Citizen Khan is not just outdated, but lazy and offensive
Is Citizen Khan offensive? Yes, and not because of its treatment of religion but because it patronises its audience by flogging dead jokes and dumb stereotypes. It is offensive for parading as a shiny new comedy when its biggest failure is its lack of originality and wit, which, you’d think, would be a pre-requisite for any new comedy series.
That it is a ‘Muslim’ comedy, dealing in such freighted motifs as the Koran, the hijab and the interior of a mosque, is not its crime. This could have marked its boldness – to take on such subjects in our politically-charged times and turn them into cutting-edge comedy that has something relevant, even provocative, to say. Chris Morris’s satire, Four Lions, was all about ‘Muslims’ – suicide bombers, no less – and all the British Muslims I spoke to, including the former Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg, found it funny. Who can remember it being described as offensive?
Comedy has often grappled with religion, and long may it do so. Father Ted and The Vicar of Dibley, two long-running shows that might be said – in all gentleness – to send up the church, work well because they are well-written and witty, just like Four Lions.
Many of the complaints about Citizen Khan have not revolved around religion. Viewers have been offended by the lazy cultural stereotyping. Some have argued that this veers on borderline racism. While I’m not convinced it is racist comedy, I am convinced it is stuck in the past. The script is rehashed, the characters are rehashed, even the canned laughter sounds like it’s out of the ‘70s.
Why, when some of its writers worked on that other British Asian comedy series, Goodness Gracious Me, did it not manage to replicate its brilliance? Broadcast in the 1990s, it was far funnier and far edgier in the way it simultaneously exploited cultural stereotypes and sent them up. It sparkled with irreverence from its skits on “arranged shags” to its Indian family going out to eat an “English”.
Playing with stereotype can make for close-to-the-bone comedy. Woody Allen did it in his early films, and he was accused of being a self-loathing Jew. Sacha Baron Cohen has made a career in perfecting the art of presenting/sending up the racial stereotype with his satirical creations of Ali G, Borat, et al. Citizen Khan just settles for giving us the stereotype as cardboard cut-out, without doing anything nearly as clever or subversive.
It is no surprise that its first episode made for good ratings. The BBC1 show was watched by 3.6million viewers – but it has already seen nearly 200 complaints sent to the BBC after it was shown yesterday.
I suspect many British Muslims tuned in, hoping to recognise something of themselves, have a laugh at their own foibles, as well as the foibles of those around them. Growing up in the ‘70s, my family would tune into Mind Your Language, however racist it looked and sounded, and face a sad kind of reality – that this was how they were seen – as ignorant, buffoonish immigrants. It’s sadder that so many decades on, we’re tuning into the same thing.Tagged in: Citizen Khan, four lions, Goodness Gracious Me, Koran, Mind Your Language, muslim, racism, Religion, stereotypes, the hijab
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