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I say caricature because that’s what these shows were intended to be; an exaggeration, light-hearted entertainment poking fun at us as a nation, all of our British quirks and stereotypes. Having been educated at private school, I was hysterical at the relatable sketches exaggerating their old fashioned, uppity ways.
My first inkling there was anything controversial about Little Britain was at a movie night. I exchanged smiles with a guy when we started watching Little Britain. A few minutes later we swapped uncomfortable glances at the chorus of ‘Jeez I can’t believe this…’ and ‘Wow this is so dated’; ‘but it’s bloody hilarious!’, we silently communicated.
Little Britain and Come Fly with Me have now been taken off Netflix. I understand the reasoning, in today’s day and age, blackface isn’t acceptable. These shows are an acquired taste, deliberately on the edge in their comedic approach. Lucas and Walliams have never shied away from controversy and intended the show to shock. However, with the increased publicity of the Black Lives Matter movement and more people than ever protesting inequality, it might be best that these shows take a backseat for now.
Nevertheless, I’m frustrated at the idea that these, in my opinion, brilliant comedies are now illicit material, unfit for public consumption. I feel that cancelling a few questionable shows is brushing the real issue under the carpet, a temporary solution to a tiny part of the true – systemic racism. Removing them seemed more an attempt to hide the less-savoury parts of our country’s past and appear to be doing something rather than tackling inequalities head-on.
I’ll admit I also bitterly regretted the insinuation that I and everyone else who’s laughed at these shows are being to some extent racist. It seemed counterintuitive to me that time and energy were being spent debating certain TV programmes, rather than doing something constructive like talking to minorities. Writing to Ofcom isn’t going to end this country’s deep-rooted inequalities.
Classic episodes of Doctor Who, some using yellowface or notoriously demeaning in attitude towards women, are still enjoyed by fans because they’re so bad they’re good. They guard viewers against a possible offence with warnings. I can’t help wondering why similar warnings and education would not suffice for Little Britain. These shows are meant for an adult audience anyway. If adult viewers have not already been educated against prejudice and taught that stereotypes shouldn’t be defining before watching; if they’re unable to see the humour through exaggeration, and instead take these characters seriously, it’s arguably the system that’s failed them, not the show.
Come Fly with Me was often anti-racist, mocking the absurd reasoning of a racist border guard. Little Britain took the mickey out of everyone – posh, poor, black, white, gay, straight, disabled, no one was safe from a joke. Matt Lucas is gay and had no qualms in poking fun at himself and his community.
I resent the term snowflake and the suggestion that our generation is oversensitive but this is an occasion where it may hold some truth. I’ve seen hundreds of comments on YouTube clamouring for Little Britain’s return, many from members of the communities who we fear it offending. I’m curious how much of a part the white saviour narrative plays in the show’s removal and how many of the complainants were white.
When it comes to cancel culture, we must of course address people’s concerns, I just hope it doesn’t start to be at the cost of original and inventive television.