It’s a tradition almost as old as Christmas itself: the stereotypical unbearable mother-in-law. Take the Daily Express, a little before Christmas:
MOTHER-IN-LAW BOTTOM OF CHRISTMAS GUEST LIST
IT’S official – the mother-in-law is the most dreaded dinner guest at Christmas, according to a new poll.
She pipped mother as the least welcome face at the festive get-together, followed by father-in-law, father and ex-partner.
At the other end of the popularity scale, TV presenter and comic actor Stephen Fry was named the dream Christmas dinner guest.
So, it seems that every Northern working men’s comic from the 1970s was right, and it really is the mother-in-law who haunts the existence of adults around the country. Or, perhaps, this is a piece of PR promoting an agenda…
Fry beat Take Me Out host Paddy McGuinness and comedians Miranda Hart, Paul O’Grady and Russell Brand in the survey of 2,000 people by hotel chain Travelodge.
In fact, it’s a press release put out by Travelodge, which itself focuses on the comic angle, rattling off newspaper-friendly celebrity names at a rate of knots, with the aim of naming someone plausible who’s face the newspapers would like to put on their pages:
TURKEY WITH A DASH OF LAUGHTER PLEASE
Britons are craving laughter at the Christmas dinner table as comedians top the list of ‘ideal’ Christmas lunch guests
We are a nation in need of desperate laughter as Britain’s top comedians including Stephen Fry, Paddy McGuiness, Miranda Heart, Paul O Grady and Alan Carr dominate this year’s Travelodge ideal Christmas lunch guest poll.
For the first time ever royalty, celebrity chefs and musicians have been snubbed in favour of our most loved comedians. In a quest for more laughter this year’s poll leads with Stephen Fry, renowned for entertaining his five million Twitter followers with his intellectual wit and humorous tales. The comedian, also known as one half of the duo ‘Fry & Laurie’, moved up from last year’s number two spot to this year’s number one position.
In second place the nation opted to keep their light-on for ‘Take Me Out’ host Paddy McGuinness as their ideal Christmas dinner guest. Famous for his ‘Paddy-isms’ on his dating show, the Bolton born comic beat his sidekick, Peter Kay, who debuted much further up the list at number seven this year.
In third place Britons chose the self acclaimed ‘giant’ of comedy and award winning comedienne Miranda Hart, star of BBC Two’s Sitcom ‘Miranda’ to join them for the most important meal of the year.
Given the celebrity angle leading the press release, where did the mother-in-law research come from? Further down the piece it appears:
The research also revealed the Mother-In-Law is still the most dreaded Christmas guest, followed by Mum as both women know best and will interfere with the day’s planned proceedings. Sixty eight per cent of women said it really annoys them when their Mother-In-Law or Mother tires (sic) to take over on Christmas Day. Thirty one per cent of respondents said it makes them feel inadequate and not a good host. A fifth of women said if it gets too much on Christmas day they will use the excuse of having a migraine so that they can have a sneaky catnap.
Given that the research was actually an online poll, complete with the inherent flawed methodology of paying people an incredibly small amount to complete a survey, inadvertently incentivising respondents to focus more on response time than accuracy, it’s entirely plausible that what Travelodge really picked up on was their respondents familiarity with a well-worn and clichéd stereotype, rather than their actual experience and feelings. A stereotype which then becomes the lead in the reportage of their findings, reinforcing the stereotype so that the next time a poll asks about mother-in-laws, we can confirm it all over again. In this way, the cycle feeds itself, with the newspapers and the PR companies harvesting the self-perpetuating loop to feed their own interests.
And, in case it wasn’t clear, what is Travelodge’s particular interest in stressing the unbearable nature of the nation’s mother-in-laws?
Shakila Ahmed, Travelodge spokeswoman, said: “However, savvy Britons are forgoing imposing on their families and avoiding the dodgy sofa and bed by booking themselves into a nearby hotel. This actually gives both parties free time to enjoy the holiday season and make the most of their time together, rather than getting under each other’s feet.”