Why Matt Lucas' spoof of Boris Johnson on GBBO felt soggy
- Credit: Channel 4
Nothing focuses our attention on our national identity more that an existential threat to our homeland’s existence, such as warfare, radical constitutional change, or the effects of a lethal pandemic on national health and economic self-esteem; nothing, that is, except for baking competition held in a plastic marquee in the grounds of an English country house hotel.
Nearly eight million viewed the first episode of 2020’s season of the Great British Bake Off – a million up on last year’s Olympics of orality. Could this be a function of the replacement, as presenter, of wisecracking Sandi Toksvig by my old mucker, the farceur Matt Lucas? I hope so, for Matt’s sake, because he’s had a tough enough time in recent years, what with his Little Britain series being retrospectively condemned as a an example of transphobic, disablist and even racist tropes, rather than the sharp slice of satire we all thought it was when it first aired.
It always seemed a little rough to me that Lucas, who’s gay, Jewish and has suffered since childhood from whole-body alopecia (I shared a dressing room with him, so can confirm this is the absolute truth), should have to bear the weight of these accusations. But then I suppose I believe a sort of ‘negative intersectionality’ should obtain in these multicultural times, whereby the privileges accruing to one aspect of one’s identity are offset by the prejudices attaching to another. At any rate, you certainly see such a principle operating in contemporary discourse at the moment; the end result of which must be, surely, a sort of Caucus race, whereby all win the prizes afforded by their bespoke ressentiment.
If not the weekly accolade of ‘Star Baker’: namely she or he who has most artfully folded themselves into the communal dough, and thereby added exactly the right levure to make the show rise into the glassy empyrean. We watched the first episode last week – my French partner being exposed to this, the Little Britain de nos jours for the first time. Yes, because while Lucas’s former show may have featured implausible transvestites, a sprinting paraplegic and cultural appropriation verging on outright theft; nonetheless, in common with Bake Off, it aimed to present a synecdoche of Britain: part-for-whole, and whole-for-part.
My partner, whose lockdown sojourn in England has coincided, unsurprisingly, with a progressive deterioration in the Anglophilia which initially propelled her in this direction, was utterly charmed by the ‘Britishness’ of Bake Off – and sophisticated observer of the nation as she is, she understood that the principle of inclusiveness – all classes, creeds, orientations and ethnicities are putatively present – is meaningful only in conjunction with the rule of enforced exclusion. Yes, for every star baker who ascends to the heavens, there must be a purveyor of soggy-bottoms who’s ejected from the tent; a marquee that in this season is doubly metonymic, representing not simply the nation in all its happy contrariety, but also in its commitment to social distancing.
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Filmed over three months under conditions of utmost secrecy, the contestants, crew, presenters and bakery experts were confined to a further bubble within which this bubble-like edifice was erected. So it is that Bake Off 2020 also represents the need – in the year that Britain leaves the European Union – to consider the nation as very definitely an island, one cut off from the mane by durable and water resistant (yet flexible) polyurethane. Is it any wonder that with this potent series of tropes and attendant signifiers in play, the show has managed to capture so many viewers? You don’t have to be Marshall McLuhan (who, I may remind you, baked a meanly fluffy Victoria sponge in his time), to comprehend that the message of a competitive cookery show transmitted by a national broadcaster, is, um, nationalism – even if that sentiment is sugar-coated.
Indeed, the nationalistic flavour of Bake Off, far from being undermined, was rather underscored by the little segment preceding the first episode in which Matt Lucas reprised his notorious impersonation of Boris Johnson fluffing his way through a bewildering series of self-contradictory injunctions regarding self-isolation. Lucas had originally put out this spoof on his own Twitter feed following the announcement of lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic – and as such, it represented a genuine piece of satire, if by this is meant a pasquinade aimed at afflicting its object, and comforting those who are, in turn, afflicted by him.
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But by the time Matt Lucas appeared, sandwiched in between the prime minister’s own statement and the aforementioned cookery programme, his shtick had frankly turned to everything we expect from a soggy bottom – namely, s**t. Context is everything, and to lampoon the prime minister as a preamble to a feel-good show explicitly intended to bolster national solidarity by cause of its inclusiveness is only to include him and his disastrous policies in general taste yummy, feel-good mix. It’s as if to assert that Mr Johnson makes exceedingly good cakes – and, by cause of that, despite whatever difficulties he may have with presentation, he makes exceedingly good policies as well.
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