Must my daughter be bullied because of this callous comedy?
Published in The Times (December 29th, 2010)
In my school playground boys refusing to join a kickaround were called “poofs” or “spastics”, those that wouldn’t share sweets were “yids” and there were endless jokes about “coons” and “thick paddies”. Such attitudes reflected the culture of a time when comedians minced about in parodies of gay men and The Black and White Minstrel Show took racist stereotypes from the days of slavery on to primetime television.
This bigotry withered as Britain became more diverse, even if it never quite disappeared. Much of this was down to the lead set by musicians and comedians who rocked against racism and made repugnant jokes unsayable. It looked as though the battle was won when the new Tory leader — the father of a disabled child — said it wasn’t political correctness to stop using offensive terms.
No such luck. Despite banning Carol Thatcher last year for using the word “golliwog” in a private, off-air conversation, the BBC decided to celebrate Christmas this year with a comedy show featuring some of the crudest racial stereotyping seen on mainstream television for years. I watched in disbelief; it was like stepping back in time to the Seventies.
The show was Come Fly With Me, the new vehicle for David Walliams and Matt Lucas. A spoof airport documentary, it was as much fun as an overnight delay at Gatwick. First up was Omar, the Middle Eastern owner who cuts corners on safety. Then there was a Muslim with a big beard and sexist banter. Matt Lucas blacked up again to play Precious, a lazy woman who even screeches “Praise the Lord”. Perhaps worst of all were the grotesque Japanese schoolgirls, with their badly modified eyelids and grunted language. It was even worse than Little Britain, the duo’s deeply unpleasant previous show.
Television bosses have decided that it is fine to mock minorities again. Turn over to Channel 4 and there is the loathsome Frankie Boyle, with his racist language and lacerating of children with autism and Down’s syndrome. The defence is always the same and, sure enough, was trotted out by Walliams and Lucas: that comedy’s function is to ruffle feathers. I agree, but the key word is comedy — it needs to be funny and it needs to have a point. Ricky Gervais teeters on the edge of acceptability, but he ultimately challenges attitudes instead of seeking lazy laughs at people who are different.
As the parent of a disabled child, I hate to hear musicians and actors use words such as “retard”, so that my daughter’s condition has become a term of abuse in the playground again. Now mainstream television is turning the clock back too. You can call me humourless, but there is nothing funny about the loneliness of a child bullied for being different.