By Stan Stewart.
Alf Garnett puts me to sleep. Part of my going-to-sleep ritual is to watch on my phone, clips on YouTube. The YouTube algorithm tracks me, and it knows I love the British Comedy sitcoms. ‘Till Death Us Do Part’, starring Alf Garnet, is their current pick. This sitcom ran on the BBC from 1965 to 1975 with revivals up into the 1990’s.
This show is the first ‘cringe’ comedy that I experienced. The extreme right-wing, monarchy loving, bigoted working-class central character is ‘Alf Garnett’. In every episode he shocks and infuriates with his ridiculously biased attitudes. They are so over the top that the viewer has two options; shout at the TV in disgust, or the viewer can laugh. Most viewers laugh. Queen Elizabeth (who was a fan) did, and I do.
I watch other comedy videos from the 60’s and 70’s from both sides of the Atlantic. They are amusing in simple, predictable, almost slapstick ways. What is obvious though is the political correctness of today was not a force in back then. In most of the comedies of this era (not in ‘Till Death Us Do Part’) the glamours supporting females show off lot of flesh and pats on the female bottom are commonplace.
Nowadays, the pats and the insinuations would cause an uproar. Uncovered female bottoms on the beach are fine. Touch one and you could be facing jail time. In 2017, the foremost American radio comedian, Garrison Keeler, founder of ‘The Prairie Home Companion’, had his 42-year career ended overnight. He was accused by a female staff member that he touched her back, not her bottom, her back!
Today, In the western world, women and men have the sanctity of their bodies protected by a web of legal constraints. Nudity is okay. Sex scenes in movies are commonplace. But in everyday life, non-consensual touching, either now or back years and years, can lead to serious consequences – large fines and even jail and certainly public disgrace.
I have been wondering what these laws and regulations have achieved. Despite the laws, in New Zealand, violence (not just the ‘violence’ of touching) between men and women and same sex couples climbs every year. An international agency (IndexMundi) makes lists of how countries are doing on ‘Domestic Violence’. New Zealand is at the top of the list of OECD countries. It has held this position for some years. Get that! There is more domestic violence here than anywhere else in the world. Clearly, legislation to make men/women and same sex-relationships safer has not worked, at least not here in New Zealand
Lots of my contemporaries love the same last-century comedy that I do. I don’t believe that overall, the naughty exuberance of last century’s comedy has harmed them or their families. I have seen a snippet of contemporary comedy on relationship themes. To raise laughs, a comedian talked about man/woman and same/sex relationships using ‘shock comedy’. This type of comedy uses explicit language to describe unusual and extreme forms of sexuality to make people laugh. I didn’t laugh. In the segment I saw ‘bottoms’ were a major focus. No one’s bottom was actually touched, so legally I guess, it was ok.
Sweet -faced children walk past our office. When the windows are open, we can hear their chatter. Much of their talk is peppered with sexual terms that have come into vogue in the last decades. I wonder, “Do they know what they are saying”? I guess that some of them, (close to half of them according to national statistics) have disrupted families. Are they the ones who will carry on the tradition of New Zealand being the world leader in domestic violence.?
On the Coromandel I have seen with my own eyes, clubs and holiday activities in which children are being encouraged to be honest, helpful and respectful of others. I know our schools promote these same themes. I think these adults, many of whom are unpaid volunteers, are amongst this countries best hope to move away from violent interpersonal confrontations to conciliation and harmony.
I come from Melbourne. Melbourne men don’t hug or kiss. They shake hands. So, this has left me socially awkward. A handshake is not the best way to warm up a social gathering. Thank goodness others are more free and I can gradually unfreeze. At local gatherings I regularly receive hugs and kisses. Despite my awkwardness I love it. My wife is more outgoing, and she is appreciated by men, especially the bad-boy kind. I see them giving her a kiss when they part. Good on them. But when the night is over my wife, and I go home together and I like it like that.
I’ve been trying to think have I ever touched any woman on the bottom. I’m certain I must have when playing Musical Chairs at the youth group. I wonder if this activity now illegal?
Caption: Alf Garnett.