Challenging Representation: Fear of a Brown Planet

Fear of a Brown Planet are an Australian stand-up comedy duo, who work to include racism as a topic of conversation in Australian comedy. Tackling the topics of immigration, race relations and the War on Terror head on, Fear of a Brown Planet provoke and entertain audiences with an comedic take on politics and race, whilst boldly tackling the delicate topic of Islam. Not speaking about racism only exacerbates it, Hussain believes, and comedy provides a space for people ”to own the conversation… when racism is talked about publicly in Australia, it’s generally by panels of white people on TV telling us what is and isn’t racist and what should and shouldn’t be tolerated,” he says. ”You wouldn’t get a discussion of sexism by an all-male panel – it would be absurd – but if it’s about race, that’s OK.”

Their sardonic humour focuses on debunking common racial stereotypes particularly regarding muslim men and women in Australian society. In their 2008 show the dueo held ”workshops for whiteys” (sample advice: ”Just because I’m at the petrol station doesn’t mean I work here”), joked about their experiences as victims of casual racism and skewered anti-hijab sentiments. ”If everyone else can shop at Supre and not get arrested,” observed Hussain, ”I think Muslim women should be able to wear whatever the hell they like.”

Since then, Fear of a Brown Planet have been funded by VicHealth to work on a project exploring racism in Melbourne’s western suburbs. Rahman and Hussain, who both have law degrees, have approached it from many angles. As part of their research, they’ve filmed interviews with community workers, student advocates and taxi drivers and done vox pops such as that cafe ”hit”. Much of this footage, along with some incendiary mash-ups, is being posted as an online video blog.

Although not all of their content is focused on representation in the media, the duo themselves are an example of how they are using art, social media and comedy to challenge ethnic representation in Australia). The comedy duo believe that Australia is an inherently racist place. ”There’s a really banal, unassuming racism in Australia,” says Rahman. ”The most basic question you get asked all the time is ‘Where are you from?’ Or people say ‘Welcome to Australia’. It’s still overwhelmingly an idea of white ownership of this country.”

A lot of this stuff, adds Hussain, is patronising and possibly unintentional. But even multiculturalism is seen as ”a kind of favour from white people”.

As The Vine reporter Suzy Freeman Greene concludes: facing racism is not easy.  As media consumers we are all constantly affected by its visceral taint. However comedians such as Fear of a Brown Planet who aim at throwing these tough conversations into the public sphere work to lighten the mood over dark, and often hurtful, issues of racial stereotypes and representation in the media. Ending racism requires us to confront its institutional forms. To bring these issues to the forefront of public consciousness and the media industry is a perfect place to start.

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