This is the second part of the write up of the podcast episode I did about Mrs Browns Boys and class. Listen to it here. I’ll be releasing each section as more easily digestible written breakdowns so its not just nearly an hour of listening.
Now i want to talk about this other thing about crass and rude humour - the idea that all working class ppl are bigoted
now this is not going to be a full breakdown of how bigotry or social justice within British Comedy or comedy that is shown in the UK, but i’m gonna look at this as best i can as a Woke Transsexual in 2021
at this point i feel its important to make the distinction that Mrs Browns Boys is an irish comedy shown in britain and not necessarily classed British ComedyTM
Before i get started i do just want to say before ppl start going off yes some crass jokes are just bigoted and horrible and need to be talked about and dealt with thats fine, part of this will involve looking at some stuff like that or highlighting it
(side bar: as a kid i used listen to my dads chubby brown tapes and those were so very bad and bigoted and yes thats the kind of family i come from, thank fuck i've grown up to be much less bigoted than i could have been with those influences, so like there is very little 'crass' comedy i'm not used to, i'm not scared easily by it and can generally take jokes that should offend me personally on the chin. Cancel me.)
there has deffo been a lot of critique of the ppl who watch Mrs Browns Boys and make it popular as well, a critique of what the middle class leftists want to say is the unintellectual unfunny bigoted working class. they love to perpetuate the idea that the ppl who watch Mrs Browns Boys r the ones who voted brexit and for boris johnson etc which yes some ppl will have done but wow guardian readers r determined to demonise the working classes aren’t they?
So lets look at Mrs Browns Boys szn 1 and see how bigoted it is:
The show is a very family-based comedy largely centring around and taking the piss out of the usual heteronormative family unit conventions. It has a lot of physical comedy with Mrs Brown doing most of the slapstick, with her sometimes involving grandad brown or rory brown (and on the odd occasion buster brady) both of whom she regularly slaps for comedic effect.
more than active bigotry this relies on hetero-tropes of hating ur father-in-law (just a play on the mother-in-law tropes from other sitcoms) for the former and part of the older woman not getting her gay son trope with the latter.
These alone aren’t as much of an issue, tho i’m sure i could chalk them up to smth, i do believe they largely fit into just standard hetero-tropes of ‘british comedy’, that being said we’ll explore the latter some more in this as i do feel this goes deeper.
Mrs Brown makes regular digs disapproving of that buster and dermot, her youngest son, went to prison for burglary and often tells buster she’s watching him so better keep out of trouble and sometimes even has a hand in foiling some of buster’s less-than-fool-proof schemes.
While her attitude doesn’t align with my own Leftist IdeasTM i feel like its kinda put in there to give her smth to more actually disapprove of given she generally disapproves of everything and the kinda hijinks that she is involved in.
in the first episode there is a joke where mrs brown says she wants ‘to be like ur man in iran mohammed…’ then just garbles words as if she’s trying to pronounce an iranian name and can’t so just garbles words that sound like an iranian name. It also sounds like she says ‘knock him down and getting back up again’ so could be also potentially be a reference to muhammad ali?
Idk if this is a racist joke cuz idk what the joke is actually trying to do here. In fact this is the nearest thing the show really gets to mentioning race because...well...why would it need to make jokes about race.
The show makes regular use of sex jokes taking the form of an older woman taking the piss out of cis men. It does feel like after a certain point in the shows run it becomes more and more about sex jokes, and thats not a bad thing imo. With having gay characters the show uses a lot of general gay sex jokes and innuendos. Again not a bad thing imo. Not crude or distasteful either.
A quick look at how the show treats gayness shows us there is no malice there, admittedly there is that underlying bigotry based on a lack of understanding in it as the show admits, but no malice.
In episode 5 of szn 1 Cathy tries to out her brother rory. This is never addressed as a bad thing, as Woke ppl we know it is a bad thing to out someone without their permission as it can be dangerous, but there is no danger identified here. That doesn’t mean its excusable as an action or that in an irl situation there wouldn’t be, but the show tries to set up without saying it that rory wouldn’t actually be in danger by being outed so in this instance its not a thing i find massively concerning but i thought it would be good to mention as an example of how just because something doesn’t meet a particularly Woke standard doesn’t make it bad necessarily.
Later in the episode there is a conversation to the effect of:
‘homo isn’t politically correct’
‘what is then?’
‘Queer i think’
This as a joke works on multiple levels for me. This could just look like the character is confused and has gone for the word that most ppl should know not to call gay ppl but its also very clever in that is, i think intentionally, a nod to that fact that queer has come back into usage through being reclaimed by LGBT+ ppl. While i like this joke it doesn’t fully guide it in the direction it could to avoid ppl thinking they can just go calling gay ppl queer. Maybe it doesn’t need to do that specifically in that scene, but does it in general?
The episode and series in general uses this trope of overbearing catholic mother not understanding her gay son. And that is funny. In many irl situations my catholic grandmother didn’t get a lot of stuff and that lead to some hilarious misunderstandings or just general messy weirdness, and while that wasn’t always good, it was funny. And I could connect with these kinds of situations.
All this raises the question of is this laughing at gay ppl or laughing at someone not understanding gay ppl and their underlying bigotry?
To understand this I’d like to bring up Jason Osamede Okundaye’s article in The Guardian (yes i know i complained about the guardian but this is one of the good ones) from July 2020 about Ironic Racism.
In the article Okundaye points out the panic of removing anything that seems racist altho likely isn’t half as racist as they think from british tv and that they could just add a content warning. Okundaye also talks about blackface and racist attitudes in british comedy:
“The stagecraft of ironic racism is one that invites a nominally well-educated and bourgeois audience to ridicule and belittle the apparently inherent racism of less well-educated, working-class and socially marginalised groups. This allows comedians and actors to “safely” perform absurd racist tropes through the malicious deception of an actually racist audience, therefore creating distance between artist and artwork. The logic follows that the scriptwriter, producer or actor cannot be a “racist” or participating in “racism” themselves if their work is being used to draw out the racism of a sub-class of citizens, an uneducated constituency who are the only people who could be truly capable of racism.”
Okundaye goes on to discuss how this use of Ironic Racism is ultimately bullshit and is just actual racism but wrapped in middle class coding so that ppl can still engage in that shit without actually saying the thing and uses examples of Little Britain where 2 white middle class men who were clearly educated are seen as that they couldn’t possibly be being racist by doing blackface or by doing racist things because its irony.
Shows like Little Britain try to do these things ironically without actually explaining why the thing is bad. Which is where they fail and show themselves to ultimately just be racist.
If you take this idea of ironic forms of bigotry and look at how Mrs Browns Boys is doing this ironically, does this make the same mistakes? No. Mrs Browns Boys has a crucial difference here in that at the start and end of every episode Agnes addresses the camera directly - her opening chat with the audience often gives us clues as to what the episode might entail and her closing chat gives us the moral of the story.
It doesn’t matter if your child is gay, you should love them anyway. Even if the actor changes during one of ur christmas specials.
While this isn’t a perfect way of doing this it can’t be said that it isn’t effective. It shows us that ppl who say ‘u can’t say owt anymore cuz political correctness’ are actually just wrong and that u can say things and make jokes based on old tropes, yes even ones rooted firmly in bigotry, and that political correctness doesn’t change the joke or make it less funny. It just reframes it for the world we live in today. What they actually mean is they want a Respectable Bigotry. Or just want to be able to openly say the n-word at 10am on the BBC.
So is Mrs Browns Boys bigoted? Is it a bigoted comedy for bigoted working class ppl?
No more so than many other comedies. The opening and closing chats with the audience save it from many of the pitfalls that smth like little britain gleefully jump into. That doesn’t save everything tho, we haven’t discussed the how this tackles transness...