The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Sunday, 31 May 2009


Watched an ITV documentary about politically incorrect television comedy from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. It was well-intentioned, but lacked any original research or insight. I’m not sure contemporary comedians and actors are particularly well-placed to discuss sociological developments. Instead, we got a load of ‘received wisdoms’ and wikipedia-level facts (is there anybody left on the planet who doesn’t know that ‘Allo ‘Allo was inspired by Secret Army?)

But, by damning old sitcoms for being ‘politically incorrect’ (a nebulous catch-all term which the documentary never bothered to define but which might as well mean ‘as it is doie now’) it was missing a basic point. Which is this:

All sitcoms are about people who are behaving in a way which is unacceptable. That’s what makes them funny. They are about the ‘gap’ between what-people-should-be-like and what-people-are-actually-like; whether that ‘gap’ be in terms of class, gender, age, generation, a position in a family or workplace, or even between somebody’s inner thoughts and their public actions. Sitcom isn’t about creating role-models. It’s about creating profoundly flawed characters who are likeable. We sympathise with their predicament (the sit) but laugh as their flaws lead them to failure (the com). There isn’t any humour in nice people being pleasant to each other (even Friends is about six of the most neurotic and selfish people you could ever meet.)

Which is why the idea that there is something wrong about depicting racist characters is flawed. Since when did sitcom have a responsiblity to shape attitudes? If it does have that responsibility, the only way it can do so is by mocking outdated or unacceptable opinions.

That said, is there any way in which Mr Humphreys was a negative depiction of homosexuality? A few words from someone who puts it better than me.

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