Spoiling the Mood, for Real This Time (4)
The Tujurikkuja team are Estonia's best-in-class shock comics, but after their latest flirtation with taboo - a reference to the 1994 Estonia ferry disaster - maybe they should leave satire alone.
For the last six New Year's Eves, the duo of Ott Sepp and Märt Avandi has been producing a half an hour's worth of quality skits for ETV. For Americans familiar with Saturday Night Live, Tujurikkuja might be compared to The Lonely Island troupe, which similarly has produced prerecorded shorts and hip-hop parodies for national TV.
Tujurikkuja is known for its special effects. We wrote about its 2010 episode where a giant Estonian Prime Minister Ansip and behemoth Finnish President Tarja Halonen square off, Godzilla style, in Tallinn. It was over the top, professionally produced, and a lot of fun, without having too much political meaning.
Here's an example from this year's skits. A family is seated at a dinner table. The mother says, "please pass the bread." The father stands up and plunges a sword into his abdomen. You see, the Estonian word for bread (sepik) is somewhat similar to the Japanese word for ritual suicide (seppuku). Get it? Well, in any case, it was fairly realistic looking and certainly got points for shock value.
Tujurikkuja clearly understands the comic principle of extensio ad absurdum. The comics are at their best just taking an absurd, far-fetched premise and playing it through in real life, although it might make people groan and nearly lose the (liquid) contents of their own bellies.
I'm not sold on their satire, though - it seems unsophisticated, unfocused and thus pointless. The main musical number this year was a rap song performed by one "Savikas," much as Mayor Savisaar performed a mediocre song during his campaign.
By now, I suppose caricatures of Savisaar are living a life of their own, but a small question does arise as to whether a publicly-funded channel should air something so directly political. I'm also not sure I appreciated seeing Mihhail Kõlvart being portrayed as a heavy, knocking an opponent out cold - he has never been connected with violence and he himself was recently punched in the head while he was eating dinner with his family.
But the big taboo - bigger than self-slaughter at the dnner table - was in the opening sequence, where they made what was probably the first joke on national TV about the ferry disaster that occurred back in 1994.
Tujurikkuja's clip wasn't actually about the Estonia ferry. It was a fake commercial for a shipwreck exhibition, and the real target was the traveling Titanic exhibition, which invited visitors to imagine themselves aboard the doomed ship.
A bit ghoulish, perhaps, but this was not an Estonian-produced exhibition, and it was hardly controversial. The whole point about why such such an exhibition is possible is that three generations have passed.
In contrast, the whole problem with the Estonia is not that the proverbial graves have been robbed, as arguably happened with the Titanic. The problem is that it is probably an unsolved crime scene and the wreck has been encased in concrete. A number of governments are hell-bent on not letting anyone near the site to gather evidence. That, perhaps, is what should be satirized.
Roger Ebert wrote in a 1996 review about what he called a "common mistake" - "assuming it is funny simply to be doing a parody, when in fact the material has to be funny in its own right."
Creating such a detailed commercial for an Estonia disaster exhibition (when it's unthinkable that the Maritime Museum would actually produce such an exhibition) is almost as offensive as the real thing. Although my only acquaintance aboard the ship was a triathlete who managed to get out before he died in the water, I am convinced that no family member would want to look at images of the sunken hull again in this context and be forced to reflect on the accident.
Maybe the seppuku skit would have made a good attention-grabbing opener - holiday-themed, short, shocking, utterly absurd - and the jokes about actual dead people should have been left alone.