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This feels like a very different, much less serious, conversation than the #BlackLivesMatter one, so thought it would be worth splitting off. 

So, Little Britain has been removed from iPlayer and Netflix, the latter of which have also removed League of Gentlemen and Mighty Boosh because of blackface.

Personally, I think there's a fairly major difference between the shows, as Little Britain had white actors playing roles of other ethnicities, while League in particular was using minstrel iconography to create something deliberately discomforting rather than a character who was supposed to be black. However, since LOG was about to expire next week anyway, it's clear it's more a corporate move than anything, so I get it.

It does feel like it's weird, looking back, how commonplace black/brown/yellowface were in comedy, and also how much casual racism was part of such a mainstream part of British culture. At the same time, there's some interesting stuff around characters like Alf Garnett being wilfully misunderstood and taken as anti-heroes. So, curious what other people think about some of this.

 

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I wonder what repressed minority David Baddiel has to say about it on Twitter. 

The party line with Alf Garnett specifically was always that Alf was the butt of the joke, and we're meant to be laughing at him, not with him. Warren Mitchell used to tell an anecdote on talking head

@Astro Hollywood will probably have a better take on this than me, but the likes of Alf Garnett seem to be far more of a "have their cake and eat it" situation than a misunderstood character; they may

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It's caused massive outrage, as usual, but it's nothing new. Ever see In Sickness and In Health on a streaming service or repeats on the telly? Or Love They Neighbour? They've not been "cancelled". You can buy DVDs. They just choose not to make them available for obvious reasons. Of course, it's all modern snowflake behaviour.

Inbetweeners is trending this morning because it's channel's content has disappeared off YouTube. It's still on All4 though so appears to be a fuss over nothing.

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15 minutes ago, Chris B said:

At the same time, there's some interesting stuff around characters like Alf Garnett being wilfully misunderstood and taken as anti-heroes.

@Astro Hollywood will probably have a better take on this than me, but the likes of Alf Garnett seem to be far more of a "have their cake and eat it" situation than a misunderstood character; they may have routinely been the butt of the joke, but the structure of the jokes still put the big laugh on racial slurs and racist humour. It was a way of still getting away with racist jokes with a thin veneer of an excuse that you were laughing at racists.

There's a bit in "Hitler Moustache" by Richard Herring where he talks about having been a writer for the Pub Landlord character, but then sitting backstage at some big arena gig Al Murray was playing and having the realisation that not everyone was laughing at it in the spirit in which it was intended, to say the least. It's the same thing every time Blazing Saddles comes up in this kind of context - a lot of people saying "you couldn't get away with that any more!" seem to think that the film's humour lies in giving them the excuse to shout racial slurs in the name of comedy, rather than how it subverted the myth-making of Hollywood westerns, and how racism was a significant part of that. It's true that you couldn't make it any more - because the genre it's spoofing is utterly irrelevant. 

 

Little Britain was shit, and it's not just that they were playing other ethnicities, it's that they were "punching down" for the most part, and that when they were playing other races they were absolute grotesques. The punching down is the main reason I'm not sad it's been taken off streaming services, though - I know disabled kids who were bullied with "yeah I know", and old blokes in the pub who would do the "I'm a lady" voice when talking about a trans woman. It's comedy that's given dickheads language to insult people, and I have no time for that. It's going to be funny seeing people who up until this week thought it was shit now defending it as a classic of its time, though.

League of Gentlemen I'm a little more annoyed about. There's more offensive stuff in League than Papa Lazarou, and I think summing up Lazarou as just a blackface character is a bit much. He's a horrible, absurd villain, using the iconography of minstrelsy not to mimic or mock blackness but to suggest something more otherworldly and sinister. But then I appreciate that I'm maybe only making that defence because I like League, and don't like Little Britain, and that it sounds a bit too much like Alan Moore's shitty defence of using the gollywog as a character in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

 

What's more tiresome is people talking about this in terms of censorship, or these shows being banned. Shows are removed from Netflix every day, and no one bats an eyelid. It's a commercial decision. I would rather they hadn't explained why, which feels a bit like seeking clout, and just let it quietly disappear, and we probably wouldn't even be having this conversation. But you can still buy it on Amazon or anywhere else, and I expect every charity shop in the company still has a dozen copies on DVD. 

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Posted (edited)
46 minutes ago, BomberPat said:

@Astro Hollywood will probably have a better take on this than me, but the likes of Alf Garnett seem to be far more of a "have their cake and eat it" situation than a misunderstood character; they may have routinely been the butt of the joke, but the structure of the jokes still put the big laugh on racial slurs and racist humour. It was a way of still getting away with racist jokes with a thin veneer of an excuse that you were laughing at racists.

The party line with Alf Garnett specifically was always that Alf was the butt of the joke, and we're meant to be laughing at him, not with him. Warren Mitchell used to tell an anecdote on talking head shows and the like, about the time a fan came up to him in the street and said how much he loved Till Death... because "you're really having a go at all those [racial slur]," to which Mitchell would reply "actually mate, we're having a go at idiots like you." But watching Curry and Chips, which was also written by Johnny Speight, and features Spike Milligan in brownface playing a Pakistani, I just don't buy that was the (sole) intention any more; not when the racist lines are structured like well-crafted jokes and signalled by the 'laugh' sign being held up. The shield of irony allows comedians to play both sides. The actual racists get a laugh out of it, while those who don't consider themselves racist get to do the laughter of shock, but with the get out of jail free card of Ricky Gervais' character leaning into frame with a "ooh, bit racist!" and pulling a face.

I wrote a long thing about it here which goes into much more detail if people are interested.

There's always an uncomfortable relationship between material which purports to be ironic in its racism or sexism or whatever and the audience that latches onto it, where the intent is often lost. I always think about the Pub Landlord character, where Al Murray was portraying an over the top jingoistic gammon, but as the character got bigger and went mainstream, half the audience laughing along at his digs at the French were pumping their fists in the air, all "you tell 'em!"

There's really no way to do a character like that and not have it inadvertantly be embraced by the sort of people it's mocking, especially now, where anything that is called out as offensive is immediately lionised by people wanting to "own the libs" by suddenly loving it. Little Britain was topping the Amazon DVD charts yesterday, and I guarantee none of those people buying it had thought about the show in years. My Patreon involves a lot of hunting around Youtube for terrible old stuff off the telly, from the decades where it's nigh on impossible to get through a 20 minute episode without either blackface or a Savile reference, or both, and absolutely without fail, the comment sections are filled with people bemoaning the loss of such great British culture. "Bring back telly like it used to be. I'm crying over my lost past here :("

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How can anyone possibly use 'ironic' or 'satirical' racism without knowingly appealing to thickos like this; thickos which seemingly make up 50% of the country? Keep your dirty money, I'd rather be broke.

Edited by Astro Hollywood
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In regards to Al Murray, and this might be unfair as I don't really know a lot about him apart from what I've seen and read on a very basic level, but do we not think he was at the very least being a bit na√Įve when it came to the Pub Landlord character?

Especially with how people had reacted to Alf Garnett etc.

That's a bit sad as obviously he created the character to satire, but I can't help but feel he's been na√Įve with it.

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8 minutes ago, Astro Hollywood said:

Little Britain was topping the Amazon DVD charts yesterday, and I guarantee none of those people buying it had thought about the show in years.

There's a bloke I'm Facebook friends with, who I only really keep on my friends list because it gives me a bit of a window into this mindset - I've seen him transform from a liberal, Guardian reading type, anti-Brexit at the time of the referendum, to over the last three years becoming so reactionary as to have actually posted photos of himself at a Free Speech event stood with the leader of the Proud Boys. He can be relied upon to argue every right wing talking point imaginable, and tilt at windmills arguing with imaginary leftists. 

I know for a fact that he hated Little Britain, and I'm waiting with bated breath for him to post a spirited defence of it today.

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Posted (edited)
21 minutes ago, SuperBacon said:

In regards to Al Murray, and this might be unfair as I don't really know a lot about him apart from what I've seen and read on a very basic level, but do we not think he was at the very least being a bit na√Įve when it came to the Pub Landlord character?

Especially with how people had reacted to Alf Garnett etc.

That's a bit sad as obviously he created the character to satire, but I can't help but feel he's been na√Įve with it.

As that was the character which really broke him out, I'd imagine it was fine when it started out small, in rooms and comedy clubs where people got it, but as the audience grew, picking up the "haha, garlic bread!" types, the demographic went from 'people who go to left-leaning comedy clubs' to 'everyone with a television'. I don't know if he's ever talked about that whole part of it, but I'd be fascinated to hear his take, that whole balance of "half my audience are cunts, but I'm selling a lot of merch..."

Edited by Astro Hollywood
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14 minutes ago, Astro Hollywood said:

There's really no way to do a character like that and not have it inadvertantly be embraced by the sort of people it's mocking, especially now...

 

6 minutes ago, SuperBacon said:

...but do we not think he was at the very least being a bit na√Įve when it came to the Pub Landlord character?

I tend to give Al Murray the benefit of the doubt at inception as The Pub Landlord is literally from the different universe of the early 00s.  However, there's definitely some merit in the argument that he didn't have to take arena cash once it was clear that the audience was the pub landlord.

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When he did his Time Gentlemen Please sitcom on Sky the Pub Landlord was always the butt of the joke. The only characters who agreed with his jingoistic rants were always the sad, idiotic alcoholics while all the smart, normal or cool characters took the piss out of him. Additionally any chance they could they reminded the audience that secretly the Pub Landlord was a closet homosexual who loved red wine, jazz and was horribly depressed and alone.

But it seemed that when Murray made the jump from Sky to the mainstream and ITV all that got stripped out and he basically became what he was mocking.

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15 minutes ago, LaGoosh said:

When he did his Time Gentlemen Please sitcom on Sky the Pub Landlord was always the butt of the joke. The only characters who agreed with his jingoistic rants were always the sad, idiotic alcoholics while all the smart, normal or cool characters took the piss out of him.

I actually never watched the sitcom, and only saw the ads for it, and it was never framed in this way at all there. Which is part of the problem - when you can reduce it to catchphrases, the catchphrases tend to take on a life of their own when removed from context.

Presumably Lee & Herring weren't involved in the writing of it once it moved to ITV?

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The sitcom was written by Murray & Herring with additional material from others including Lee. When Murray was all over ITV he basically just endlessly rehashed his standup material while taking the piss out of celebrities. My guess is he decided to just go all in and make as much cash as possible. Lee & Herring definitely were out of the picture by this point.

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1 hour ago, BomberPat said:

League of Gentlemen I'm a little more annoyed about. There's more offensive stuff in League than Papa Lazarou, and I think summing up Lazarou as just a blackface character is a bit much. He's a horrible, absurd villain, using the iconography of minstrelsy not to mimic or mock blackness but to suggest something more otherworldly and sinister. But then I appreciate that I'm maybe only making that defence because I like League, and don't like Little Britain, and that it sounds a bit too much like Alan Moore's shitty defence of using the gollywog as a character in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

His doubling-down was hilarious. I mean, entirely wrong, but it's just so stubborn for the sake of it. He's so determined to be *right*.

I find League fascinating. The element that's aged by far the worst for me was Barbara - while she was a likeable character, going for grotesque gags around a trans character was poorly handled. I found it interesting how they handled her in the recent revival. They didn't change the character, but they did change the context - she's very clear, very open about her dignity and how she expects to be treated, and wasn't played as a grotesque in the same way. In fact, she was barely played as a comedy character.

 

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Harry Enfield said on Radio 4 this morning that he wasn’t sorry for black up. 
 

‚ÄúIf Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister I would find it difficult that I would not be allowed to play him because of the colour of his skin.‚ÄĚ

Also, what was the problematic thing that caused The Mighty Boosh to be taken down? Was it because the Spirit of Jazz? 

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24 minutes ago, Chris B said:

His doubling-down was hilarious. I mean, entirely wrong, but it's just so stubborn for the sake of it. He's so determined to be *right*.

I find League fascinating. The element that's aged by far the worst for me was Barbara - while she was a likeable character, going for grotesque gags around a trans character was poorly handled. I found it interesting how they handled her in the recent revival. They didn't change the character, but they did change the context - she's very clear, very open about her dignity and how she expects to be treated, and wasn't played as a grotesque in the same way. In fact, she was barely played as a comedy character.

 

Barbara is the element I found hardest to watch when going back, but I also interpreted the character in the revival very differently to you - it felt like, because Barbara had always been portrayed as grotesque and laughably "unfeminine", that they were ridiculing the idea of trans rights and her arguments for dignity and respect by association. I found it, if anything, harder to watch than the character had been in the initial series, so it's interesting to see you read it very differently.

 

2 minutes ago, wordsfromlee said:

Harry Enfield said on Radio 4 this morning that he wasn’t sorry for black up. 
 

‚ÄúIf Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister I would find it difficult that I would not be allowed to play him because of the colour of his skin.‚ÄĚ

Also, what was the problematic thing that caused The Mighty Boosh to be taken down? Was it because the Spirit of Jazz? 

I assume Boosh was the Spirit of Jazz, yeah.

Bit of a shitty comment from Harry Enfield, though. Why would he have to play him? Why not cast someone else to do it?

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