satire

Week 12: In which I am both witty and political

This was the week leading up to the first Newsjack deadline of the season, and by season I mean time of year not series. Newsjack is a BBC radio comedy sketch show with a completely open submission policy, meaning absolutely anyone can send in a sketch or one-liner as long as it relates to the week’s news somehow. Traditionally I dip a toe in the comedy water by sending one-liners to the first couple of episodes, before I work myself up to a sketch later on. None of them have been successful so far but I entertain myself (and occasionally OneMonkey) while I’m writing them, so it’s not all wasted effort. This week has been tricky as reality has largely moved beyond satire, which hasn’t left much to write about. I’m persevering, however.

I did try to ignore the whole Presidential circus but I didn’t quite manage, thanks to Twitter and Radio 4. I unfollowed a few people on Twitter because I couldn’t stand any more hourly updates on Trump. I’m British, I don’t tend to follow American politics, in the same way I don’t follow French or German politics. I keep half an eye out to get fair warning of anything that might have global ramifications, but honestly I’ve never even bothered to watch all the rigmarole of a new PM arriving at Downing Street, I’m certainly not going to watch a foreign leader getting sworn in.

In my attempt to avoid too many news bulletins this week I may also have missed the point of the women’s march. I was genuinely moved and amazed to see so many people take to the streets, but I’m not entirely clear on what they were there for, or rather they didn’t all seem to be there for the same thing. From the people I follow on Twitter and a few things I caught in the Guardian and on the BBC I picked up the following reasons:

  • because no genuine feminist would stay away;
  • to point out they didn’t vote for Trump;
  • to reclaim public space as safe for women;
  • to protest gun crime;
  • to protest racism;
  • to promote gay rights;
  • to state that their son has been brought up in a civilised way;
  • to point out they are a man who’s been brought up in a civilised way;
  • because all their friends are;
  • because it’s Saturday (OK that one might be a King Missile reference to lighten the mood).

Maybe I missed the ones protesting at the women who’ve been killed in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria etc at least in part due to the (apparently sainted and beyond criticism now) Obama administration, and the ones protesting at Britain and America’s close alliance with that staunch defender of women’s rights, Saudi Arabia. Maybe I was too busy noticing all the loud, comfortable, Western women in pink hats who were shouting a host of different messages. But hey, if we could get that many people behind an actual campaign, say to alter a policy or stop a war, I think they could change the world.

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Satirical longevity

Having previously commented on how quickly some novels can date, I’ve been thinking today about how some can seem contemporary even when they’re pretty old. And having been reminded of The Way We Live Now (not that it’s usually very far from my thoughts, bizarrely fond of Trollope as I am) it occurred to me that satire seems to have the longest shelf-life.

On the face of it, political comment and specific complaints about society as it exists at the time of writing don’t look like they’d stand the test of time, but unfortunately whatever their nominal leaning, one politician is generally very much like another, and the same can be said for numerous other categories of people at the top (greedy bankers, for instance – always good for a spot of lampooning). Trollope’s satire, heavy-handed as it sometimes is, is not only funny but often gives the impression that it could have been written yesterday. Strip away the conventions of Victorian society, and his interminable descriptions of fox-hunting parties, and Trollope could stand in for Simon Hoggart in the Guardian. A couple of years ago, with Blair still in Number Ten, there was a BBC radio adaptation of one or some of the Palliser novels, and whether or not that was the intention of the producer, I seem to remember the Guardian’s radio reviewer drawing striking parallels between Trollope’s original and the goings-on in Downing Street that month.

The book that set me off on this train of thought was Evelyn Waugh’s The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, or specifically the second short story which accompanies that novella, Love Among The Ruins. It’s a none-too-subtle dig at the Welfare State, which in 1953 was still largely in its infancy with the NHS a mere six years old (don’t get me started on the 1945-51 Labour government). However, ‘in the new Britain there are no criminals, only the victims of inadequate social services’, prisons like luxury hotels, and a Britain where it’s considered a boon to be from a broken home could have emerged from the keyboards of any number of tabloid journalists in 2009.

I can’t quite decide whether it’s all an illusion and every age sees itself in past literature, or we really don’t learn from our gruesome mistakes.