TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

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Tessa K
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TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Tessa K » Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:03 pm

It's not clear why John Cleese is objecting to an episode of Fawlty Towers being taken off some platforms for racist language when he was fine with the offending section being edited out by the BBC in 2013:

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radi ... nguage-cut

and

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/0 ... 32797.html

Even if the lines were intended to show the character is racist, he is someone we're encouraged to find funny in other scenes so for my money the cut was justified.

Other shows have also been taken down from various platforms and these are not shows from the 'bad old days' of 1970s TV:
HBO Max temporarily removed Gone With The Wind because of its "racial depictions", and Little Britain was removed from the BBC iPlayer and Britbox because "times have changed".

Netflix has also removed Little Britain plus David Walliams and Matt Lucas's Come Fly With Me, and The League of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh.

Meanwhile, Ant and Dec apologised for impersonating "people of colour" on Saturday Night Takeaway, and requested ITV remove the 2003 and 2004 sketches from its catch-up service.

Last week, comedian Leigh Francis issued an emotional apology for having dressed as black celebrities in the noughties impression show Bo' Selecta.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-53020335

I've seen some old shows or films on TV with a warning at the start that some of the views expressed were acceptable at the time that aren't now and that may work if it's just a passing reference but where there is lengthy or repeated racism, there needs to be a discussion about what to do with them.

Should a whole series be taken down or just the offending episode or a sketch cut?

If they decide to get rid of shows with sexist and trans/homophobic content too, that's a huge chunk of old light ent shows that will go. And what will it take for that discussion to happen too?

I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all easy answer but it's a discussion worth having

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:18 pm

Tessa K wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:03 pm
Even if the lines were intended to show the character is racist
I don't think they were. Here's the scene.

The racism got a laugh. The audience thought it was funny, and presumably the writers (John Cleese, Connie Booth) did as well.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Bird on a Fire » Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:45 pm

I mean, one of the running gags in Fawlty Towers is abusing a migrant worker because he doesn't speak English very well.

That said, I have watched and enjoyed stuff like Fawlty Towers despite that. Little Britain, OTOH, I thought was way out of line at the time (and I was far from alone in that).

I can certainly see an argument against normalizing prejudice. I can also see an argument about super old stuff being a product of its time, and maybe the suggestion of a disclaimer at the beginning would be enough to counteract things. I do think it's right for people who are currently creating content to not only abide by modern standards but to apologise properly for what they've done in the past (not just a boilerplate "it was a different time" / "sorry if I've offended anyone".

But really I'm not sure what I think about this. It's less clear-cut than statues, because characters in TV shows and books tend to be rounded and multifaceted, humour can work on more than one level, and so on. So hopefully this discussion can remain civil and help people form opinions.
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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by bjn » Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:09 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:18 pm
Tessa K wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:03 pm
Even if the lines were intended to show the character is racist
I don't think they were. Here's the scene.

The racism got a laugh. The audience thought it was funny, and presumably the writers (John Cleese, Connie Booth) did as well.
That's a laugh track that was edited in, not a live audience.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:13 pm

bjn wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:09 pm
Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:18 pm
Tessa K wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:03 pm
Even if the lines were intended to show the character is racist
I don't think they were. Here's the scene.

The racism got a laugh. The audience thought it was funny, and presumably the writers (John Cleese, Connie Booth) did as well.
That's a laugh track that was edited in, not a live audience.
Ok, but that's even worse. The laughter was an editorial decision rather than a spontaneous act by the audience. At least with the latter it could be claimed that it was unexpected.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by bjn » Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:15 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:13 pm
bjn wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:09 pm
Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:18 pm


I don't think they were. Here's the scene.

The racism got a laugh. The audience thought it was funny, and presumably the writers (John Cleese, Connie Booth) did as well.
That's a laugh track that was edited in, not a live audience.
Ok, but that's even worse. The laughter was an editorial decision rather than a spontaneous act by the audience. At least with the latter it could be claimed that it was unexpected.
Was it laughing with the Major or at him for his racist views? Probably laughing at him for his racist views, but with a sneaky laugh at the foreigners as well.

ETA: I'm not excusing the language though.
Last edited by bjn on Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Bird on a Fire » Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:19 pm

Yeah, I think in the case of Fawlty Towers specifically the main 'victim' of all the jokes is Basil Fawlty - we are unambiguously meant to be laughing at him, not with him. Contemporaneous interviews with John Cleese back this up.

That doesn't mean that the show in general can't normalize or promote problematic views. It's ages since I saw it and honestly can't remember.
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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:29 pm

bjn wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:15 pm
Was it laughing with the Major or at him for his racist views? Probably laughing at him for his racist views, but with a sneaky laugh at the foreigners as well.

ETA: I'm not excusing the language though.
I don't think that's the joke though.

Spoiler:


ETA: spoiler hides racist language.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Fishnut » Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:38 pm

Tessa K wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:03 pm
I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all easy answer but it's a discussion worth having
I agree on both points here. There's lots of shows that aren't repeated for various reasons and I have no problem with offensive shows not being shown. I don't think they should be erased or anything and I'd argue they should be available for study as they are important from a cultural history perspective, but I do think that leaving them easily available sends a message (intentional or not) that they are seen as acceptable and something that modern audiences will engage with.
Bird on a Fire wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:45 pm
...characters in TV shows and books tend to be rounded and multifaceted...
I think this is a really important point and adds not just to the complexity but the implications. If the character saying the slurs is a 'bad guy' then it could be argued that their use of the slurs is in keeping with their badness and no-one watching will think that such slurs are acceptable. If, however, a 'good guy' uses a slur it's a way of saying that such terms are acceptable. I know this is a very reductionist way of looking at it and I know there's far more nuance than I've described, but in essence, who says the words and in what context matters. That most of the shows being taken off air are comedies doesn't surprise me. The shows, particularly Little Britain, aren't exactly known for their nuance and while there are arguments that The League of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh are overreactions as they aren't blackface in the traditional sense it could also be argued that they are still following that tradition even if they have subverted it somewhat.

And while there are these borderline cases which need a nuanced discussion, white people using makeup to appear a different ethnicity is not and never has been acceptable (it may have been acceptable to white people at one time but I doubt many Black or Asian people found it funny). It's kinda horrifying that some still think that this is debatable. Just yesterday Harry Enfield was arguing that blackface could be acceptable embarrassing piece of radio yesterday (starts at 2:40:22, available for the next month). The Metro has a surprisingly good summary of the exchange between Enfield and Ava Vidal for those who don't want to subject themselves to it.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Martin Y » Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:42 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:13 pm
bjn wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:09 pm
Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:18 pm


I don't think they were. Here's the scene.

The racism got a laugh. The audience thought it was funny, and presumably the writers (John Cleese, Connie Booth) did as well.
That's a laugh track that was edited in, not a live audience.
Ok, but that's even worse. The laughter was an editorial decision rather than a spontaneous act by the audience. At least with the latter it could be claimed that it was unexpected.
No. The laugh was not haha yes foreigners are contemptible, it was at the Major's casual racism and Fawlty's astonishment and impotent distaste that he can't call him out for it. The Major's character is always an idiot and totally out of touch, but he's The Establishment and a valuable long term guest and Fawlty is a craven class snob who fawns over anyone of higher social rank so dare not criticise him.

It's always a problem trying to guess exactly what an audience were laughing at when you can't put yourself into their minds but imagine if, say, Richard Herring tried a joke like that today. Okay he probably wouldn't go quite so far as to use that exact language, but he absolutely would express excruciatingly distateful opinions knowing that his audience understands he's being ironic and doesn't literally mean it. There's an understanding that the shock is the joke.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Martin Y » Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:54 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:29 pm
bjn wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:15 pm
Was it laughing with the Major or at him for his racist views? Probably laughing at him for his racist views, but with a sneaky laugh at the foreigners as well.

ETA: I'm not excusing the language though.
I don't think that's the joke though.

Spoiler:
Yes. That.

So the idea of the joke is not itself problematic, but the language used is just not sayable any more even if the idea was to mock it.

It's like old movies where the baddie might say or do something grossly racist to lose the audience's sympathy and establish that they are indeed the baddie. Of course the older the movie, the more blatant it had to be for the audience to get the message. Which now means there's a problem with just allowing them to be so horrible.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Tessa K » Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:03 pm

Martin Y wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:42 pm
Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:13 pm
bjn wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:09 pm


That's a laugh track that was edited in, not a live audience.
Ok, but that's even worse. The laughter was an editorial decision rather than a spontaneous act by the audience. At least with the latter it could be claimed that it was unexpected.
No. The laugh was not haha yes foreigners are contemptible, it was at the Major's casual racism and Fawlty's astonishment and impotent distaste that he can't call him out for it. The Major's character is always an idiot and totally out of touch, but he's The Establishment and a valuable long term guest and Fawlty is a craven class snob who fawns over anyone of higher social rank so dare not criticise him.

It's always a problem trying to guess exactly what an audience were laughing at when you can't put yourself into their minds but imagine if, say, Richard Herring tried a joke like that today. Okay he probably wouldn't go quite so far as to use that exact language, but he absolutely would express excruciatingly distateful opinions knowing that his audience understands he's being ironic and doesn't literally mean it. There's an understanding that the shock is the joke.
Then there shouldn't have been a laugh track edited on. Even if the point was to highlight the Major's racism, it's still normalising the use of such language.

There is a difference between this kind of racism and mocking Manuel's accent as there is no history of white Spanish people being abused by the British in the same way black people have been and are. So yes, it is xenophobic and every country has one or more countries it mocks that are near neighbours and ethnically the same as them (the French mocking the Belgians for example). But it's not directly comparable.

My solution to the FT episode would be the same as the BBC's - edit out those lines rather than remove or ban the whole show or series.

There are going to be some overcautious reactions at the moment and that's no bad thing if it leads to better representation or less racism on TV but people are bound to get irate when their treasured shows come under fire.

There's some very dodgy representations of and comments about Chinese people in Last of the Summer Wine, for example. I can imagine my dad (now dead) getting apoplectic if anyone suggested tampering with that show.

Richard Herring or any other white male comedian may use irony to point out unacceptable ideas but there is a very fine line and too often people say they were being ironic only after they've been called out for saying something. I suspect that he or Stewart Lee who takes a similar approach would be very very careful what they said as they pride themselves on being woke.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Martin Y » Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:11 pm

Tessa K wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:03 pm
Then there shouldn't have been a laugh track edited on.
I don't understand that bit.

It was a joke. Woodchopper actually pointed out how the joke worked which I failed to do, but it was a joke and it got a laugh.

(I don't know how the laughs were added to Fawlty Towers but I suspect it was a recording of an audience being shown the programme, rather than canned laughter of people laughing at something completely different. Either way, there's no way now to discover why they think they were laughing but the mechanism of the joke is the reversal. It sounds like he's criticising racist language, but then he totally subverts himself.)
I suspect that he or Stewart Lee who takes a similar approach would be very very careful what they said as they pride themselves on being woke.
Certainly. But being very, very careful today, with the understanding which exists with their audiences, might not be obvious in a few decades.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Tessa K » Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:25 pm

Martin Y wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:11 pm
Tessa K wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:03 pm
I suspect that he or Stewart Lee who takes a similar approach would be very very careful what they said as they pride themselves on being woke.
Certainly. But being very, very careful today, with the understanding which exists with their audiences, might not be obvious in a few decades.
That's kind of the point. Social conventions and awareness change so we need to look at past expressions of opinions and humour and re-evaluate them.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Martin Y » Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:40 pm

An example I've quoted before, back in the Old Country, of the vital understanding between the audience and the teller of a joke:

World student debating championships about 30 years ago, a fun evening event, out of competition, during which one American and one Brit were on stage taking turns to banter with each other. Importantly, the US student was white and clearly had some physiological condition which meant he was very short. Eventually the trigger was pressed when the Brit joked the US student was to star in the South African version of Diff'rent Strokes.

Pandemonium. The Brits laughed. The US contingent almost rioted. The Brits knew it was an anti-Apartheit joke, the butt of which was South African racism and that there was zero intent of an ablist insult beause there was simply no way anyone would say such a thing. The Americans did not share the same set of assumptions.

Eventually the Brit got to make what was a very gracious apology. Oxford chap as I recall. Michael Gove. Don't know what happened to him.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by EACLucifer » Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:41 pm

Martin Y wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:54 pm
Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:29 pm
bjn wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:15 pm
Was it laughing with the Major or at him for his racist views? Probably laughing at him for his racist views, but with a sneaky laugh at the foreigners as well.

ETA: I'm not excusing the language though.
I don't think that's the joke though.

Spoiler:
Yes. That.

So the idea of the joke is not itself problematic, but the language used is just not sayable any more even if the idea was to mock it.

It's like old movies where the baddie might say or do something grossly racist to lose the audience's sympathy and establish that they are indeed the baddie. Of course the older the movie, the more blatant it had to be for the audience to get the message. Which now means there's a problem with just allowing them to be so horrible.
This is where content warnings are useful.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Martin Y » Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:50 pm

Tessa K wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:25 pm
That's kind of the point. Social conventions and awareness change so we need to look at past expressions of opinions and humour and re-evaluate them.
Yes. In this particular case the problem is that the language, which was supposed to be rather shocking, is now too shocking to use. So IMO it should probably be snipped rather than get a content warning, as it's supposed to be light comedy. Snip it out, keep it light.

My point earlier was really that it was never the case that this show expected us to laugh about funny brown foreigners or think racist language was okay.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:51 pm

EACLucifer wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:41 pm
This is where content warnings are useful.
Apologies, I just added one to the original post.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by EACLucifer » Fri Jun 12, 2020 4:00 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:51 pm
EACLucifer wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:41 pm
This is where content warnings are useful.
Apologies, I just added one to the original post.
Slight misunderstanding, I think, I wasn't meaning to pull you up on that, mostly because I hadn't really taken onboard you'd posted the whole line from Fawlty towers. That said, probably best to stick it behind a spoiler.

I was more thinking that on demand services would, in cases like the Fawlty Towers one, be wise to use content warnings when distributing things like that. Something like "This show was made in 19**, when attitudes were somewhat different to today's attitudes, and includes <offensive language/trope>"

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Jun 12, 2020 4:02 pm

Martin Y wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:11 pm
Tessa K wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:03 pm
Then there shouldn't have been a laugh track edited on.
I don't understand that bit.

It was a joke. Woodchopper actually pointed out how the joke worked which I failed to do, but it was a joke and it got a laugh.
It did, but IMHO in that joke the audience isn't being invited to laugh at the major's racism. ETA the show isn't using laughter to ridicule a racist. Its making a joke out of racism via misdirection.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by EACLucifer » Fri Jun 12, 2020 4:06 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 4:02 pm
Martin Y wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:11 pm
Tessa K wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:03 pm
Then there shouldn't have been a laugh track edited on.
I don't understand that bit.

It was a joke. Woodchopper actually pointed out how the joke worked which I failed to do, but it was a joke and it got a laugh.
It did, but IMHO in that joke the audience isn't being invited to laugh at the major's racism. ETA the show isn't using laughter to ridicule a racist. Its making a joke out of racism via misdirection.
John Cleese has said it was intended as a way of using laughter to ridicule a racist, btw.

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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Grumble » Fri Jun 12, 2020 4:30 pm

It seemed to me, years ago, that the laugh was meant to be at the character’s expense
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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Vertigowooyay » Fri Jun 12, 2020 5:39 pm

It’s worth noting a lot of BLM voices on social media are saying that no-one has specifically asked for things like Fawlty Towers to be taken down*, and that the effect of it just makes them look unreasonable, strengthens knee jerk opposition against them and overshadows the actual aims of BLM like meaningful structural change in society. It shifts the discussion to censorship and away from talking about racism in modern Britain.


* it’s being done voluntarily by nervous broadcasters. It’d be more helpful if they looked at the massive under representation of BAME employees in their organizations.
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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by discovolante » Fri Jun 12, 2020 5:57 pm

Vertigowooyay wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 5:39 pm
It’s worth noting a lot of BLM voices on social media are saying that no-one has specifically asked for things like Fawlty Towers to be taken down*, and that the effect of it just makes them look unreasonable, strengthens knee jerk opposition against them and overshadows the actual aims of BLM like meaningful structural change in society. It shifts the discussion to censorship and away from talking about racism in modern Britain.


* it’s being done voluntarily by nervous broadcasters. It’d be more helpful if they looked at the massive under representation of BAME employees in their organizations.
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Re: TV shows being cut or taken down for racism

Post by Bewildered » Fri Jun 12, 2020 6:22 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 4:02 pm
Martin Y wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:11 pm
Tessa K wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:03 pm
Then there shouldn't have been a laugh track edited on.
I don't understand that bit.

It was a joke. Woodchopper actually pointed out how the joke worked which I failed to do, but it was a joke and it got a laugh.
It did, but IMHO in that joke the audience isn't being invited to laugh at the major's racism. ETA the show isn't using laughter to ridicule a racist. Its making a joke out of racism via misdirection.
I have been struggling to understand how your (correct) explanation of the joke, could possibly fit with your earlier comment to Tessa. Now I see I think, but I strongly disagree. A crucial part of the misdirection is the expectation that someone would find the initial racism to be objectionable and specifically in the context of the series, iirc, I think you are supposed to think “ah even he objects to that” and then laugh *at* him when you realise no he is actually worse than you already thought.

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