Thursday, November 24, 2005

Why Freedmanslife hates Big Britain

So by now I trust you have all read Johann Hari's article very thoroughly ahead of the test I am setting in the monthly digest. Here's the conclusion he reaches, by way of revision:

"But the blame for Little Britain lies out here in Big Britain. When the show first started, it was not the bile-fest it is today. There was a gentler, absurdist edge to the first series, but it soon became clear that the viewers preferred a comedy of jeering and sneering. The jokes curdled and became poisonous - and Walliams and Lucas were simply responding to market forces. So what does it say about us that we are a nation that pines for gags about stupid, poor people and old women pissing themselves in public?"

I agree entirely. In discussion with friends, I coined the phrase "culture of poverty". It turns out that it was already coined by Oscar Lewis and expanded upon by Charles Murray. I also coined the phrase "revelling in their mediocrity" but it seems many others have been minting that for a while too.

Etymology aside, these two phrases are at the core of my belief that Johann Hari is spot-on in his analysis. We are a nation that laughed uncomfortably in the first series because the characters struck remarkably close to the bone. By the third series, market forces have required Walliams and Lucas to make us feel comfortable that there are people dumber, poorer, fatter and more incontinent than we are.

The earlier series made it clear that the chav-like behaviour of our sub-class, and the abuse of the system and our values by benefit cheats, is unacceptable. This is entirely valid, and should be above criticism by our damnable PC society. It was funny, and done with the charm of other middle-class performers such as the Monty Python Yorkshiremen sketch, performed by a group of posh graduates of Cambridge Footlights.

My main criticism of the new series is that it has lost this sense of artistic integrity, because it has caved in to the lowest common denominator (emphasis on "common"). And I level a parallel criticism at our society, which has lost its integrity in much the same way.

2 comments:

Stephen said...

Whilst I've never been a true Little Britain fan, as it has usually extracted only the slightest giggle on occasion, I would ask the posters to wait until more of the current series has been broadcast and reserve judgement until then. Many of yours and Johann's comments are valid about the 1st series but perhaps the 2nd series has more up its sleeves to bring us new 'one liners'.

It is the worst form of comedy and the weightwatchers sketch was the only one I laughed at in the first episode of the new series. This I felt had more of a structure than the other sketches, whilst keeping to the familiar themes of this part of Little Britain.

Anonymous said...

Michael, as ever you seem to speak my mind on many an issue and this being another one of my frustrations too.

I enjoyed Little Britain a little in the first series but I found myself not watching the later ones because I simply wasn't enjoying the humour anymore.

I find the incontinent lady sketches crude, vulgar and feel it goes straight for the lowest common denominator shock value. It's not sophisticated and I fail to see the joke. What next, 'jokes' about OAPs with Parkinson's, diabetes or other life affecting conditions? It's just sick really, no ifs no buts. I think it speaks volumes about our society that we can find entertainment in ridiculing the weak and vulnerable in society.

I sat through most of last night's episode squirming uncomfortably in my seat and grimacing at the sketches watching one crap sketch after another.

I think there is a general trend going through many UK 'zeitgeist' comedy sketch shows where the more popular it gets the more the artists push the envelope to try and keep it in the public eye and the less funny the jokes become.

Remember rubber face Avid Merrion from Bo Selecta on Channel 4? Most people found series one vulgar enough with his sexual reference and strong language but for me, the third series was frankly unwatchable. It was just one effort after another to see how many different ways he could use obscene language and actions and get away with it. Where's the fun in that? It became a playground attempt at attracting attention and no longer adult entertainment.

How I long for the humour of the Monty Python crew, the sophistication of Ben Elton and Richard Curtis' Blackadder, the intelligent wit of Ronnie Barker. They all proved that innuendo and clever wordplay make classic comedy and never needed to resort to LCD (lowest common denominator) tactics to get a cheap laugh!

Sad times indeed!