CoDE Seminar: Encounters with the Neighbour in 1970s’ British Multicultural Comedy
|28 March 2019
|12:00 - 13:00
|What is it:
|Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE)
|Who is it for:
|University staff, Adults, Alumni, Current University students
|Dr Sarah Ilott
“If you don’t shut up, I’ll come and move in next door to you!” Such was the frequent response to audience heckles made by Britain’s first well-known black comedian, Charlie Williams. His retort appropriated racist rhetoric of the time, in which the black neighbour was frequently mobilised as an object of fear, threatening the imagined homogeneity of formerly white communities. What Williams’s response to heckles exemplifies is a negotiation of a complex set of power relations informed both by the mechanics of the triadic relationship between Teller, Audience and Butt of a joke and by the social context shaping relationships between blacks and whites in a systemically racist society. With reference to this context, I explore the mobilisation of the figure of the black neighbour in 1970s’ comedy as a means of commenting upon and critiquing British multicultural discourse of the time through a consideration of the popular and mainstream sitcoms Love Thy Neighbour (ITV, 1972—76) and Rising Damp (ITV, 1974—78). I argue that whilst these comedies might seem radical for their time in normalising black neighbours, poking jokes at white bigots, and engaging with social taboo head-on, they ultimately serve to confirm the status quo by appeasing mainstream audiences and letting them off the hook for ongoing racism, whilst placing the burden for the happy functioning of a culturally and ethnically diverse nation in the hands of individuals without reference to cultural, political, historical or economic contexts that have combined to disenfranchise, alienate and subordinate black Britons.
Dr Sarah Ilott is Senior Lecturer in Literature and Film at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her main research and teaching interests are in postcolonialism and popular genres, particularly comedy and the gothic. Her publications include New Postcolonial British Genres: Shifting the Boundaries (Palgrave, 2015), Telling it Slant: Critical Approaches to Helen Oyeyemi (edited with Chloe Buckley; Sussex Academic Press, 2017) New Directions in Diaspora Studies (edited with Ana Cristina Mendes and Lucinda Newns, Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), Comedy and the Politics of Representation: Mocking the Weak (edited with Helen Davies; Palgrave 2018), and multiple journal articles and book chapters.
Dr Sarah Ilott
Role: Senior Lecturer in Literature and Film
Organisation: Manchester Metropolitan University
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