A Welsh local council has banned traditional Punch and Judy shows from a popular seaside resort as they are “inappropriate” and “trivialise domestic violence”.
Puppet shows featuring Pulcinella (Mr. Punch) and his wife Judy date back to 1662 in England, and even feature in the diaries Samuel Pepys. Since Victorian times, they have become a central part of traditional British seaside culture.
However, despite being light hearted, comedic and clearly fictional, the shows have been increasingly criticised by feminists and progressives because of scenes where Mr. Punch hits his wife with a wooden baton.
Now, the show has been pulled from the Barry Island ‘Beats, Eats and Treats’ event this June, after Barry council asked the county council organisers to ditch it, with one town councillor saying it had “inappropriate” elements.
Ian Johnson, a Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru councillor, told BBC Wales that Barry council had passed a motion opposing domestic violence and both UK and Welsh Governments had agreed the legislation.
“I was concerned that a traditional Punch and Judy show will go against these aims,” he explained, adding: “The issue was that it was treading a fine line between entertainment and recognising that some of it was inappropriate.
“I don’t know what the exact content of the show would have been, but it has elements of hitting people and that is not something that we would want to promote.”
However, Vale of Glamorgan councillor Audrey Preston insisted the sometimes-violent puppet show was just “a fun thing”.
The Conservative member for St Brides Major agreed. “I can’t see that it can possibly be associated with domestic violence, and children have watched it for years,” she said.
Progressive handwringing about the lively show is not new to this century. Back in 1849 Oliver Twist author Charles Dickens rebutted claims that the puppet show could inspire real world violence in a letter. He wrote:
“In my opinion street Punch is one of those extravagant relief’s from the realties of life which would lose its hold upon the people if it were made moral and instructive….
“I regard it as quite harmless in its influence and as an outrageous joke which no one in existence would think of regarding as an incentive to any kind of action or as a model for any kind of conduct.
“It is possible, I think, that one secret source of pleasure very generally derived from this performance, as from the more boisterous parts of a Christmas pantomime, is the satisfaction the spectator feels in the circumstances that likenesses of men and women can be so knocked about without any pain or suffering.”