I’m as liberal as the next person but there are limits: a new film based on The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, a lady of the utmost probity, shows Peter’s young relatives pelting a man with blackberries, even though they know, get this, they know that the man, who we should now 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 shotgun to put a stop to them.
Sony Pictures, responsible for this cruel and insensitive attack on the new, largely female-led ‘allergy community’, have apologised. They haven’t withdrawn Peter Rabbit yet, but probably will before long as there is so much pressure mounting against them on social media.
An American group elegantly named ‘The Kids with Food Allergies Foundation’, also known as ‘Parents with A Grudge’, went on to Facebook warning other parents about the film, pointing out that ‘food allergy jokes are harmful to our community’.
Another US group seriously harmed by this film is Food Allergy Research & Education, also known as ‘We Know A Good Place To Look for Funding’. It posted a warning to members about the content of the 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 one is not – expressed their dismay over the scene on social media. One mother whose toddler has numerous allergies, including one to fresh air, and 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 and ignores the cocoons they have carefully been constructing for their children for the last thirty years, at least since the compensation culture was invented. This kind of rabbit reality flagrantly indicates a lively world of unpleasant mammal behaviour, of competition, pranks and wicked jokes, a place that children in America and the UK should not be forced to join.
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, risking being pelted with fruit by woodland creatures: a time now happily dead.
That toddler’s mother, like other right-thinking – or more probably left-thinking – people 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 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 highbrow 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 Dad’s Army on our TV sets for family viewing. That was a ‘comedy’ concerned almost entirely with old white men, now almost all literally dead. It seems so odd that no one at the time thought anything of it; white men, patriarchy, racism against the Germans, slavery and an imperialist war. Those concerns were simply suppressed in the education of the population.
To further my quite 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. They may be there as a kind of aversion therapy for everyone else.
I don’t allow myself to listen to the hard-core material, 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 10.30pm and 5.30am, 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 to which we were all able to relate. They now seem remarkably un-PC, residue of a world we have abolished with extraordinary rapidity.
Occupied, by Ian Brown and James Hendrie and first broadcast in June 2016, stars Tom Palmer as a calm and relaxed young man with nothing much to occupy him, and the wonderfully mordant 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 sit-com 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 desks, holding down boring jobs, ‘losers’ as the Americans say, and both at a loss about how to get on with the ladies. Shah is shown as weak, and worse, 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 female characters and portraying women in a very poor light. Sitcoms have been put away by the BBC in favour of quick-fire Left-wing propaganda on panel shows, and these gentle series about English life show 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.