It's a show that has made millions laugh but, far from being fun, the television comedy Little Britain is one that largely panders to prejudice and hatred argues a new study from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
It suggests that the majority of characters in the sketch show - from teenage 'chav' mum Vicky Pollard to proud gay Daffyd - are stereotypes produced from a sense of disgust at people of a different class, sexuality, race or gender.
LSE researcher Deborah Finding believes that far from being ironic or 'alternative' comedy - Little Britain has more in common with Bernard Manning than the generation of subversive comedians who followed in his wake.
Her study, I Can't Believe You Just Said That: figuring gender and sexuality in Little Britain, forms the basis of a chapter in a new book of essays on the BBC show to be published next year by IB Tauris.
Ms Finding applies a technique called figurative analysis to the comedy's characters - showing how their physical traits are often projections of 'nasty ideas' rooted in fears about the working class, homosexuals or other less powerful groups.
For example, in laughing at Vicky Pollard - a fat, chain-smoking, single mother - we are expressing our fear and hatred of a group by projecting onto her stereotypical body the perceived qualities of all working-class single mothers - feckless, stupid and promiscuous.
Even Daffyd, the self-proclaimed 'only gay in the village', is a character who connects the idea of being homosexual with being ridiculous and therefore relies on 'mainstream' fears about gayness, despite the fact that Daffyd is the creation of comedian Matt Lucas - who is himself gay.
Ms Finding, a postgraduate researcher at LSE, said: 'Little Britain is the comedy equivalent of junk food. It is clear that when "we", the audience, are invited to laugh at "them" the characters - we are laughing at not only the figures on screen but at entire groups of people whom they come to represent.
'Little Britain does far more to promote racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism and classism than it does to satirise them - though it does do that from time to time.
'To claim that it is ironic is to miss the point that comedy constructed about "the other" - that which is different from us - involves the mocking of minority groups in a way that winds the clock back to the pre-alternative days of Bernard Manning. There is no attempt to challenge prejudices or disrupt the status quo.
'This backward step in comedy seems to mirror the cultural shift we have seen from a feminist sensibility to the post-feminist culture of lads' magazines.'
However, the study does also pick out some sketches in which the joke is on the apparently powerful - including the bullying weight-loss group leader Marjorie Dawes. Here, says Ms Finding, the comedy lies in Marjorie's own racism, hypocrisy and self-disgust which is at odds with the cheerful confidence of her group, who ultimately refuse to be tyrannised and leave.
Click here to download the report I Can't Believe You Just Said That: figuring gender and sexuality in Little Britain in full.
For more information contact:
Deborah Finding on 07736 857766 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
LSE press office 020 7955 7440 or at email@example.com
Little Britain - the characters and why our laughter may not be innocent
The character Vicky Pollard - the stupid, fat 'chav' mum who swapped her baby for a Westlife CD and smokes, drinks and swears her way through life.
The joke Rooted in our disgust at brash and loud working-class women, our laughter mocks all women who conform to the physical stereotype as 'chavs', 'slags' or 'whores'
Ting Tong Macadangdang - the Thai mail-order bride who marries Dudley and takes over his life.
With a mocking name, bad yellow makeup, buck teeth and an inability to pronounce the letter 'r' Ting Tong is a poor South-East Asian stereotype. But the laughs in her perceived sexual undesireability play on a horror of the imperfect female form and helps disguise the reality of a woman being bought for sex.
Daffyd - out and proud. Daffyd is jealous of anyone who'd question his status as 'the only gay in the village'
The sketch only works if you believe that we live in a homophobia-free utopia - in which case it would be ridiculous to imagine prejudice where none existed. In fact, Dafydd is ridiculed for his dress and demeanour.
Bubbles deVere - The overweight health spa visitor who offers the manager sex to pay her bill.
In order to laugh, we must agree that no one could ever want to touch an older woman with cellulite and drooping breasts. So Bubbles' sexuality is presented as stupidity rather than self-confidence.
Mrs Emery - The incontinent pensioner who urinates in supermarkets and other public places.
The comedy of humiliation - the show tells us OAP stands for Old and Putrid. An abuse of an easy target with no voice against the dominant creators.
Emily Howard - an unconvincing transvestite.
Transgender rights are not well established or understood and this sketch may establish the popular view of these issues as one of mockery.
And the ones where Little Britain 'gets it right'
Maggie Blackamoor and Judy Pike - Two respectable WI types who enthuse about food and drink but vomit it up when told it's been prepared by someone of different ethnicity or sexuality to them.
Here the real joke is on their self-disgust and fear of the "other" and gives us a more nuanced glimpse of bigotry.
Linda Flint - University counsellor who tries, over the phone, to describe students by appearance. She begins with pleasant and politically correct terms before lapsing into offensive phrases like 'the big fat lesbian' or 'ching-chong Chinaman'.
The sketch shows how well-meaning attempts to instil approved language and 'diversity awareness' in a workplace are superficial in their effects.
Marjorie Dawes - the bullying leader of a Fat Fighters group who insults and humiliates her members.
In a redemptive moment at the end of the third series of Little Britain, the group rebels and leave in protest at Marjorie's behaviour. Her hatred is exposed as hypocritical and oppressive.
Herald Sun, Australia (31 October)
Daffyd's so not funny
A study by the London School of Economics now claims Lucas is ''junk food'' for gay haters.
Daily Telegraph, 29-Oct-2008, page 9
Little Britain 'panders to prejudice'
Researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), said that the majority of characters in the BBC sketch show Little Britain are stereotypes produced from a sense of disgust at people of a different class, sexuality, race or gender.
28/10/08 18:50 ((The Australian))
Little Britain 'promotes hatred'
29/10/08 02:29 Sydney Morning Herald
Little Britain accused of promoting hatred over laughs
24 October 2008