Satire, schmatire


It seems a little strange to me in how people can still bemoan the sacking of Angus Deayton from the host’s chair for ‘Have I Got News For You’, although that piece wasn’t written out of thin air but specifically crowbarred-in for a series on how certain television shows can ‘jump the shark’. The show’s been on the BBC for 27 years and Deayton was the host for merely the first twelve.

I remember seeing Paul Merton being interviewed by Michael Parkinson and asked if Merton and Ian Hislop ‘stabbed him (Deayton) in the back’, for Merton to reply: “No…we stabbed him in the front.”. To me, Deayton seemed like dead weight and he got paid more than Hislop and Merton, when they were doing the heavy lifting, not reading from a prompter with its jokes supplied by the writers. Do Merton and Hislop get jokes delivered too? I wouldn’t say that that never occurs but the process for the show involves a run-through in which all of the participants get shown everything beforehand so that they can start thinking of things to say when the cameras roll. Sometimes the celebrity guests don’t get there on time for the run-through and hence they spend the show enveloped in their own silence.

Merton said that the show’s raison d’être was essentially to sneer at the misfortunes of public figures so, anytime in the future, post-Deayton’s foolishness, when this sneery show, sneered at some big name, it would all be negated by: “Yeah? But what about you!….?”. Public figure ineptitude or their momentary muck-ups would be greatly outranked by the host’s degeneracy on his own time. What did he do? It revolved around various News of the World-type shenanigans and that’s his own business, between himself and his significant others: who cares? Within the context of a show, however, one that uses tabloids as its fuel, I couldn’t see how he’d be able to stay on without damaging the show’s integrity beyond repair. Those who protested, friends of Deayton, like Stephen Fry, probably couldn’t see this and just saw their mate carrying the can for all of society’s ills but the show would have been made a mockery, a mockery of a mockery.

He had to go; Deayton had to be 86’d. Saturday Night Live in the U.S. has constant guest hosts and it’s evidently been fine for Have I Got News For You to go the same route. The proof’s in the pudding, having lasted longer with guest hosts than without. It’s also a win-win for the show. If the guest host does well, showing wit and giving as good as they get, then that’s all to the good. If they’re not any good, then they themselves get a monstering and are the butt of the comedy. The third win is that a show cuts down on excessive wage demands by rotating the host. Like with series such as ‘Fargo’ and ‘True Detective’, there’s no performer’s “people” trying to shakedown a TV company for as much money as they can get. The balance shifts from the face being the ‘thing’ to the vehicle, the show, being what people are wanting  to see.

Having said that, I haven’t watched it for a while. It’s not just the show but the internet, the media, in general, always talking about some bastard public figure, like Farage; like Trump; like Johnson; like May; like Steve Bannon; getting ‘dismantled’, ‘shredded’, ‘destroyed’, ‘taken apart’ by satire…but they’re not. The figure doesn’t really don’t care and remains undamaged. I don’t like John Oliver and his ilk and their shouting smart-arsery but, really, Oliver’s 15 – 20 minute pieces on Trump during the election were clear, easy-to-understand, demonstrations of why Trump shouldn’t be anywhere near the White House.

I like Bill Maher a little more but his constant ripping against Trump achieved nothing. Stephen Colbert, whom I find very funny,…..and still nothing. They all make one feel a lot better and more able to face the next day but the object of their ire remains totally immune. Satire does not help. Especially when the object of the comedy is like a satirical creation themselves. I actually think that Donald Trump is the other side of the Stephen Colbert/Bill Maher/Jon Stewart/John Oliver/Trevor Noah/Samantha Bee/Michael Moore coin and that’s partially why it’s so hard to lay a glove on him. Since the Daily Show went supernova when Jon Stewart took it over in 1999, many Americans consume their news and politics within this comedy prism. Trump winged his way to the presidency on that same wave. As with the satirists, as with Trump: they talk about politics in as far as it goes but when they get boxed into a corner, they make a funny to deflect and distract.

Watch Andrew Sullivan, in October 2015, take down the nation of Hillary Clinton running for president and notice the weakness of the pushback in substantive terms. Comedy? Yes. Actual hard points to negate Sullivan’s perspective? No. Sullivan talks of the private email server and it gets shrugged off like it was nothing…and we know how that turned out. Maher disparages the voters but Sullivan recognises that the voters have the final say. Politicians can complain about everything – media coverage; equal time; debate questions; etc. – but if the people, the voters, don’t like or trust you then you can’t demand new voters. They’re what you’ve got to work with: full stop.

Owning to contractual agreements it’s sometimes hard to find extended examples of The Daily Show on the net as Comedy Central has the show on lock, although it’s a little better now in this regard, with Trevor Noah. The most impressive sequence of the Jon Stewart Daily Show I ever saw was Stewart’s lawyer-style demolition of Judith Miller. Miller was the reporter who propagated the case of the invasion of Iraq within the liberal bastion The New York Times and that gave the Bush/Cheney crime syndicate ‘left’ political cover: “Even the New York Times says so!….”. The first part is here and CNN gave a sense of it here but the whole thing was a totally impressive verbal evisceration; one that was almost entirely serious, not satire.

Sometimes the attacks on those in power can be spun around and these scoundrels get to play the victim, astonishingly. Trump’s always, always complaining that the news is always out to get him….and that’s because they are out to get him…..and that’s because he is an embarrassment, a dummy, a scumbag, a constant liar and a scoundrel. The more shots taken, while they stay unhurt, the more inured they become to the attacks. And when you’re a shameless carnival barker, like Trump, for whom no reaction is worse than a negative reaction, it all almost makes him stronger and, paradoxically, more apt to play the victim card. In the UK, Boris Johnson always got ‘dismantled’ and ‘shredded’….all the way to him becoming foreign secretary and a now being little more than a shiv’s length away from Theresa May’s back.

Less clever, considered satire and more investigative work and plain, controlled, laser-directed, substantive rage might be more the way to go, to help get us all to a better place.

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