Edinburgh Comedy Fest Live,
BBC Three, 22 January 2012
A complainant wrote to the BBC about the performance of a song in the above programme. The song was Christians in Love by Dead Cat Bounce.
It’s pretty clear, they’ve no idea what they’re doing
But it’s their wedding night, and they’re determined to get through it
Christians in love
Rolling around like a couple if pigs in a barrel
Christians in love
Flapping about like a couple of trout in a Puddle
Like a chimpanzee at a buffet car,
They’re just grabbing at things before they know what they are
And seeing if they can fit them in their mouths
Like a pony trapped in a broken lift,
They’ve no idea what buttons they’ve pressed
They’re just enjoying going up and down
And they’re making neighing sounds
And as the daybreak looms, their crazy passion knows no limit
Cause neither one of them, know how they’re meant to know they’re finished
Christians in Love
Compliant to BBC Audience Services
The complainant quoted some of the lyrics stating that they were offensive to Christians and questioned whether any other religion would be treated the same way.
In reply, BBC Audience Services explained that the BBC provided programmes for a whole range of viewers with different tastes in humour. Some programmes would occasionally strike some viewers as distasteful. The BBC did not believe that religion should be off- limits for humorists. Such depictions were often exaggerated and far from the truth and there was no intention to mock the essence of religion.
The complainant wrote again on two further occasions asking for the content to be removed from the programme on the grounds that it was offensive to Christians.
BBC Audience Services replied saying that the complaint had been discussed with the BBC’s Executive Producer. They explained that Dead Cat Bounce was a comedy rock group who covered a diverse range of subjects and their brand of musical comedy fell into thesilly fun category, rather than cruel or degrading . The song Christians in Love portrayed a newlywed Christian couple who were somewhat naive about sexual mores. The song was not meant maliciously and was rather benign in its portrayal of a well established stereotype. The BBC went on to explain that this show had been broadcast around a dozen times and they had only received six complaints about this particular performance which indicated that the majority of viewers took it in the spirit intended
Compliant to the Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU)
The complainant then wrote to the Editorial Complaints Unit saying that he found the song offensive and asking for it not to be broadcast in future. He said the song portrayed Christians as dopey and animalistic, comparing them to pigs . The complainant was also concerned that the BBC was practising double-standards, and he asked whether this song would be broadcast if the word Muslim was substituted for Christian .
An ECU Complaints Director considered the complaint in relation to the BBC Editorial Guidelines on Harm and Offence, specifically Portrayal. However, the Complaints Director said the questions raised about alleged double-standards at the BBC did not fall under the Guidelines and consequently were not part of the ECU’s remit.
The Complaints Director explained that the Guidelines did not prohibit the broadcasting of offensive material, but did require editorial justification which in this case the comedic context provided. He said that Christianity itself was not being mocked, but a perceived stereotype about Christian attitudes to sex. The metaphors used in the song were designed to provoke laughter through absurd images and not provide any serious comparison with Christians having sex. On this basis, the ECU did not believe that these absurd observations would have caused any serious offence and any residual offence was more than offset by comic effect. This kind of humour fell well within the established audience expectations for a comedy programme like this.
Appeal to the BBC Trust’
The complainant escalated his complaint to the BBC Trust, quoting the lyrics from the Dead Cat Bounce’s performance which he said, as a Christian, he found offensive. He said that:
- The lyrics were dehumanising, describing Christians as animals sexually and were aimed directly at Christians, not their beliefs and attitudes. The song was snide and mocked Christians portraying them as wet and incompetent.
- The editorial justification used by the ECU was unjust and hypocritical as this material would not be allowed by the BBC if it had been aimed at other groups.
The complainant reiterated that he wanted this performance removed from broadcast.
The Head of Editorial Standards noted that the group Dead Cat Bounce had established a reputation on the comedy circuit, performing at many festivals and winning awards. They were known for their outlandish lyrics which set out to poke fun at stereotypes and banal situations. Recent examples had included driving lessons and orthopaedic shoes. She said that whilst some viewers may not be aware of this background, the majority of viewers would not be surprised at this group appearing in a programme covering the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, featuring alternative comedy.
The Head of Editorial Standards said that, whilst the lyrics of the particular song which the complainant had highlighted may not be to every viewer’s taste, they did not appear to be attacking the faith and belief of Christianity, but used simile and metaphor to create an absurd picture of naive love-making. Given this context, the Head of Editorial Standards believed it was unlikely that the majority of viewers would have found the song offensive.
Editorial Standards Committee Decision
The Committee noted that the ECU and the Head of Editorial Standards had noted the audience expectations for BBC Three and the group who performed the song and argued that there was editorial justification for the broadcast of such material. The Committee agreed that the BBC had demonstrated the editorial justification for including the group and this song in the programme. The Committee considered that the song was not attacking the faith and belief of Christianity, or Christians in general, but could be seen as using similes to play on the familiar comic construct of incompetent lovers on their wedding night. The Committee did not agree that the use of such comic similes as trout flapping in a puddle and pigs in a barrel was necessarily dehumanising to Christians, intentionally or otherwise. The Committee was mindful that in the second half of the song the object of the comedy was clearly the absurd image of a four-piece band, which had been playing at the wedding, somehow ending up singing unnoticed in the en-suite bathroom of the newlyweds. The Committee agreed that there was no reasonable prospect of success for an appeal on the basis that there had been a breach of the Guidelines on Harm and Offence or Portrayal.
The Committee therefore decided this appeal did not qualify to proceed for consideration.