Field Theory by Hadyn Green


Send in the clowns

I was just sent a link about a study done on Little Britain:

Little Britain does far more to promote racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism and classism than it does to satirise them - though it does do that from time to time.

This threw me a little. While I'm tired of it now, Little Britain used to make me laugh, now I feel uncomfortable.

Researcher Deborah Finding found that the characters on Little Britain had physical traits that were used to project public "fears" of particular groups (homosexuals, single mothers etc). I was even more surprised to find myself agreeing with her.

Daffyd, "the only gay in the village", is a personification of the idea that all homosexuals (or at least the men) are flamboyant, hot-pants-wearing activists. Vicky Pollard is the ultimate chav teen: overweight; chain-smoking; pregnant; arrogant; foul-mouthed; and promiscuous. By laughing at the characters we are acknowledging that we have these fears ourselves (though again feel weird because I thought Daffyd was funny).

Finding said that certain characters were "done right", such as Linda Flint – the University counsellor who tries, over the phone, to describe students by appearance, beginning with pleasant and politically correct terms before lapsing into offensive phrases like 'the big fat lesbian' or 'ching-chong Chinaman'.

The sketch shows how well-meaning attempts to instil approved language and 'diversity awareness' in a workplace are superficial in their effects.

So how thin is the line between satirising stereotypes and hatred and projecting stereotypes and hatred?

It's not just a case of "I'm part of the group so I can make jokes about it". Seinfeld made jokes about being Jewish often when the show featured his family, but the jokes were funny even if you didn't know what "Jewish" was. But what about Billy T's Te News, with his newsreader who was unable to pronounce long words?

I love dissecting jokes, but dissecting why we find things funny is awful.

Finding's paper is available here.

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