A guest blog post by the DM Reporter.
The aim of satire and satirists has always been to bring down those in charge by squaring them off against conventional wisdom; to highlight hypocrisies and outright wrongdoings in the mocking fashion they deserve, and in doing so maintain an important status quo whereby ‘the man’ is exposed as just ‘a man’ and no more.
The nature of satire changes with the tide of power. Some would say the heyday of political satire was the 80s – the three powerful global figures of Reagan, Thatcher and Gorbachev (honourable mention – Ayatollah Khomeini) made a solid base for comedy. Time, like authority, marches ever on though, and the new targets are those that operate with no borders and no law, un-elected masters of the world with far more vested interests than simple power.
Global media conglomerates, political think-tank’s, lobbying firms and perpetually outraged news providers have dissipated the direction of public outrage. There’s just too much to consider these days, and we are so accepting of incompetence, corruption and outright immorality from the ruling classes that it is frequently hard to tell the real and fictional worlds apart. The bite of satirists’ intentions hasn’t lessened, but their relativity to reality has.
Mainstream acceptance has dulled the intended effect. While shows like Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You do a good job of keeping topical humour on the airwaves they are too much part of the establishment to have a lasting effect. They’re laughing with their subjects, not at them; accepting their failings and their foibles as part of the norm rather than with the scathing outrage many of them deserve.
Whereas once we could laugh at the ludicrous design of the Day Today’s segments we now have news organisations that regularly match it graphic for graphic – even Channel 4 News, my broadcaster of choice, regularly teeters towards the sort of quality we’d have been laughing heartily at a generation before.
And it’s not just content delivery that’s gotten crazier, it’s the very content they’re delivering; to quote a man who perhaps best encapsulates the impossible-to-parody generation of journalists – “you couldn’t make it up.” Richard Littlejohn is a near perfect buffoonish comedy creation, yet he’s real, and no manner of parody characters can highlight that as well as the man himself.
Just recently, Jeremy Clarkson was being hauled over the coals for saying that all striking public sector workers should be “executed in front of their families.” Ten years ago that would have been a spoof article in Private Eye; now it’s a police investigation.
It’s an issue I struggle with constantly – especially as it’s partially my fault. I am one of the growing ranks of self-proclaimed satirists on Twitter; in my instance producing a fake news feed in which we mock those anonymous tabloid tittle-tattle articles the Daily Mail pumps out on a depressingly regular basis.
Twitter is a fantastically democratic medium but the muddle of voices can often detract from what should sometimes be a unifying point. Some of the funniest people I’ve ever come across exist on Twitter – they’re not celebrities or professional comedians, just ordinary folk with an ear and eye for humour. Free from broadcast constraints, and buoyed by a delivery window no other medium can touch, they can offer up the barbed social commentary that just no longer exists in mainstream British satire.
Combine this with a society on the perpetual verge of eating itself and then we all become part of the establishment. A million voices shouting about how ridiculous we, our leaders, our systems, our world has become, and yet no central idea which binds us together. Satire is far from dead – in fact it has probably never been healthier; it has just been absorbed by the madness it seeks to mock.
I would argue that Britain has never needed satire as much as it does now. It needs someone – something – somehow – to bring proper savagery back to the mainstream. It needs to hold us all to account. It needs to find a way to divorce reality from itself.
About the Author
The DMReporter is editor of the Twitter feed of the same name which parodies the Daily Mail and other right-wing news organisations. In August 2010 he set up a temporary 2nd feed targeting Liz Jones and her trip to Somalia, and raised nearly £30,000 for the DEC East Africa Appeal. Click here to go to the DM Reporter blog.