March 5, 2009
Al Murray’s Multiple Personality Disorder
Horne and Corden
Is there anything funny about a mincing, lisping gay Nazi? Or a mincing, lisping gay war reporter? The answer—not lisping, mincing, but rather simple—is “No. Can TV producers cut it out once and for all?” Insulting gay stereotypes are back in vogue in comedy, decades after properly being consigned to their graves alongside shabby and derogatory portrayals of other minorities.
The joys of a post-PC world, I suppose.
Before the two latest indignities were foisted upon us, a colleague said that he and his wife had noticed all manner of homophobic disparagements on TV. Gays aren’t getting bashed physically, but verbally the onslaught is unremitting. “Stop being so gay.” “Don’t be such a poof.” All these crop up on chat shows and comedies with a knowing laugh. When some of the most visible gay men in prime-time are the self-declared Four Poofs and a Piano, why should we be surprised? Just as it is on the school playground and just as it has been sanctioned by the BBC with presenters such as Chris Moyles and Jeremy Clarkson, “gay” has become an acceptable insult, and one we are invited to laugh at. If we don’t, we’re accused of being “politically correct”: a neat way to silence your critics. Who wants to be accused of that?
Adepressing zenith has been reached with Al Murray’s offensive, nasty and yes let’s say it, homophobic-in-conception, gay Nazi in his new sketch show. Please don’t send e-mails that I’m being over-sensitive or worthy. It’s uncool to point out the new homophobia because it’s conducted with a knowing wink and “lighten up, mate, it’s just a laugh”. But a camp gay Nazi is still a camp gay Nazi however ironic his pink PVC swastika. Not only is the stereotype unfunny, but another layer of insensitivity is added when you consider that gays died in their thousands under the Nazis, then after the war were persecuted because their sexuality was still criminalised.
This character (“Uber Bum Führer Schwull”—in German “schwul” is slang for “queer”) flounces on and promises to “press” an Allied informant “good”, “on his knees”, “pumping him” . . . “I shall probe him vigorously about his passage”, “If he has anything in his nuts, I’ll get it out.” The audience finds this hilarious.
Next week national comedy treasures, Gavin & Stacey wunderkinds James Corden and Mathew Horne, serve up a gay war reporter played by Horne, who greets viewers with a “Hiya”, notes that the war “is mental, it’s all going off”, that it looks like “we’re winning”, that he’s about to go and do karaoke outside Fallujah, our boys are being “well looked after”, and then the camp, screechy signoff: “Don’t do anyone I wouldn’t do.”
In another sketch, mocking a fashion advertisement, the two men breathily enter a near-naked embrace. They open their lips to kiss. The screen freezes.No kiss. They can mock the idea of gay romance, but no tongues. That would be too “gay”. Imagine the justifiable outrage if blacks or Asians or women were treated so insultingly on TV now. But homophobia, gay stereotypes, anti-gay humour and backchat—unlike racism and sexism— has become acceptable. It isn’t.
The irony is that while we have these lazy comic stereotypes the actual number of gays in prime-time comedy, drama and factual programming is astonishingly low as a damning report by Stonewall, Tuned Out, revealed. Yes, there’s one here, one there (and occasional “gays invading our screens” furores should something slightly more challenging than the comic stereotype appear), but gays and lesbians, and gay and lesbian life, are appallingly under-represented on our screens— again ironic as so many gays are involve in the making of television. Did any of the gay members of Murray’s or Corden and Horne’s production team, assuming that there are any, view those sketches even a little uncomfortably? Did they quell any dissent for fear of looking too serious? Why didn’t the murder of a young gay man, Michael Causer, in Liverpool last year make the main news broadcasts when the murders of other young men seemed to lead every other bulletin?
Of course, Murray, Corden and Horne would vigorously deny the charge of homophobia, say that I’m not getting the joke, that they’re subverting stereotypes. But at the base of those sketches, at the root of getting a laugh, is the impulse to give gays—the “obvious” ones, the ones that used to get bullied at school, the ones that still get laughed at, insulted and beaten up and worse on our streets—a good kicking. Laugh at them. Mock them. Dismiss them. And by extension dismiss gays more generally, because as other images of homosexuality are so lacking on TV these are the flouncing images that stick. The BBC and other broadcasters, so keen to trumpet their commitment to “diversity”, should be utterly ashamed. I get the joke all right, and I got it on the school playground years ago. It wasn’t funny then, it’s even less so now.