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Cyber bullies and 'selfish' suicide


What is Jason Akermanis even doing there?

The famously smarmy bleach-blonde ex-footy player seems an odd match alongside ethicist-comedian George McEncroe, and Chaser satirist Craig Reucassel. I almost expect co-host, comedian Meshel Laurie to start singing, 'One of these guests is not like the others ...' Most of Akermanis' responses throughout the program consist of witless one-liners that conclude with the word 'shit'.

Then, suddenly, everything becomes clear. The panel is in the midst of discussing whether it is okay for parents to spy on their kids online. Suddenly, host Ian 'Dicko' Dickson interjects with a leading question directed at Akermanis, about a youth who committed suicide after being bullied online.

'If you commit suicide it's the most selfish thing you will ever do,' Akermanis declares.

It's a contentions comment that draws a booo from several members of the stuido audience. But he goes on to open up about his own past battles with depression. 'I've been in that situation [being bullied], and I had the chance to, and I wanted to [commit suicide], and you know what? I'm glad I didn't.' Aker is rewarded for his candour with warm applause.

Can of Worms is a show about the ethics of everyday life. This is typically heady territory for Andrew Denton's production company, Zapruder's Other Films, and it is somewhat refreshing to find it located on prime time commercial television. As the exchange with Akermanis illustrated, there is a genuine desire to get beyond frivolity and provoke reflection and the articulation of varying perspectives.

It's somewhat of a lightweight Q+A, neither as lively nor as incisive as the ABC's water-cooler champion (Dicko, certainly, is neither as smart nor as congenial as Q+A host Tony Jones). But it's made a promising start, and with some refinement could provide Ten with a solid counterpart.

The bulk is dedicated to discussion of two curly questions or 'worms'; probing, through dialogue and light debate, the nuances of the panellists' thoughts and feelings about the given issue. During episode one, an trivial question about whether it was insulting to call someone a 'bogan' became a discussion about elitism, about denigrating the 'other', and about individual pride and dignity.

The one-hour running time is fleshed out with 'fun' segments. One saw the guests asked to take recent news bites — such as the fact that AFL Hawthorn club president Jeff Kennett owns a golliwog named after star player, Lance 'Buddy' Franklin (who is Aboriginal) — and rank them on a 'wrong-o-metre'. The intention appears to be to delineate genuine ethical breaches from mere PC faux pas.

The show's long-term success will depend upon both the quality of the guests (one moment of contrived drama would surely not justify Akermanis' return) and the topicality and substance of the questions. Will future episodes consider guests' views on climate change? the Intervention? Australia's treatment of asylum seekers? the place of religion in secular society? gay marriage?

Hopefully Zapruder's Other Films will opt for substance over frivolity.

Can of Worms screens Monday nights at 8.30pm. Epsisode one will be rerun tomorrow night, Friday 8 July, at 11pm.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. Follow Tim on Twitter 

Topic tags: Can of Worms, Ian 'Dicko' Dickson, Meshel Laurie, Jason Akermanis, George McEncroe, Craig Reucassel



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Existing comments

Tim Kroenert takes his critique of CAN OF WORMS off to a sad start, lamenting the presence of Jason Akermanis on the panel. I would prefer him to lament the presence of CHASER comedians being guests instead. But I guess in this we are both "half right", because CH 10 are trying to be relevant to today's younger audience profile, and with the production being handled by the superb Denton production team, that is obviously done to appeal to that demographic. So maybe fair enough. But where I take issue is with him denigrating AKER, who was to this 'oldie' a voice of reason for the most part; particularly so with his very honest comments about 'bullying' as it affected him. The ethicist lady was superb for the most part, but you have to realise the target audience they are after AND also congratulate DICKO and the team for the real "Life" questions they went to. And particularly CH 10 for having the guts and gumption to try a programme like this in a prime time-slot. Overall I thought you were more than a trifle harsh in your crit.

Graeme Rodda | 07 July 2011  

As someone currently fighting this battle, and having almost lost a son to bullying a few yeards ago, I cannot believe this comment by Jason Akermanis was allowed to go to air. I am very happy indeed that he has won his battle.I am sad it gave him so little understanding of those who lose theirs.

concerned mother | 07 July 2011  

there must be people, who are encouraged and empowered, to be good citizens working as cyber police voluntarily.

AZURE | 07 July 2011  

I'm not sure I completely agree with the assessment of Ian Dickson. As much as I enjoy Tony Jones, he at times appears condescending. The same cannot be said of Dicko. I'm also very pleased to see a show such as this on a commercial network.

MBG | 08 July 2011  

Having been through the tragedy of the loss of an apparently well balanced sport loving 24 year old I find the comments of someone who was at the brink of doing like wise completely lacking in understanding or compassion for someone who for some reason or other was not so fortunate

pamela byrnes | 15 July 2011  

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