A scene from the Rik Mayall's comedy series The Young Ones.

The featured video clip is from an episode titled “Bomb” from the British sitcom The Young Ones. The episode revolves around two burgeoning global issues of the 1980s: the rapid rise of air-pollution, and an all-out nuclear war. Despite being over thirty years old, the message of this episode resonates with me quite a bit as a young adult in the 21st century, probably more today than if I were living in the 1980s, as our environmental and political issues have become more complex than ever.

The clip features Rik Mayall’s character narrating a poem about pollution. The episode starts off with an atomic bomb dropping into Rik Mayall’s house, after which Mayall’s character narrates his poem. The pollution referred to in the poem is air pollution caused due to the combustion of fossil fuels (as depicted by the verse about Rik and pollution being on separate buses, though still using petrol as the same fuel). I find this line to be quite meaningful, as it links how human activities aredirectly or indirectly responsible for air pollution. Mayall tries to effectively portray that ordinary citizens are oblivious to the fact that they are responsible for air pollution when writing about “separate buses”. Most humans feel that they are not responsible for pollution and climate change when they indirectly use fossil fuels, such as public transport. However, by not advocating for alternate fuel sources or boycotting the use of fossil fuels, we humans are indeed a major cause of air pollution, as we are the only living species on Earth who use fossil fuels. Mayall emphasizes that air pollution is an escalating problem as it is to be found “all around”, and that its life-threatening effects are to be felt everywhere within a short span of time, whether we humans like it or not (depicted by the line about Mayall’s character visiting a town where pollution exists and vice versa).

As the episode was filmed during the 1980s, an era when international relations were tense due to the Soviet-Afghan War, the scene where the atomic bomb was dropped by a plane into the roof of Mayall’s house is quite impactful at portraying the possible reality of an all-out nuclear war. To me, the part where Mayall comically says the word “bombs” at the end of his poem is quite symbolic, as he is trying to portray to his audience the devastating effects a nuke can have on civilians not embroiled in war (the bomb was dropped onto a random house), and the environment. The fact that the monosyllable word was spoken with great emphasis after Mayall’s description of air pollution clearly shows that the threat of an all-out nuclear war could be the next big thing after climate change (also a hot topic during the 1980s due to the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer).

To me, despite being a sitcom, the show made an effort to appeal to the youth by being humorous yet meaningful by being an eye-opener to the grim issues present in the world. The characters of the show (a couple of rebellious university students performing funny antics) targeted their audience well (young people such as myself) by not only making them laugh, but by empowering them and making them realize that there are tons of global issues that need to be solved, and that the “young ones” of today and tomorrow are responsible for mitigating such issues. 

Shahan Engineer is a second-year Environment & Business student (not an engineering student; he doesn’t understand sciences) at the University of Waterloo.

Hailing from Karachi, Pakistan, one of the most polluted cities on the planet, Shahan was inspired to take-up an environmental program at university to understand how humans can alter their production and consumption techniques of various resources so that there is less impact on the environment. His core environmental concerns include the prevention of food waste, product lifecycles, renewable energy sources, and curbing the use of harmful materials such as plastics and toxic chemicals. 

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