The sudden death of Rik Mayall on Monday saddened me as it simultaneously threw me back into a giggling classroom of 16 year old girls imitating Rik, Vyvyan, Neil and Mike from The Young One’s.
I often use the term ‘bastard’ ironically and was reminded I got that from his co-star Ade Edmonson, when I read him quoted as saying: “There were times when Rik and I were writing together when we almost died laughing. Now he’s died for real, selfish bastard.”
On a totally separate theme (but bear with me for a few hundred words – this does go somewhere), the treatment of women in many societies including ours, has also been in the forefront of my mind this week:
Last week’s Bite Size Memoir Challenge resulted in tales of First Jobs as initiation to a misogynistic world of work; then Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague and Actor Angelina Jolie have been campaigning at the four-day global summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict (ESVC) in London; And I’ve also been reminded with the story highlighting the terrible treatment of ‘fallen women’ and their children in Ireland, how many religions demonise women; how men’s ‘sins’ are cause for joke and camaraderie whereas women’s, seen as expression of evil and cause for banishment.
I know this is and has never been, all men and there are some wonderful men in my life. I had that first job in Productivity Services because a man was brave enough to stir up a whole department by throwing in a few women and even worse – some women graduates. He told me a couple of years later, when I had a major falling out with a rather senior manager, I was a further wild card – that my personality profile showed I was rebellious!
“No-one else was prepared to take the risk but I knew there was something about you.”
Many of the men in that department were in and out of his office with misogynistic complaints about our abilities, progress and promotions. He coached and cajoled them, fought our corner and reinforced we were up to it. Behind closed doors, I daren’t imagine the tactics were entirely ‘feminist’ but influence doesn’t often come from standing firmly in a dark and lonely corner.
I wonder why we cannot accept each other, build upon our individual strengths to get the very best out of everybody, instead of putting down others be they men, women, black, white, gay, heterosexual, old, young, accountants, lawyers or whatever, just to feel better about ourselves?
It troubles me how the feminist movement ended up with us trying to pretend men and women are the same to ensure equality of opportunity and value. Why would I need to burn a perfectly comfortable and supporting bra to show I was as good as a man? Why can’t we each bring our strengths to society rather than equalising the playing field by rubbishing our differences.
Rachel Allen touches on the feminist dynamic as she explores some of the stereotypes around lesbianism in a humorous post 9 Things Assumed When I Say Lesbian and I was reminded how humour serves to facilitate an inch by inch change of mindset within society, even if it doesn’t influence every individual.
..Anyway, before I break my own rule of ‘posts under 1000 words’, I promised this would all go somewhere. There isn’t time here to get to grips with these questions, but I thought I’d come back to one of Rik Mayall’s totally brilliant characters – the rather sexist Lord Flashhart from the British comedy series Blackadder.
Geoff Le Pard discusses Rik Mayall’s death in a post for Sonnet Saturday and pointed me to Jenni’s Weekend Laughter Challenge on her blog Unload and Unwind – This week she asks for people to post something funny in tribute to Rik Mayall.
So in a very roundabout way, Rik Mayall’s stereotyped character, Flashheart brings his death and my constant search for progress in the ever continuing struggle between men and women, to close an improbable, inappropriate and incomplete circle!
Mayall and his writing partner Adrian Edmondson began their careers at London’s Comedy Store, with an intention to reinvent British comedy, having grown tired of the industry’s reliance on racism and misogyny. Small steps are sometimes hard to see but when you look back it’s sometimes easier to see the progress.
And humour does influence that progress – it’s often the bridge or voice for difficult and opposing views, it can highlight the ridiculous. And so: Please sit back, take a pinch of salt and laugh at this man’s genius.
And – if you’ve time, a glimpse of the history behind the Young One’s in this 2012 interview of Rik Mayall with scriptwriter Ben Elton – taken from a Channel 4 documentary – Laughing at the 80’s
June 17, 2014 at 4:48 am
I’m sorry to have missed the genius of Rik Mayall until his passing. There is something about humor that allows us to examine what is and what is not right about it. Yet, I’ve also seen humor used in the reverse (such as misogynists making fun of women in cruel ways) as if to indoctrinate the next generation into believing in its normalcy. For a man to focus his comedic career to break the silence of those gender biases by reversing who is made fun of, is indeed genius and brave. I hope it frees the next generations–young men who can gracefully accept women as valuable and young women who can feel valuable without having to disgrace men. Great post and comments.
June 17, 2014 at 12:13 pm
You make a very good point about humour indoctrinating youth (and others) with society or group wide views. It’s such a powerful media and we must have evolved it, as a species, for ‘a reason’ – Perhaps because it always links ‘information’ to feel good emotions and a sense of sharing, that causes a stronger ‘learning’. And if the ‘herd’, ‘pack’ or whatever we are collectively, is laughing – the need to join in and be seen to join in is quite a powerful thing.
Thanks Charli – that’s when this comedy crosses a difficult line – when perhaps some of the audience don’t entirely get the joke!
October 28, 2014 at 6:37 pm
Despite playing sexist stereotypes it’s always been very clear that these were parodies, showing misogynism for what it is; ridiculous.
I also saw an interview with Dawn French in which she states he criticiesd the gender pay gap http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-27810944 .
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October 30, 2014 at 5:41 pm
Thanks for finding and commenting on this old post of mine and for sharing this clip. A warm tribute from Dawn French and interesting to hear he took a stand on women’s pay back then.
June 15, 2014 at 10:47 pm
Great post Lisa.
June 15, 2014 at 11:04 pm
Thanks Irene 😊
June 14, 2014 at 8:02 pm
Thank you for taking part in this weekend’s challenge. I understand completely where you are coming from in the area of feminism and popular culture. His character showcases the extremes of sexism and is hilarious at the same time. I’ve always found it odd myself that for a great many feminists to assume that ‘equality’ means ignoring any differences in the genders. For my part I see it more as Ying and Yang, essential to the balance of the world, each valuable and necessary and deserving of respect. It’s more than women moving into typically male dominated work places it is showing the women can bring something different and equally valuable to the roles. As you said I see no need to burn by bra [in fact I’m rather fond of nifty underclothes] to prove I can do my job. My skills give me that without having to diminish my image of myself as a woman. Look forward to reading more of your work and hope to see you at Unload and Unwind again.
June 15, 2014 at 8:52 am
Thanks Jenni, Your weekend challenge turned out to be quite the vehicle to pull my week together and not leave Rik Mayall’s early death unrecognised. I think humour does much to smooth the passage of change and men recognising the worst of their counterparts in characters like Flashheart, do quite a bit to raise awareness of their ridiculousness! There are of course ‘raving feminists’ with their misandric approach that only serve to exacerbate other extreme stereotypes of women. I know it is to over simplify feminism by reducing it to the ‘burning bra’ 😊 And I suspect history will show we are yet in relatively early days in understanding the full routes of and out of society’s uneasy sexism. There’ll always be some tension, I think as there are very primeval human ‘needs’ to belong to groups ‘like us’ and in finding the comfort of that identity, some will always have the need to label others as ‘them’ not us.
June 15, 2014 at 10:32 am
I’m sure you’re right about how much further we have to go and I understand what you mean by the need some feel to place labels. It’s as if to define who they are they first must label who they aren’t – odd but not going to change any time soon, eventually it will but not soon.
June 14, 2014 at 7:52 pm
My dear old grandmother, a sweet Brethren lady who didn’t graduate from high school, was kind, thoughtful and protective. And she had a simple explanation about misogyny.
She said it was so very sad that some men were, deep inside, threatened by and jealous of women, of their ability to have that first strongest bond with the babies they carried in their bodies and were able to feed. So men lowered that ability to servant status in self defense, but some men in groups and cultures were so hard-hearted and inferior that they set up entire rituals to hurt women and young girls.
She said in every case, she thought it would only be very strong and brave women who would stop this horrible abuse.
I always thought her insights were spot on.
June 15, 2014 at 9:09 am
Our grandmothers were exposed to the more extreme acceptance of ‘a woman’s place’ and their vantage point to observe and comment is clearer as a result. You do indeed see shifts in relationships when children come into them and there is unfortunately a human tendency to put down others to make one’s own position feel more comfortable. I feel she’s right but the unpicking of it to see what is conscious, unconscious or genetic or cultural is a complex one to tease apart in order to rebalance to where many women and men would like it to be – I see the social scientists don’t necessarily agree on everything!
Thank you for stopping by Marylin, Lisa x
June 14, 2014 at 7:48 pm
Brilliant post Lisa. I will look at the clips later.