Four Reasons Why…
So what has caused comedy to come to this point? You could blame the government, society, images on TV, or – to make this gag really obvious – you could even blame Canada. But ripping off South Park aside, I propose four reasons why modern comedy targets those it does.
1. The Legacy of Empire
Granted, this reason is rather specific to Britain, but it does make quite a bit of sense. As the British Empire began to break up in the 1950s and 1960s, comedies began to take on a more fatalistic and acid tone. The Goon Show, perhaps the most influential comedy show since the Second World War, became steadily darker as the characters grew more extreme in their predicaments and more desperate in their desire to escape. This coincided with the prime of Samuel Beckett, whose droll comedies like Endgame and Krapp’s Last Tape emphasised the total futility of all existence rather than the ability of anyone to succeed.
As immigration increased and industry declined, Britain’s position as a land of opportunity on which the sun never sets was replaced with a feeling of resentment and malaise – a feeling that the glory days were never coming back, and none of it was our fault. Fast-forward to today and you see that this malaise has translated into our cut-throat commercialism; we figured that since we’ll all be consumed by either terrorism or global warming, there’s no point cutting anyone any slack.
2. Social Fragmentation Through Technology
Technology may not be the sole cause for social change through history, but in the early-21st century its rapid advances may have accelerated it. We are no longer living in an age where the prime time family show on BBC could draw an audience of 14 million people; heck, we’re not even living in an age of family programming any more. The pursuit of demographic profiling and targeting audiences has become more extreme and exaggerated, and as audiences become more divided they become more possessive of programmes and technology aimed at them. In an age of personalisation, compromising to do what the whole family wants is seen as weak and old-fashioned.