it’s hard to tell what the joke even is, except that it’s about something uncomfortable. Did he have it be about an Asian doctor because Asians are supposed to be hot? I don’t know. Still, it doesn’t sit quite right with me.

  • RussellBlackford

    No need to overthink it, JJ. I think the meaning was pretty plain to the folks at the reception who laughed at it – and to me watching on television. I.e., if you’re scared of rectal probing by a doctor’s fingers, go and find a doctor with small fingers.
    I suppose he could have said exactly that, but surely it would have been less concrete in its imagery and so less funny. If there’s a stereotype, it’s just that Australia has quite a lot of female Asian doctors – everyone seems to know one, and there are sociological/labour market reasons for it – but that would probably be lost on the part of the audience consisting of the West Indian cricketers. And really, the suggestion is that female Asian doctors, in addition to having small fingers, are perfectly competent doctors.

  • keddaw

    It seems to play on the stereotype that Asians, specifically Asian women, are small, or at least have small fingers.

    Not all stereotypes are wrong (in either sense) and not all stereotypes based on race are racist. Unless you really, really want it to be and have groups that specialise in taking and faking offence, especially on behalf of others, and especially if they have some sort of axe to grind with whoever made the comment.

  • Gabby

    As I’m getting older I’m trying to do the right thing, in this respect. I have been getting regular prostate exams for some time now. Recently I ran into an odd problem in that my doctor, a supposed healthcare professional, was complaining about it. He was like “It’s the third time this month. Why do you keep making me do this?” And I was all “If you want to continue to be my dentist you’ll give me two more knuckles and a little less lip, mister.”
    It’s like his heart just isn’t in it.