We are entering an age where we are able look back on the early 2000’s with nostalgia. There are themed club nights, themed Spotify playlists, distinct fashions that we are only now beginning to recycle. We are able to do this because we recognise that the 2000s were a different time with a fundamentally different moral and aesthetic sensibility. But not everything survives this paradigm shift, and there are cultural artefacts that will be left out of the noughties renaissance. One of these is Monkey Dust, a late-night BBC Three animated sketch show that the BBC would rather you forgot.
Whilst on the surface, Monkey Dust is an ugly cartoon sketch show that hasn’t aged well, it is far more significant. It is self-aware in its vulgarity, poking fun at the worst aspects of society in hilarious callousness treading where no contemporary comedy would dare. The show first aired from 2003 to 2005 and has not been aired on screens since, likely because most sketches portray sexism, racism, and just about anything that would result in a Twitter uproar. As a result, the series has been relinquished to the dark unmoderated corners of YouTube.
So what makes it so tasteless? Many recurring characters are vulgar stereotypes such as Jeff the “first time cottager” whose desperate attempts to engage in homosexual acts always end in comic misfortune. Many jokes make light of now sensitive issues like the two rubbish terrorists who go from planning their suicide in the name of Jihad to discussing trash TV and eating Findus crispy pancakes:
“Who do you think will win stars in their eyes Omar?”
“They will all die in a sea of blood”
“Shall I not bother voting then?”
It is easy to accuse the show of racism but it is careful never to take sides; just as it lampoons Islamic Fundamentalism, it tears apart whitewashed Richard Curtis films for being dominated by posh trust fund babies, comically implying that all ethnic characters are forcibly removed to preserve the aura so that a cartoon Hugh Grant can prance around as his irritatingly oblivious self. This is where the brilliance of Monkey Dust lies. The show drags everyone down to its level of cynicism and pessimism to deconstruct the hidden side of contemporary morality and all its hypocrisy, always doing so with genuine wit and insight. There are sketches mocking taking shots at self-important cyclists (portrayed as alien-human hybrids who boast about being environmentally friendly whilst wearing Lycra clothes from a sweat shop), trigger happy Hollywood movies that are overtly racist, and Middle Class moralists who condemn prostitution whilst secretly harbouring paedophilic desire (watch a sketch called House Call if you dare.)
Needless to say, it would never be made today. The humour is too crass and runs the risk of causing offence despite many jokes still being painfully relevant. Another recurring gag highlights the NHS being depressingly underfunded to equally comic and tragic effect. But looking back at Monkey Dust is a strangely nostalgic experience despite the fact the show lavishes in the darkest aspects of society. The last thing its creators wanted is to make viewers long for the world it caricatures; but the show came from a Britain that hadn’t undergone the 7/7 bombings or Operation Yewtree, and consequently didn’t realise the horrors of terrorism or know the full extent of paedophilia in the entertainment industry. This is clear to see in how callous the show’s creators are in mocking these issues: nothing is too tragic that it cannot be laughed at. The same cannot be said today.
Monkey Dust is truly a relic from a lost time. It can tell us more about our society today than any pseudo political comedian ever could.
Image: K.Mitch Hodge via Unsplash