What do Mock the Week, Charlie Brooker and Private Eye magazine all have in common? They each have the ability to take what is surely one of the most stultifying social components and illuminate it in a brilliant comic light. Yes, politics can actually make us laugh, as well as cry. All too frequently when a new political debate or movement is announced I either find myself with my head between my knees, begging for the bureaucracy to abate or with my eyes buried deep in sentences of nerve-twisting waffle that is supposed to inform the public – inflame is more like it.
For years we’ve all heard the politicians and their pundits prescribing politics like it is the magical elixir of life to which all sensible solutions can be attributed. I’d be very interested to research how much of all this prescribed nonsense the average member of the electorate actually retains while going about their everyday business. It seems highly likely that the majority of us perceive the nonsense as separate from our business, but all the while the politicians are adamant it should be integrated into our worlds of 9-5 and 24/7. I say dream on, if that’s how assiduous they’re capable of being then we might as well start entrusting them to properly do their jobs; however, I’d rather not sign my own death warrant.
Perhaps, for the politician’s sake, it would be more efficient and effective to adopt tried and tested methods of engagement with the public. For instance, what has proved most popular with the working man and his compatriots since time immemorial? The pub. And what else after that? A pint. And during an amicable round at the local boozer what is also commonplace? Jokes. Ideas and actions that make people laugh and provide a shared experience are much more likely to attract their attention; bombastic speeches about the current state of the economic stimuli are about as thrilling as an episode of the Antiques Road Show is to a teenager. And if this is the case, why not make politics a laugh as opposed to letting it be easily laughable, i.e. sprinkle a little fairy dust over that prickly political exterior.
This is the reason and motivation of amusing media players such as my top three examples of satire, already introduced. The nature of satire is by far more dynamic than mere sarcasm; it assumes the guise of the playful lion, who lunges at the hobbling gazelle and tosses it about as if all its baffling grace and athleticism never rendered it awesome to the rest of the animal kingdom. For all its showiness and discipline, politics is no heartwarmer. Excepting lonely ex-MPs and recluse bureaucrats, people generally don’t look to Parliament or Whitehall for a carefree giggle.
So who do we turn to in those cyclical moments of duty when the mind wanders into the dreaded red zone, otherwise known as the political black hole? One good suggestion is to catch up with the week’s tabloid tirades and ministerial mumblings in the televised company of Dara Ó Briain and co, who host the magnificent Mock the Week. The largest portion of laughter to rumble from my lungs can be traced back to the caustic wit of those endearing panellists: Russell Howard, Hugh Dennis, Andy Parsons, and Frankie Boyle, you know, before he abandoned us (I hear his wit was a bit too fierce for the executives). The MTW raison d’être, all’s fair in comedy and politics, is something I will candidly vouch for. The purpose of encouraging laughter, and I mean the belly-ache kind, meets with the secondary service of the show, which is its information – of course, you have to read between the lines and decipher the cold subject from the lively humour in order to fathom this info.
Now on to the driest of the dry, Charlie Brooker, who, like MTW, makes it his own personal duty to rip the ludicrous soul out of the mercilessly dull media we’re plagued by, albeit with a truly sinister precision unmatched in the ranks of satirists. Just to get a sense of the all-out warfare this media mutilator launches against the barricades of bullshit inherent in the rush of media-driven information, you have to check out his scathing shows Newswipe and Screenwipe and have a read through some of his contributions to the Guardian. Anything you can find on the internet, which is pretty much everything imaginable, is potential meat for Brooker to chew up and spit out in his devilishly curt manner. Even his facial expressions spell out “destroy those who miss the point”.
Hop over to the next lily pad and pick up a copy of the body-slamming heavyweight publication, Private Eye. Filled to the brim with deftly droll servings of satire and enthusiastic commentary on the latest controversies to come spilling forth, Private Eye is the readable equivalent to The Economist – the difference starts with the title, obviously. The charm of Private Eye lies in its seriousness of style; without being textually irksome like its jargon-pumped opposite it feeds its readers full with considerable knowledge, complemented by the crisp and calculating garnish of laughs that knocks naked seriousness for six.
Successive jokes and progressive laughter aside, these forms of satire, the very essence of the concepts of necessary mockery and lampooning, adopt a two-fold agenda, which is most rewarding to the keener members of the audience. This swings me back to my previous argument about efficient and effective rapports with the public. If satire, like the flourish of a swift one-liner or careful recital of building-block yarn, is so appealing to the electorate when it presses the pulse of politics, why can’t politicians master this art of tickling criticism?
In reality the reason why is deadly serious. Really, if a politician started to make wisecracks about how inordinately long and ambiguous their last campaign speech was they’d never be taken seriously by their peers. It’s okay for a party member to take a snap at their opponent’s flaws, despite how meek that attempt may be, but it is forbidden by the whips for an MP or political other to turn their head and bite their tail like the rest of us who self-deprecate. This is why we are inclined to ignore the gargling process of politics for most of its airtime and instead vent our frustration by partaking in a session of gags with the satirists as our ringleaders. Whine as we may, without the roaring boredom inspired by politics we would be without so many belly laughs and thus be so much angrier about how lame the ducks in Parliament can be. Politics is the sickness; laughter is the medicine.