Chris Lilley is a legend -
he will not be cancelled

by Mike Retter

A classic scene from Summer Heights High featuring the character Mr G teaching drama

Gotta say, the art and film scene in Australia is incredibly weak and cowardly. Does that include you? Most people realise Chris Lilley is one of our national treasures, one of the only satirists on the ABC to actually be funny in the last ten years, but folk are afraid to voice their opinions as they instead line up behind the thought police and angry mobs ready to burn down everything good in our culture.

As the ABC puts into action a "harm and offense review" into Chris Lilley's masterpiece TV shows We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High, Netflix has already banned them. These TV shows, only a few years old, were easily the most popular Australian comedies of their time. This purge is not organic, it’s part of a well-funded social-media campaign across the world to bully people into submission. These "revolutionaries" must ask themselves why their "revolution" is bankrolled by corporations and billionaires. Don't be fooled, this mob will never be pleased, you may align with them until you are next on their chopping block. Right now they are kicking innocent people to death on American and British streets in the name of  "social justice".

What's frustrating about the ignorant revisionist take on Lilley's work is that these programs did a lot to bring people together. He's just one man, playing all the main characters. That's the form and style of the program (like The Tracey Ullman Show). What if he were only to do white characters, would that then be racist too? Not diverse enough? The fact is, these characters were played with affection and rang true. The funny and melancholic depiction of Jonah Takalua in Summer Heights High, navigating adolescence with graffiti, bombast and confusion, was layered. The judgement that Lilley should not have used make-up to depict these characters, who are from different genders and races, lacks sensitivity towards art. This automatically puts limitations on the scope of what an artist can do and therefore degrades the artform itself. As Armond White wrote regarding HBO removing Gone With The Wind from its streaming service – "We must save art to save ourselves".

In a way, it should be no surprise Chris Lilley would get eaten by his own. A common target for his comedy was the mediocrity found in the Australian arts...

So where is the backlash? The last time I saw the artscene fight for anything it was just about Government funds years ago..  But freedom of expression is something that filmmakers rarely talk about publicly in Australia and when things like the censoring or total erasure of Chris Lilley's culturally-significant oeuvre comes up, they don't appear to be defending their fellow artist. I met with a fellow filmmaker recently and he explained to me that social media has made any talking-out-of-line self-corrective because of the instant heat it generates targeting an individual online. You will receive both public and private messages pressuring the removal of your post. Surely at that point your thoughts are no longer your own. In short, artists act like mice that were once electrocuted for thinking the wrong thing. So rather than being bold and principled characters, our filmmakers are now bred to be cowards, supporting the arts establishment for their own self-interest. 

In a way, it should be no surprise Chris Lilley would get eaten by his own. A common target for his comedy was the mediocrity found in the Australian arts. Whether that be the indulgent Mr G's hamming-it-up drama classes, J'mie's attention seeking dance group or Ricky Wong's mangling of history while attempting politically correct theatre. Mediocrity has thus taken revenge on Lilley's talent and used large institutional power to destroy his career. Just like Vincent Gallo said to Elvis Mitchell – "These bean-counters never forget".

Chris Lilley's three characters in Summer Heights High

So if the Australian public still likes Chris Lilley and his work is still popular – what is happening here? This unpersoning is not a reflection of the wider culture, but something being imposed upon it by elites that feel they know better than the unwashed proletariat. The public's love in particular for his first two TV series is best illustrated by their massive DVD sales, where people had not just tuned-into something but gone out of their way to acquire a copy for safe keeping. Unfortunately I don't use the words "safe-keeping" without exaggeration when the world's biggest streaming service is doing its best to erase it from our memory.

So I reiterate, the politically correct mob, who can't make a TV-show to connect with real Australia to save itself, will instead silence others who can. They are jealous, for their off-the-rack university opinions only go down well in champagne-socialist bubbles, government-funded cliques or the autonomous zone of Chaz. This purge is exactly what they did during the Chinese Cultural revolution, Cambodia, Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia and that's what this is really about. Useful idiots burning down their cities, erasing their culture for powerful interests to seize power and money. But luckily for Lilley, the massive audience who love him will not forget his work. The future will just be a bit more complicated as he's forced to be more independent.

Artists should be standing up for free speech, but are instead quiet, in fear of losing their grants and government funded opportunities. Cowards.


Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right. - George Orwell, 1984.


Yuri Besmenov explains how a society can collapse from within
when it has been demoralised and brought to crisis


Mike Retter is a film director, of the indie feature Youth On The March, creator of the zine "Cinema Now", and the Podcast "Meat Bone Express", and part of the Port Film Co-op.

Published June 15, 2020. © Mike Retter 2020