Comedy Terrors

Working out a new angle for a paper for Germany. Feeling like I need to do something with a few laughs. Hence, this opening…

A new figure of fun in British media has an ominous underside, and yet on reflection I think does more politically than the mischief of the usual court jesters. The television comedy of ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ and the efforts of Sanjeev Bhaskar on ‘The Kumars at Number 42’ were welcome insofar as they promoted manifestations of ‘multicultural comedy’ as part of a tolerant and inclusive tradition. But this is not the whole story, and I think the popularity of such shows now reveal some disturbing new anxieties. The question of who comes to visit the Kumars at Number 42 is a matter of mirth on television, as various celebrities sat with an ‘average’ – actually quite wacky – family to talk about their latest cultural product: a film, a play, their new book and so on. As a light entertainment early evening format it was a great success. But such questioning of the neighbours and the to-ings and fro-ings of their associates is a much sharper confrontation elsewhere in Britain, especially in the years after the London bombs of 2005. The figure of the terrorist in Asian garb is the new manifestation of the scapegoat; the Asian next door becomes a stereotype and scare-mongering figure. Alongside the Kumars we now also witness special squad investigations and high profile closures of streets; the police cordoning off areas of middle English suburbia; the nightly news interviewing people living on the same streets insisting that ‘he kept to himself’ or ‘they seemed like normal people’; and scenes of the suspects being driven off to interrogation and detention under the anti-terror legislation. I see this as a sinister kind of theatre in Britain today, and I think it can be linked to other seemingly innocent comic aspects of British performance culture. This paper attempts to unpack the scripts… 

So, I will try to link this back to music and politics (as usual) as it follows upon my interest in alternative modes of story-telling. Reconnecting with my earlier playing round with Pantomime terror, (at recent talks in Melbourne and Auckland) and delving further into the stories of the Thousand and One Nights. Where our narrator is no longer subject to singular despotic terror, for which her tales achieve an improbable reprieve, but rather I have:

 

“A speculative dream version of the story of Scheherazade herself; whom I imagine has this time been detained, rendered and interned in Guantanamo. Kept on her own in a cell except for a daily interrogation when she is brought before her captors who demand a story. She obliges them with the production of a narrative that provokes ever more draconian civil liberties crackdowns and higher and higher terror alert ratings in the metropolises, but the production of this narrative can never set her free and she will never become queen (the despotic kings are otherwise engaged: Tony Blair and G.W. Bush are already hitched to each other and a legacy in Iraq, and perhaps hitched to history in the same way Nixon was to Watergate and defeat in Vietnam). Of course it’s the case that my dreaming of Sheherezade is only a conceit – even as I cannot imagine what so many years in detention can do to anyone. A thousand and one terrors assail us all”. 

The task now is to find stories for the Kumars. Or find ways to stop laughing at the welcome departure of Tony Blair to the land of television chat shows… the blood dripping onto the sofa… I’m glad he’s not moving in next door to me (though his old next door neighbour is moving to Number 10)… cue that Grundy theme music…

 

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