Since he was in Grade Three, John Safran knew he was creative but was always stumbling about finding ways to how to apply this, be it making a Mad magazine, board games, skits, a hip hop band. “I was always passionate that I was going to make it a work, then I’d move on to the next thing,” said Safran at a packed early morning session with Father Bob Maguire at Byron Bay Writers’ Festival.
Safran worked as a copywriter, then found out about TV show for young people going around world. He hadn’t really seen anything like that before and thought he’d like doing. It was in the days before Jackass and Ali G. He went on to make Race Relations where he went around to voodoo doctors in West Africa with a picture of his ex-girlfriend. “I thought this is was what I want to do.”
Yet Safran hates pranks, and perpetrating them. When you’re young you go on instinct and energy even if you are not sure of the reason.”
He read about Abbie Hoffman and Steal this book, the counter culture book of the sixties published in 1971, and became excited about sub cultures. He liked the idea of culture jamming, and was interested in tribes, and back stories behind our assumptions, particularly in black America.
When Safran’s production team went in search of white supremacists for a TV program, the ‘idiot who got back to us’ was Richard Barrett. “He was a little weasel guy and I just listened to how I was going to edit later. Sometimes you have to fake like you are making a serious documentary and just film it.”
Safran asked Barrett for a DNA sample and when the results came, Safran returned to the Barrett’s meeting – a presentation ceremony for young white athlete awards, but really “an orchestration of a community to sort his aims” – and made an announcement to the crowds: “Richard this a bit awkward…”
The test had revealed that Barrett had African DNA. “It’s not like you’re a bit black … but don’t worry we’re all a but mixed up and I might not be fully Jewish…” The audience applauded, probably unsure of what they had witnessed. And then Safran left, and went to hide in his motel.
The footage was never shown on the ABC, as Barrett was a lawyer and knew how to prevent it but you can see it online.
A year later Safran was goofing on the Internet looking at the things he normally looks at – “I’d be really stuffed if ASIO doesn’t understand the context of what I am looking at” – and found out that Barrett had been murdered.
Later again, Safran realized in researching the TV program, he had talked to both the killed and the killer and that he had a true crime book on his hands that would become Murder in Mississippi. At that time Safran had been looking at writing a true crime book and had asked Father Bob Maguire if he knew any murderers.
Safran presents a radio show on Triple J with Maguire. Wherever they appear, there is a level of banter with a long history between the two.
Maguire referred to Safran’s query about being acquainted to murderers.
“He thinks if you associate with the underclass you would meet murdererers. The underclass is not necessarily the underclass despite what Senator Abetz says,” said Father Bob.
Father Bob gave Sue Williams, the author of his biography, Father Bob, the Larrikin, the “key to the wardrobe”. “Whatever’s in there, you just let them know.”
“She was good at this,” he said. “I thought this was the best way to go, to have no unpublished thought.” [There were many, a few more will be added to this post].