I’m as liberal as the next person – but there are limits. A new film based on Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, a lady of the utmost probity, shows Peter’s young relations pelting a man with blackberries, even though they know – get this, they know the man (who we should now properly call ‘the victim’) – is allergic to the little poison capsules. We see them committing this criminal assault with impunity. There is no Mr McGregor with a gun to put a stop to them.
Sony Pictures, who are responsible for this cruel and insensitive attack on the new, largely female-led ‘Allergy Community,’ have apologised. They have not withdrawn the film, yet, but probably will before long as there is so much pressure on social media mounting against them. The American group elegantly named ‘The Kids with Food Allergies Foundation’, also known as ‘Parents with a Grudge,’ went onto Facebook warning other parents about the film, pointing out that ‘food allergy jokes are harmful to our community’. Another US group which has been seriously harmed by this film is named ‘Food Allergy Research & Education’, also known as ‘We Know a Good Place to look for Funding’; they posted a warning to members over the content of this film.
Parents of children with allergies – there are of course millions of them, proliferating almost like rabbits, one might say (if one were that kind of person, which, of course, one is not) – expressed their dismay over the scene on social media. One mother whose toddler has numerous allergies, including one against fresh air and another against being American in Trump’s America, called the work ‘a felony, aggravated assault’. ‘What kind of message does that scene send to kids?’ she asked us all to consider.
The ‘allergy community’, which now has the right to be treated as a formal religion, is rightly outraged. The film deliberately flouts the cocoons they have carefully been constructing for their children for the last thirty years since the compensation culture was invented. Its ‘rabbit reality’ shamelessly depicts a lively world of unpleasant mammal behaviour, of competition, pranks and wicked jokes, a place that most children in America and now the UK should not be exposed to.
Showing bunnies behaving badly surely harks back to a time when children used diving boards, played conkers and went for long walks by themselves, unsupervised, and risked being pelted with fruit by woodland creatures – a time now happily dead. Understandably, that mother has now joined ‘#boycottpeterrabbit’.
I will be going to see the film, not something I would have done normally, but I feel I have to go in the interest of journalism, if you get my meaning – rather like old Lord Longford used to go along to investigate porn shows in Soho. After all, humour and irony are surely the equivalent of pornography, redolent of an exploitative colonial patriarchal past (don’t try saying that with a mouthful of carrot) and need to be rooted out.
As it disappears ever further from us, I am increasingly interested in that flawed culture we used to have, not the high stuff like opera, which remains strangely immune to political correctness, at least in Italian hands, but the more basic kind of entertainment. Think if you will of how, fairly recently, we accepted something like Dad’s Army on our TV sets, for family viewing. That was a ‘comedy’ composed almost entirely of old white men, now almost all literally dead. It seems so odd now that no one at the time thought anything of it: white men, patriarchy, racism against the Germans, slavery and an imperialist war. Those legitimate concerns were simply suppressed.
To further my perfectly legitimate studies, I regularly listen to BBC Radio 4 Extra, which serves up a diet of old British comedy, ‘gems’ for ‘radio listeners’, the BBC euphemistically calls them, meaning of course, casual racism and sexism for the UKIP generation who probably prefer the term ‘wireless’ on the quiet – and a kind of aversion therapy for everyone else.
I don’t allow myself to listen to the hard stuff, such as Harry Worth, Ken Dodd or The Goons, which seem appallingly racist and sexist, with people pretending to be Chinese and singing the ‘Ying Tong Song’, and women hardly appearing at all. I do keep to the milder stuff.
I have recently discovered something called Reception, played at 10.30 pm and 5.30 am when most people are out of harm’s way, and another quaint comedy about two men called Occupied. In past times, only very recently in fact, these would have been quite easily digestible comedies of situation, the sort we used to have, the humour based on character, usually odd, and unfortunate circumstances with which we were all able to relate. They now seem remarkably un-PC, residue of a world we have abolished with extraordinary rapidity.
Occupied, first broadcast in June 2016, by Ian Brown and James Hendrie, starring Tom Palmer as a calm and relaxed young man with nothing much to occupy him, and the wonderfully mordent Philip Jackson as his workless discontented Yorkshire uncle. They drift about their seaside community of Flamford meeting an odd assortment of characters which the BBC would never put into a sitcom now – if they still made such things; the women are helpless and unable to grasp Uncle Jeff’s simplest irony, and the men are amusing stereotypes, such as ‘Fish Shop Fred’. How could we have ever been amused at such things, and so recently?
My other interest, purely as an archaeologist of British humour, is Reception, first heard in September 2013. By actor and writer Paul Bassett Davies, who once wrote for The Magic Roundabout, this is more complicated and rich in allusion, and one of the leading characters is Asian, played by Amit Shah. But he and his colleague, played by Adrian Scarborough, are doomed to sit at a desk, holding down a boring job, losers as the Americans say, and both at a loss on how to get on with the ladies. Shah is shown as weak and worse, and the two men are horribly bullied and intimidated by an abusive woman boss, played by Morwenna Banks.
These simple half-hour entertainments would not be made now, lacking as they do role-model women characters, and portraying the women in them in a very poor light. Sitcoms have been put away by the BBC in favour of quickfire left-wing propaganda on panel shows, and these gentle series about English life remind us why that was a good idea. English life is still there of course, peopled by rough white men and daft white women, gardens full of dangerous rabbits, making largely the same old jokes and japes; but the people who know best about the future have decided that, for our own health and safety, we should no longer hear or see them.
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