Summer Heights High: articles

Chris Lilley

Chris Lilley's legacy

SOUTH Park's Cartman warned others to "respect my authority".

Bart Simpson invited teachers to "eat my shorts'', and Kath and Kim's all-purpose adjective, "noice'', is still heard acrossthe country.

Now teachers and parents of teenagers are bracing for a whole new set of cultural references to enter the playground lexicon - the language of the runaway ABC satire Summer Heights High.

Although this high-school "mockumentary'' isn't exactly pegged at children (it is rated M and screens at 9.30pm), its subject matter and post-The Chaser time slot is already striking a chord with young viewers.

Summer Heights High last week retained most of its record-setting opening-night audience, attracting 1.37 million viewers.

A week earlier, 1.6 million tuned into the premiere, making it the highest-rating new comedy for the ABC since Mother And Son made its debut in 1992.

Comedian Chris Lilley writes, directs and performs the roles of the three main characters: stuck-up private-school girl Ja'mie, troubled Pacific Islander Jonah and delusional drama teacher Mr G.

The series is set in a fictional high school where redheads are "rangas'' (from orangutans) and Jonah argues it's all right to tell his teachers to "puck off'' because "It starts with P, so it's not rude.''

Plain-speaking Ja'mie ends each insulting putdown with: "No offence, but it's true'' and Mr G's drama class role-plays in the risque "slap the butcher''.

Sydney University media studies lecturer Marc Brennan said the emergence of new sayings in the the playground followed an established pattern.

"Initially, phrases like 'eat my shorts' strike a chord because they're fresh and original and quite often involve using language in creative and unexpected ways,'' he said.

"There's also a bit of shocking your parents, or teachers, involved. And I think there's what we call cultural capital - the sense that quoting a certain phrase displays a bit of kudos.

"You're a bit hip, a bit groovy, because you watch a certain show and can recite certain lines.

"But it can work against you too, because the thing is that once something becomes a bit mainstream and used a lot, it loses its cultural capital.

"So, rather than showing you're a bit cool by using a certain phrase, it can mark you as someone who isn't very hip at all.''

NSW Teachers Federation spokeswoman Diane Hague said teachers were not yet reporting an increased use of the terms.

"It's a bit early yet for it to be in wide use in the playground because the show has only been on a couple of weeks,'' she said.

"Kath and Kim's 'noice, different, unusual' took about a month before you heard it everywhere. But I think some of the things Jonah says are sure to get out there.

"It's really interesting how some of them just stick and you hear them for years afterwards - like 'Don't mention the war', which was from (the 1970s British comedy) Fawlty Towers.''

Summer Heights High has already stirred controversy with jokes about Down syndrome students, frequent swearing and displays of racism.

But next week's episode is set to be the most shocking yet, with Mr G producing a musical about a rape on the school grounds.

By Sarah Blake
The Sunday Telegraph
September 16, 2007