Despite David Walliams OBE selling 37 million copies of his children’s books worldwide, he has recently been condemned for their content. Jack Monroe, an activist and food writer, posted a thread on Twitter with quotations from the novels, claiming the stories are “sneering classist fat-shaming nonsense”.
The thread has now gone viral, especially since he and his Little Britain partner Matt Lucas have just apologised for using blackface in their shows. Similar themes and material have been reused in Walliams’ books, such as targeting the working class, and Monroe even called his novels “Little Britain for kids”.
Within the comedy genre, it is challenging to understand where to draw the line, as most stories draw upon stereotypes for humour, and are not intentionally mocking that entire category of people, nor expressing that everybody lives up to the negative stereotype. However, what we do know is that stereotypes can lead those who are out of touch with that specific group to generalise and assume, often resulting in prejudice.
In The World’s Worst Parents, which was published on 2 July, the wealthy white middle-class writer uses the mother’s working-class status as a joke, even though she expresses unlimited amounts of love for her two children. She is labelled as annoying because she is a cleaner and the family live in a tower block.
Surely today, where children are experiencing bullying more than ever because of social media, appearance-based insults would only inspire some to comment on others’ posts or shout them to people in the hallways
According to Monroe, there are no reasons why Supermum should be considered a terrible parent, and it seems as though the fact she is a single mum, who may be struggling financially, automatically gives her this title. I have not read the book, but if this is the case, this is an extremely classist view to be spoon-feeding children with, and this seems to be a reoccurring theme.
In the future, the children reading these books may associate these factors with all mothers in similar situations and therefore discriminate against them. This potential threat is a convincing reason why children should instead be encouraged to read books which defy stereotyping, teaching them anything is possible.
Lord Grandiose, in the same book, is described as: “Granville didn’t laugh exactly. If he found something funny, like the misfortune of poor people…”. Monroe reacts to this saying: “You what mate? Had to close the book at this point and have a small chat with my Small Boy about how ‘misfortune’ and ‘poverty’ aren’t punchlines for jokes”. Of course, this quotation is a sarcastic statement, playing on the ridiculous stereotype of a Lord, but we cannot forget that most children reading these books would be unaware of its meaning in-between-the-lines.
This is not the only stereotype Walliams relies on for laughs. Characters with glasses are continuously referred to as “four-eyes”, and some are called “fat” – both terms are used as insults with the aim of being funny to impressionable children. Surely today, where children are experiencing bullying more than ever because of social media, appearance-based insults would only inspire some to comment on others’ posts or shout them to people in the hallways.
In Millionaire Boy, the twelve-year-old protagonist has a 24-hour female masseuse. This image, of having a woman’s service whenever a man wishes, suggests women in such roles are disposable objects and are like any other item he desires, such as games or television.
Young boys reading this may think that women, specifically in the service industry, do not deserve any respect, and that they are rightly in control of a woman. Again, especially if they are not exposed to more stereotype defying characters, this may cause readers to absorb this mindset.
For a person with such fame and popularity, his broad audience could have been exposed to even more nuances and “real worlds”, rather than basic stereotyping for easy laughs
Another inappropriate mention is The Sun’s former “page 3 girls”. Monroe tweets “The Sun is a plot device! Because it gives our beloved author an opportunity to mention, in this book aimed at CHILDREN AGED SEVEN AND UP, that Mr Spud ‘handed an envelope to his son, without taking his eyes off the girl on Page 3” and “I find this incredibly odd, as DW has famously dated P3 girls, so using them as a punchline here, in a children’s book, feels rather grim.”
Children who are reading such statements will not know what a page 3 girl is, as they were banned a few years ago. This could lead to a somewhat awkward conversation with their parents if they wonder what they are, which is an objectification of women that could be avoided. It is highly inappropriate, and in some cases, it may lead to the young people searching online for their definition and reboot the cycle of appreciating images of women for their bodies and looks only.
Walliams’ publisher, Harper Collins, responded: “David Walliams’s books have a diverse readership which is reflected in their content. He writes about the real worlds of children using comedy as a way of confronting many difficult topics, from the ground-breaking The Boy in the Dress to Gangsta Granny, and which should be considered in the wider context of the overall stories.”
The Boy in the Dress was an exception to Walliams’ usual stereotyping, but as it received such a great response, it is hard to believe why he did not continue doing so. For a person with such fame and popularity, his broad audience could have been exposed to even more nuances and “real worlds”, rather than basic stereotyping for easy laughs.
However, a positive outcome from this viral thread is that many are now sharing their alternative author recommendations, such as those who defy gender stereotypes.