The Inbetweeners isn’t peak British humour, it’s tone-deaf and offensive
Leave it in 2010 where it belongs
As the Black Lives Matter movement reaches a global fever pitch, racism within the entertainment industry in the UK is being called out, as it should be. However, the current trend of removing racially-insensitive, British comedy TV shows, like Little Britain and Come Fly With Me, from streaming platforms has left Union Jack Twitter severely triggered. Apparently you’re a huge snowflake if you don’t think white actors taking the piss out of black people is funny.
While this is happening, rumours are going around about late-noughties staple sitcom, The Inbetweeners, being taken off streaming sites because of its problematic content. Fans of the show have noticed official highlights from the show being removed on YouTube, so assumptions have been made and conclusions have been jumped to that The Inbetweeners is being “cancelled”.
If people would just do a simple Google, they would find The Inbetweeners still ready and waiting to be streamed on All 4 and Britbox. The actual reason for clips of the show being taken down on YouTube is a change of ownership rights in the UK, not the show’s undeniably homophobic, misogynistic and ableist undertones fans claim should be overlooked.
Spreading untrue rumours of the show being “cancelled” right now is insensitive to the current conversation about racism in British pop culture. But, seeing as some people just can’t resist sticking their oar in, and while we’re on the topic, let’s talk about all the reasons the humour of The Inbetweeners just doesn’t sit right in 2020.
The constant gay jokes were exhausting
No one is perfect when it comes to enabling the humour of TV shows like this; if you were in secondary school at the close of the 2000s, you probably thought a smashed Will calling Neil’s dad a “bumder” was hilarious because everyone did.
Turning a homophobic slur into an easily disseminated pun is no joke though, and any gay kid who was in school as the show was airing will tell you how damaging hearing that word being thrown around in corridors was to their self-esteem, even if they joined in too.
From Jay consistently making a point to embarrass Neil for having a seemingly gay dad, to the casual microaggressions of things or people being “gay” – and not in a good way – the homophobic language of the characters in The Inbetweeners made sure gay viewers knew they couldn’t find any comfort in this show.
There’s no point arguing homophobic characters are okay because they satirise real life homophobes either, when there aren’t any characters who vocally oppose them. The saddest part is, the same indifference to casual homophobia was present in the actual culture of British schools in 2010, which The Inbetweeners only fuelled.
Girls are way more than just their sex lives (except at Rudge Park)
Sure, everyone laughs at Jay being a sexist pig who compulsively lies about degrading women rather than with him. Sure, girls are sometimes portrayed on the show as being in control of their sexuality (see: Tara’s whole character arc). But why is every scene with a female character punctuated by a dumb joke about her boobs?
Granted, sex and girls and sex with girls do genuinely take up a big chunk of a straight, hormonal teenage guy’s thinking time, and The Inbetweeners themselves definitely reflect this. But, if Netflix’s Sex Education taught us anything, it’s that attraction to women can be shown without misogynistic stereotypes, and women can and do have exactly the same kinds of attraction. Unfortunately, The Inbetweeners’ reign as the peak of lad culture in the UK still lends itself to opinions like this:
To be fair, the pro-female empowerment in Sex Education would probably not have been written a decade ago, and The Inbetweeners was released way before the Me Too era. These programmes are products of their time, and that’s kinda the whole point; we shouldn’t be still be hailing The Inbetweeners as the greatest British comedy ever when we know there are better ways to do it now.
Disabled people aren’t just the punchline of a joke
Here’s where it gets a bit stickier, because when the show’s plot involves disabled people it’s usually for the purpose of making Will, Jay, Simon or Neil look like a dickhead, which even the biggest proponents of the show surely can agree with.
On that basis, we can’t really say disabled people are humiliated by the show or bear the brunt of its humour. But, when disabled characters and extras are only written into the story to make viewers laugh at the very able-bodied main characters, it’s clear they only serve as context for jokes that people shouldn’t find funny, but do.
When Will accidentally throws a frisbee in a disabled girl’s face, you might not be laughing at her, but you’re laughing at Will for embarrassing himself because we’re all meant to feel sorry for the girl. Disability doesn’t equal fragility and if your only experience of disabled people was this show you wouldn’t know better.
Whether you like it or not, The Inbetweeners was a formative part of youth culture in the UK 10 years ago. It’s impossible to separate the show from its context and its intention – to make the average British lad laugh. It’s really no surprise The Inbetweeners achieved this by using people who didn’t fit that mould as the punchline of its jokes, especially by 2010’s standards.
Taking this programme off streaming services (which is not happening, before you go on a huge rant about how gay people and women are snowflakes) wouldn’t actually do anything in the name of making entertainment more inclusive and less problematic. But, if you’re upholding a show built on the premise of gayness being embarrassing and women being sexual objects as your favourite show to this day, you might want to re-evaluate why you find alienating people who are different to you so funny.