Monday, December 08, 2014 

Satire: it's a little too ironic.

Is it ironic those who complain about the lack of satire often give the impression they've never told a joke in their lives? Perhaps, perhaps not.  It's difficult to know when irony smothers everything with such a thick layer of, err, irony, which is a bit like goldy and bronzey.  Or is it?

Owen Jones does it must be said have something resembling a point, almost obscured as per by sanctimony.  Few people like being laughed at, opposed to with.  When Nigel Farage took up Andrew Lawrence's complaint about UKIP having become an easy target for the pound shop comics and "ethnics" of Mock the Week, he transmogrified himself with the party's voters, as though laughing at him was to belittle Mr and Mrs Average UKIPer also.  Since then it's become apparent you can't poke fun at the affectations of someone who might be working class, although you can laugh and gawp all you like at the stupidly wealthy, so long as they've invited the cameras in first.  Does this disprove Jones's first book, or confirm his second, in that the establishment (and capitalism) always succeeds in co-opting what at first was radical?

If we accept Owen's point that we need satire more than ever, it could well be one of the reasons why TV has such a dearth at present is a result of the social media he praises for picking up the slack.  Taking the piss has never been easier, and as this blog has demonstrated time and again, that goes hand in hand with doing it extremely badly.  With the exception of the Daily Mash there isn't really anything or anyone consistently succeeding in finding that sweet spot where truth, humour and offence cohabit in an unholy menage a trois.  When you add in how a gag that once might still have been funny weeks after someone first came up with it can now be dead within a matter of hours thanks to constant retweeting and Facebook pasting, it leaves those who at best have to come up with jokes that are still relevant a week later and at worst months in advance in a quandary.

The other key factor is that quality, or the lack of it.  It's not for want of trying we haven't seen a true successor to Spitting Image, although those who eulogise it seem to forget that its final years were an extremely pale shadow of its 80s heyday.  There's been 10 O'Clock Live, which contrived to waste the considerable talents of Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell while somehow managing to make Lauren Laverne look even more out of her depth than usual (the less said about Jimmy Carr the better).  It proved you can put together half of a comedy dream team and still fail if the writing simply isn't good enough.  Also forgotten is 2DTV, ITV's sort of attempt to do Spitting Image again, only in animated form, and without the humour.  Nor should the TV version of Dead Ringers go without a mention, if only because its Kirsty Wark quoting song lyrics of the time Newsnight rip was amusing.  The rest of it, not so much.  About the best attempt of real note of late has been The Revolution Will Be Televised, and yet while funny, it still comes across as that little bit too consciously left-wing for comfort.

Dare it also be said that if the BBC was prepared or forced to ditch its trilogy of dead on their arse comedy panel shows, HIGNFY, Buzzcocks and Be Rather Smug About the Week all, it might just provide the space where a new format or talents could be properly nurtured.  HIGNFY was last satirical when presented by Angus Deayton, now a very long time ago indeed.  There's also the question of whether it's possible to be populist and truly satirical both - does the Margaret Thatcher puppet, along with her cabinet of vegetables really seem all that funny or cutting in retrospect, or rather just an exaggeration of the truth which fed in to her myth?  Nearer the mark was the grey John Major, although it could just as much be said that was simply following what the public had already decided.  Worth asking too is whether something like the Brass Eye paedophile special would be commissioned today, when social media opprobrium would deliver immediate outrage at satirists daring to suggest there might be just a hint of hysteria in media coverage of the subject.

It could in fact be politicians are completely the wrong targets for satire at the moment.  Politics has gone beyond parody - the leader of the fourth, possibly third biggest party urges women not to breastfeed in public "ostentatiously" lest they offend older people, some mothers presumably having taken to squirting milk into the mouth of their child while sitting on the other side of the table.  The same man blames immigrants overcrowding the M4 for his failure to reach a meeting on time, rather than it being a busy time of year.  Instead of his line in semi-offensive bullshit turning people off, it seems to only make them more determined to vote for him.  Meanwhile, the chancellor of the exchequer all but says "Britain can take it" when it comes to his proposed cuts, as the Liberal Democrats yet again confect to be outraged at what their partner in government is doing.  And Labour is just one big joke, exemplified still by the Emily Thornberry sacking.

No, if satire is to stay relevant it perhaps has to go after those newly powerful in 21st century Britain.  Let's see the mocking of the Twitter mob, whether it be those out for Emily Thornberry's head, or by contrast Julien Blanc's, or Matt Taylor's.  About the closest we get at the moment is Private Eye's From the Message Boards or the odd Craig Brown rip on a specific tweeter.  There could be a line drawn between the modern day censors who've succeeded in preventing children from seeing the hint of breasts on newspaper front pages or inside them and those who then rush for blankets to cover up feeding mothers.  Let's have all social classes and none ruthlessly mocked, whether it be the bell-ends who still have England flags up six months after the World Cup and who are so insular in their outlook they fail to notice there's a by-election on (and whom are ribbed by the rest of the working class more than anyone), the (upper) middle class prats obsessed with house prices and private schooling, and the 1% without the slightest idea as to how the rest live.  Most of all, let's see the leeches on society who make out they're above everyone brought to book, their weblogs laughed at, their own petty yearnings shown up for what they are (cont. p94)

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Tuesday, January 07, 2014 

Michael Gove's WWI bollocks.

Of all the people Michael Gove could have picked a fight with, it fairly boggles the mind that he chose to start one with Baldrick. If there's just one thing that we Brits tend to unite over, it's our love for heroic failures/idiots, even more so when they're fictional. Take David Brent, Rab C Nesbitt, Mark and Jeremy, and a myriad other examples. None however come close to Baldrick, who gets more lovable the stupider he gets, the character who named a thousand regimental goats, and coined a catchphrase that manages not to get annoying extremely quickly.

To be fair, Gove's problem isn't with Baldrick, Blackadder or Oh! What a Lovely War as it is those dastardly left-wing academics who have conspired to caricature the first world war as being accurately presented by such fictional works. For Gove, the Great War was just as necessary as the second, a war for which the blame lays firmly with Germany and its rulers' "ruthless social Darwinism" and "aggressively expansionist war aims" . To argue otherwise is to impugn the patriotism of those who fought and made the ultimate sacrifice, regardless of how as Gove acknowledges, the scale of the sacrifice was a tragedy.

Gove is of course entitled to his view and acknowledges there is no "unchallenged consensus". There are also certain elements to his argument which are fair enough. Gove is however nothing if not an unrepentant neo-conservative when it comes to foreign policy, and it's therefore hardly surprising that he dislikes the healthy scepticism that our culture in general has for war, something if he was more honest he might accept is precisely because we've learned to be the hard way.

What infuriates and bewilders is just how very wrong he is about almost everything else. For probably the most cerebral member of the cabinet, he lays it on so thick that it makes you wonder whether he or one of his equally combative aides actually wrote the piece. It reads more like a typical Mail "aren'tcha sick of these lefties" article than it does from a minister looking to redress the balance.

Others with a firmer grasp on the first world war than me have pointed out that regardless of the revisionism of recent years, the conflict remains one of military disasters and mistakes, and despite Gove placing the blame "plainly" on Germany, one of the most recent acclaimed works on its origins spreads it far more widely. It's also rather baffling that Gove fingers (ooh er) left-wing academics when the historian most responsible for the view of the war as one "of lions led by donkeys", now mostly discredited, was none other than that noted communist Alan Clark. The only historian Gove names is Richard J Evans, who it so happens was one of the most senior to criticise his initial plans for changes to the history curriculum, and who, naturally, Gove quotes out of context.  Evans wrote that the men who enlisted were wrong to think they were fighting for freedom and so on in the context of the first world war leading to the second, an argument first made most forcefully by AJP Taylor (a leftie, natch) and since further refined, expanded upon and mostly accepted.  Gove then goes even further and claims Evans's criticism of his changes to the curriculum was in fact aimed at commemorating the first world war at all, when in fact he was contrasting the government's plans which he welcomed with Gove's "tub-thumping" approach to history.

More my style is to look at what Blackadder actually says about the war.  If we dispense with the caricature of the generals and Haig as being either idiots or completely flippant about the lives of the soldiers they were sending into no man's land, which clearly isn't meant to be taken entirely seriously, just as how we're not meant to think that Elizabeth I was the equivalent of a batty schoolgirl with absolute power as she's portrayed in Blackadder the Second, it comes out pretty well.  Ben Elton and Richard Curtis never claimed the show to be anything other than playing fast and loose with GCSE history, and that's what it does.  The section in the final episode when Baldrick asks how the war started, as well as being funny, is fairly accurate: both ourselves and our allies had empires far beyond what the Germans had and it was precisely in that context Germany wanted to expand; it was too much trouble not to have a war, despite the fact that we could do nothing to help Belgium, our ostensible reason for joining in, due to the trains; and it's also the case that the formation of the triple alliance and the triple entente, despite being partially meant to prevent such a major war due to the deterrent aspect, failed, or as Blackadder puts it, "was bollocks".

We knew this already though, surely?  The bigger question is why Gove felt the need to disturb what had mostly been a friendly consensus on the commemorations in this anniversary year, and do so in such a dishonest fashion.  One explanation is Gove and his aides seem to thrive on confrontation, just as his hero Tony Blair did; he doesn't seem content unless he's attacking teachers and their unions, or journalists who dare to criticise his education policies.  Flying Rodent suggests it's all part of a continuing attempt to draw dividing lines and get your supporters fired up, with little in the way of fallout if you lose as nothing was at stake in the first place.  The Mail didn't imagine such a response however when it said Ed Miliband's father hated Britain, last year's article making an interesting juxtaposition with Gove's, the minister lambasting imaginary left-wingers for "denigrating virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage" when that was precisely what the paper did when it came to someone who volunteered to fight for the country that gave him sanctuary.

Closer to the truth is that Gove believes every word he wrote.  Just as he stresses traditionalism and discipline when it comes to education, he sees much in the values that began to be lost following the first world war.  Even if it took another half century for deference to truly begin to disintegrate, no longer after the Somme and Passchendaele did the ordinary man start from the position that those in charge knew better.  It brought blind patriotism into question, while it took years for the pacifism that set in after the horror of the trenches to be shaken off enough for another war to be considered.  Most telling is that he can't seem to see Blackadder is patriotic in that it does celebrate the sacrifice of those who enlisted, as one of the most moving and perfect endings to any comedy makes startlingly apparent; it's just that it does so while not absolving those who put them there from blame or responsibility.  This isn't an "ambiguous" attitude to this country, it's one that has become thoroughly British.  As with so much else, Gove wants desperately to turn the clock back.

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Friday, November 09, 2012 

The bishop!

In honour of the replacement of Beardie with Justin Welby... 

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Friday, March 09, 2012 

The old gags are the best.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010 

Frankie Boyle and Channel 4 are trolling you.

Like pretty much everyone else, I enjoyed Frankie Boyle on Mock the Week. He made what would otherwise just be another comedy panel show into something that could still surprise you. And now, much like everyone else, it's obvious that the confines of Mock the Week, with him playing off the other people and seeing their reactions to his forays into the outrageous, as well as the editors playing more than their part, were what kept him from crossing the invisible line between being humorous and offensive and just being criminally unfunny.

It's therefore ironic that one of the very few parts of his Tramadol Nights' shows which was both amusing and rising above either going for the easy targets or recycling old material has nowbeen picked out as being beyond the pale. Anyone watching or even reading what he said can see that it was intended as a satire on the news media's attitudes to our involvement in Afghanistan, where "our" dead always come in front of "their" dead, as was his riff on the Ministry of Defence formerly being known as the Ministry of War when racist attitudes most certainly were much in evidence, including from such now sainted figures as Churchill. Some will argue that any use of racial epithets regardless of context helps to normalise them, enabling them to be more easily thrown in streets and playgrounds, and while on occasion they can have something resembling a point, I don't think that's the case in this instance.

Whether Boyle is deliberately trying to get a rise out of the modern media through his act is more questionable. The other gag complained about on the first of Tuesday's TN episodes has been shorn completely of its context, its introduction being Boyle in the guise of a documentary presenter first quoting Oscar Wilde, then asking what "really" is right and what is wrong. Only then do we get someone dressed as Super Mario dancing suggestively while an hand masturbates a mushroom until it ejaculates gold coins, with Mario then saying "hello to Pakis everywhere!", before returning to the head who decides that was wrong. That, far more than the more complained about above references seems more likely to be quoted or used out of context. Notably, the canned laughter (or laughter recorded from the audience) is fairly timid in response.

Indeed the really offensive thing about TN is that Channel 4, apparently having seen what Boyle had produced, decided that it was good enough to show and defend so robustly. Not because it's so beyond the pale in content that it's unacceptable, as comedy should never be considered, but as it just smacks of complete and utter laziness and Boyle not even bothering to try. How could they have watched it and not said to him that it was unbroadcastable in its current form as it was simply terrible?

There are whole sketches where he and the production staff seem to have forgotten to put any jokes in, such as the reimagining of the A Team if they really had been Vietnam veterans,
the Thomas the Tank Engine parody, where the manager (not the Fat Controller, in case lawyers got involved) forces the trains to fellate him (if that sounds like an almost amusing idea, as it does written down, you need to see the sketch to be disabused of such a notion) or the almost unfathomable one where Boyle shoots one person after another before walking off and leading a "normal" life.

Other funny if obvious ideas are stretched out to absurd lengths, like the Wonder Woman gag where when she lassos someone with her "truth rope", forcing them to tell her what they know finishing after an interminable couple of minutes with her jerking off Superman. It's almost as if they've had to do so not because they genuinely think the humour can last the duration, but to instead make up for the pilfering of material from Boyle's stage shows which mainly makes up the short stand-up portions. That the audience, presumably given free tickets doesn't seemed obliged to laugh as much as when they probably first heard the material isn't a surprise.


Here's what most likely happened. Channel 4 saw the programmes, knew for a fact despite the awfulness of much of the content that it would receive complaints, meaning free publicity, and stuck them on waiting for the inevitable to happen. They've got their wish. As for Tramadol Nights being "cutting edge" as described by Channel 4 in defensive of the programme, it could be considered cutting edge perhaps if you're 14 and haven't seen Sesame Street or Muppets characters being offensive before; not when you know that Frankie Boyle could do so much better if he was motivated enough by his producers to do so. Insulting your audience usually only works when you do it for the first couple of minutes; stretching it out to 24 minutes times six is much more risky.

(P.S. As noted by Private Eye this week, try and find any mention of the controversy over Tramadol Nights in the Sun, either this latest outbreak of phony apoplexy or the Katie Price gag in an earlier show. Strangely, you won't. This is entirely unconnected with Boyle writing a column for the paper.)

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009 

Paxman vs Johnson.

Some seem to be having something approaching a sense of humour bypass over last night's performance of Paxman vs Johnson, but I'll be damned if this wasn't the funniest political interview in years, even if it doesn't really have the greatness of Paxman vs Howard or Paxman vs Blears:

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Friday, March 06, 2009 

Republicans go urban.



I laughed.

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Friday, January 30, 2009 

The comedy of terrorism and Nicky Reilly.

Such is the horror of the end result of a successful suicide attack, few have so far attempted to turn perhaps the ultimate act of personal violence into comedy: Monkey Dust, the dark BBC3 animated satire, had hapless Brummies blowing themselves up, while Chris Morris now has his jihadist comedy in film production, having been giving funding by Warp Films. It's all the more surprising because there is such an obvious rich vein of humour running through some of those who consider themselves martyrdom seekers: even going beyond the belief that somehow killing others at the same time as yourself will instantly result in your entrance to the highest level of paradise alongside 72 virgins, the incompetence of the bombers who can't even succeed in killing themselves, let alone anyone else, alongside the arrogance of the finger-pointing last will and testaments meant to cause fear but which instead strike as someone being far too influenced by the personal hubris which infects YouTube, are all potential goldmine material.

With that in mind, it seems even more difficult to countenance the attitude taken towards Nicky Reilly and his comprehensively failed suicide attack in a Giraffe restaurant in Exeter. I challenge anyone not to find the entire thing completely absurd, or even analogous to a potential comedy sketch: an utter incompetent chooses of all places, one of the most bourgeois and trendy franchise restaurants to deliver his payload, but instead of successfully putting together his "bomb", if a concoction of caustic soda and kerosene can really be described as a bomb, he instead gets trapped in the toilet cubicle, with the mixture going off in his face. Somehow, rather than treating this with about the level of concern that it deserved, he is unaccountably charged with attempted murder, when the only person he came close to killing was himself. It's worth keeping in mind that the failed Glasgow airport attacker, despite launching two failed assaults, was not charged with attempted murder, but rather with conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause explosions. You have to wonder whether this was purely technical: Abu Beavis and Abu Butthead failed to cause any explosion; Reillly did, even though it went off in his face, therefore he could technically of killed someone, hence attempted murder.

Even so, for Reilly to be sentenced to 18 years in prison seems to be out of all proportion to his crime. Yes, his intention probably was, if he could, to kill as many people as possible, but he transparently failed in that aim. Moreover, everyone seems to agree that Reilly was preyed upon, although it seems he was self-radicalised, and that his Asperger's syndrome was more than a factor. It seems equally likely that he could, through personal programmes and direct help, be deradicalised fairly easily. At most, a sentence of around 5 years would have seen justice served, and everyone could have treated it as the joke it was and should have been. 18 years is the biggest gag of all, except for Reilly himself and his family.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007 

Comedy moment of the day.

Irony continues to smother everything, even an impromptu prison officers strike:

Affected prisons include:

Cardiff prison where inmates locked in their cells have taunted a picket line in the car park with shouts of "You're breaking the law"

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