Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Change We Can't Laugh At

As our modern society has replaced political debate and serious philosophical enquiry with satire we now have a serious problem on our hands. Those of us who eagerly watch America’s Daily Show on the net, listen to the News Quiz or watch its TV offshoot, Have I Got News for You and who are not yet alarmed, should be.
History has taught us that losing our leaders may also mean that we will lose our satire. The premature death of Spitting Image was a direct result of Mrs Thatcher’s replacement by John Major. Thatcher was a gift to Spitting Image. John Major in grey eating peas while looking at Norma just didn’t cut it (had we known he had his feet under the table at Edwina Curry’s house, it would have been quite different) and while Gerald Kaufman could whisper and scare over excited schoolboy Neil Kinnock, with no Thatcher there was no programme.
I am thrilled and extremely relieved that yes he can and he did it, that Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United States, but I wonder what we will slag off now. For eight years satirists and comedians have been shooting fish in a barrel with Bush. During the Presidential campaign all Tina Fey had to do was repeat Sarah Palin’s words and she made satirical history, now it is a lot harder.
It has not started promisingly. On The News Quiz, panellist Jeremy Hardy asked us all to cast aside our cynicism for a moment as he said how wonderful it was that Barack Obama had become the US President. The audience clapped and cheered and then his team mate Fred Macaulay suggested that if anyone was going to see Jeremy Hardy doing stand up that they wait for another six months until he became funny again. Jeremy seemed to forget the golden rule that those who wish to cast aside cynicism do not listen to The News Quiz.
Ian Hislop on Have I got News For You seemed to follow the maxim, if you can’t say anything nasty don’t say anything at all. Paul Merton’s comment, ‘Oh Ian you miss the empire don’t you’ and an oft repeated joke about Gordon Brown and extra salt in porridge made me fear unless the posh guy wins the UK election and soon, that particular show will not go on.
America’s Daily Show is fairing better. They have now introduced the concept of black liberal guilt, pointed out what happens when ‘brothers’ get together with white women and have their Senior Reporter in Chief Who Just Happens to Be Black valiantly attempting just the right level of patronising behaviour towards Hispanics. However nothing has actually been properly directed at Obama himself.
The problem is how can you? His kids are normal, his wife is normal, he himself comes across as normal. Thoughtful, highly intelligent and extremely well informed normal, but still normal. The Obamas are the kind of family you would want as your neighbours, you’d want your children to mix with theirs in the hope that some of their good manners would rub off o your rowdy offspring. You’d want to go on family holidays together.
The fact that America finally has its first African-American President is amazing, thrilling and will change the way many people look at the US, their own world and themselves. The fact that Sarah Palin is not Vice President is a relief of such proportions that language cannot fully express. But Obama needs to start messing up and quick or else satire will go soft and we will have to start asking our serious questions seriously and that will not do at all.

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