Thursday, 30 January 2014

Outrageous! BBC One's 'Outnumbered' pokes fun at outnumbered allergic kids!

Last night I was watching 'Outnumbered.' For those who aren't familiar with it, it's a sitcom featuring a family - Mum, Dad and three kids. For a more detailed synopsis see here.

In the past I've found it amusing and I was a bit upset to hear that the current series is to be the last ever - although to be fair, I hadn't found most recent episodes as funny as I used to. However, I've now decided that perhaps it should go after all... after last night's episode. 

I was such a fan - look what The Hub bought me for Christmas the other year!

It was the allergy gags that did it.

Halfway through, enter the allergic child. We don't know this at first. First we learn that she is called 'Esme' and is nerdy and objectionable - we are encouraged to dislike her - especially when she attempts to drop Karen (the main girl character) in it with her parents. Chatting with folks on Twitter I hear that this is common - allergy = nerdy character on TV or in films. 

Hang on?? Really?? Every time?? What's all that about?? 


The subject of ice cream comes up. The father offers Karen and Esme some ice cream. Karen says that her class mate can't have it because she's lactose intolerant. Cake is then offered but Karen says no, Esme can't have that because she's allergic to nuts and her face will puff up. Karen then does a supposedly funny, but clearly sarcastic, impersonation of someone's head swelling as a result. Karen then declares that Esme would then need a 'stab' from an epipen (it's the way it's depicted - all in the tone, trust me). 

The offending nerdy allergic class mate exits the scene, as Karen's mother decides to take her home. Karen then confides to her father that she wanted ice cream whilst Esme was still there, so that she could eat it in front of her. And he (responsible adult) AGREES!

Now, you might say, 'Oh, it's just a joke, don't be so sensitive etc. etc.' But it was all a bit close to home... because the incident with the ice cream - well that rang so true, due to an incident between my little girl and her slightly older cousin. 

Said cousin decided to taunt 'Baby' by overdoing the 'Mmmm! Mmmm!' whilst eating chocolate ice cream in front of her - in a restaurant, when she KNEW that 'Baby' couldn't have one. In her toddler innocence, 'Baby' just thought that her cousin was really enjoying the ice cream and so her cousin didn't get the rise out of her that she intended, but later on, as she grows up, she unfortunately will. 

I cannot describe the pain in my heart and anger I felt towards my niece's shameless exhibitionism. I was desperate for 'Baby' not to feel hurt and left out.

However, in a sense 'Baby' and me are more fortunate - it may just be our feelings that are hurt. It was the bit with the peanut allergy that horrified me. This I regard as extremely irresponsible on the part of the show's writers etc. I'm pretty sure that older children, and teenagers may have been watching this programme - it went out at 9pm. As another 'allergy mum' on Twitter and I agreed, the last thing we need is tweens and teenagers (and immature adults, for that matter) to find it funny and decide to emulate this behaviour. 
The thing is, MOST tweens, teens etc. are perhaps unlikely to follow this bad example, but it only takes one. And, then, what if they decide to take things one step further to see what happens? 

It only takes one.

Anaphylactic reactions can kill - it happens. We see it reported in the press all too frequently.

Now, I'm not saying that jokes can't be made about allergies - I love following Howard the Celeriac - his cartoons about living with coeliacs are ruefully funny.

But watching the episode back, to try and decide how offensive the allergy gags really were, I couldn't help noticing that Jake (the older boy in the family) too the Dad (played by Hugh Dennis) into account over a throwaway remark he made about Italians - highlighting it's racism. So it's alright to contradict one form of prejudice, but not another?

I analysed the jokes about other 'types' in the show. The jokes about politicians/actors? Well, they put themselves in the public eye, don't they? So you can kind of expect them to be fair game, but allergic children?? 

Allergic children (and adults whilst we're at it) don't wake up one morning deciding to be allergic for the fun of it, or to freak everyone out. They are born with it or develop it! It can't be helped! It's hard enough as it is, having to watch other people eat things that you would love to be able to eat, but can't; to know that as you are in the minority, 'outnumbered' by 'normal' people, the food industry just won't cater for you in the way that they cater for others, and to know that people in general (through ignorance) will misunderstand and misrepresent you.

Just as we might consider ill-considered jokes about race or deformity repugnant etc. etc. negative jokes about allergies must too be rejected (unless it's made by the person concerned). It's just not funny to 'mock the afflicted'. (Oh and just to be clear, I'm not ascribing people of a different race as 'afflicted'.)

As Disney discovered recently.

If you too are horrified by this episode of 'Outnumbered', please contact the BBC to let them know. I find it somewhat ironic that the day after this episode is aired BBC news heralds a possible new treatment for peanut allergy sufferers...

Recommended reading:
Disney Thinks Bullying a Gluten Free Child is Funny by 'Gluten Free Dude'


  1. We were also extremely offended by Outnumbered last night.As the parents of three children- two on the autistic spectrum and one with a severe nut allergy, the 'gags' were not funny, just very offensive.

    1. Thank you for leaving a comment Nikki. Other feedback suggests we are not the only ones to find this offensive. Please contact the BBC and let them know that allergic children should not be made the butt of other peoples' jokes, as it's hard enough for them already! Makes me wish that the EU had passed a recent suggestion that Allergic Diseases should be counted as a disability - 'cos then it would be viewed as exactly what it is - another form of discrimination.

  2. I watched it too and I kind of agree. Karen wanting to eat the ice cream in front of the other girl I kind of got but she's not a kid anymore she's a teenager isn't she? Old enough to know better maybe, but her character is to be very direct and confrotational and say the stuff noone else would. The other girl wasn't even really her friend, thrown together in a desparate bid to make them be friends. But it was the father who just seemed to think it was OK to humiliate and taunt an allergic person that offended me. And yes, despite the fact that allergies are growing there are hardly EVER any people with allergies in normal life on TV because it's not cool, it's not exciting, it's boring. They only EVER nerdy, vegan, hippy or freaks. Why is that? I am only one of these three things (nerdy) and I'm proud of being nerdy. Being nerdy is a good thing. Really... I am quite cross about this too. I love outnumbered but both me and my husband decided, after this episode that it was going down hill fast, it's not funny, it's offensive and if this is the last episode I am pleased to see it go. I will complain to the BBC too because whilst I don't mind jokes, they took it too far. Why couldn't karen have an allergy maybe?