Content Note: This contains discussion and a video of discussion of potential sexual assault
Does anyone remember ‘Chums’? It’s a very British institution, a parody of Friends that was broadcast on ITV as part of the Saturday morning kids programme SMTV:Live. I used to watch that show with my brother religiously because everyone knew ITV was where all the good cartoons were. We especially loved Chums though, because it was ridiculous and the live nature of the filming meant that we felt like we were watching friends (haha, but that was genuinely unintended). It was part of what Saturday mornings and the weekend meant to me as a child and so I had fond memories.
Childhood is like that – if you’re middle-class and live in relative privilege it becomes the time you keep turning to for good feelings. You have hope and possibility and no worries and genuine enthusiasm for silly things. Some people have smells that draw them back to this time, a lot have shows such as Pokémon, or old Playstation games (remember Rayman? It was the one game I was fairly competent at).
I suppose that this is why in the first year of university, homesick and lost in a different country I decided to go and find something from my childhood to watch. A nice comforting memory to stand in for the friends and family I had left behind. I picked Chums, since I figured that I would get the humour now as well. And I sort-of did, though the laughs were more because I was in a silly mood and feeling like I was transported back to sitting cross-legged on the white shag carpet. That sentiment was interrupted when I clicked on yet another episode only to bear witness to Ant encouraging Dec to attempt to strip a passed out Cat so they could see her breasts. Maybe more, I don’t know where they were going with it exactly.
As a joke.
As a joke in a show for kids.
Of course Cat wakes up before anything happens (it is still aimed at children after all so we can show them boundaries laughed away, but never nipples) yet that doesn’t actually matter. It’s incredibly messed up that anyone thought that was acceptable as a gag regardless of the target audience (as a heads up, if you have ever been confused about what rape culture is, well – this is what rape culture is. It’s where we go “haha, they were going to violate that woman, isn’t it hilarious because she wouldn’t know”). And now I can’t think back to Saturday mornings without dwelling on what other damaging messages I may have obliviously absorbed.
Since then I’ve told many different people, and they all seem horrified, mainly because no-one can remember registering the actual implications behind this kind of humour. A few have vehemently denied that a children’s programme would do such a thing. Nobody wants to admit that part of their childhood was laughing at the idea of sexual assault.
Anyway, after years of avoiding trawling the internet for it, I finally I found it again. So here is my proof that this did happen:
As much as I would like it to be is not an isolated incident. I do not think these childhood betrayals are unique. Speaking to my mother she clearly remembers how her favourite book when she was young was ‘Little Black Sambo’ and a family favourite to watch was ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’. I was aghast that she could have thought this was okay but “everyone watched it” and childhood is a time when you don’t think further than yourself. It’s the responsibility of the society around you to protect you from this, but what do we do when the society around you doesn’t care?
Even in my youth I remember watching a show featuring a Gollywog in it – a grotesque racial caricature – and not thinking too much of it other than being a little scared. It took me until I was an adult to have a sudden realisation of what it actually represented. I think that’s the worst part – when you have privilege you just don’t even pick up on it because you’re not forced to. It’s only when you make yourself learn that you see all the terrible things that have been in plain sight. It’s why remembering your position and always striving to learn and listen is so key. It’s also why romanticising childhood is so bad – childhood is where all these murky ideas started to grow, and saying something was “of it’s time” is not an excuse. We have to know better.
It’s tough to watch your childhood destroy itself but you must. When you start seeing the flaws in everything is when you can start improving. Sure it tears holes in your nostalgia, but you need to honestly appreciate what the culture of the time wanted to teach you, and how wrong it was. And then you remember a time last year when people thought it was funny to try and get a girl to take her top off and you kept saying, over and over, that she didn’t have too. You see all the little links. They grew up on the same stuff but never got to the point where they questioned it.
I’m not saying you should have no fond memories, just that we should cast that adult eye – the one that calls their favourite show “problematic” because it is – and actually look hard at what we treasured, and still treasure now. Nostalgia is not and never will be worth the price of that girl’s dignity.