Wednesday, 26 August 2015

What have the Satirist ever done for us?

I'll be starting an MRES in Playwriting Studies at the University of Birmingham at  the end of September. I graduated from my undergraduate degree in 2011 and whilst since then my practical portofolio has blossomed my academic writing has not. I thought I'd start by writing a few blogs about things I find interesting they cover a range of subjects over the coming few weeks they might be off interest to you they might not. 

After the election I saw a lot of people on my twitter feed making the same point “We are in for five years of great satire” it’s a belief held by many that under Conservative governments there will be a blossoming of satirical comedians tackling the tangled web of media opinion, slaying the dragons of Westminster and an over use of metaphors. But can Satire really ever change anything?

Satire is a genre of comedy in which vices, follies and abuses of power are ridiculed, with the intention of shaming the individuals involved into improvement. Jon Stewart, Charlie Brooker, Bill Hicks; they aren’t just making jokes about the week’s news they’re also trying to get the audience to think. Satire comes from a place of anger, it’s driven by morality as much as it is by punch lines. However despite the best efforts of the performer or writer can comedy ever change an audience’s opinion or is just preaching to the converted?

Enid Welsford in her book The Fool asks the question. “Does comedy act on the spiritual system as a vitamin or a narcotic?”  Laughter is cathartic, will laughing at something that angers you make you less likely to go out and change it? During the eighties Spitting Image was one of the most popular shows on TV, but the government it ridiculed continued to win election after election with huge majorities.  Satire makes no real difference; it just feeds the narcissism of the social media echo chamber.

Or perhaps it’s just what we need to wake up, the smell of morality coffee in the morning, the ice bucket challenge of sanity, the cat of social justice scratching on the door of indifference demanding love and attention.  In America the British Comedian John Oliver was on Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. Not surprising when you consider that after a segment on Net Neutrality he caused the FCC website to crash after viewers flooded the site with criticism, and when Edward Snowden decided to be interviewed for a US TV show it was Oliver’s Last Week Tonight he picked. John Oliver is able to use comedy to talk about issues traditional media outlets are reluctant or afraid to cover, a point he stresses is more an “insult to the state of journalism than a complement to the state of comedy.” So satire booms when other platforms fail?  Perhaps or maybe there’s more to it.

In today’s multi-platform, digital world, when the latest news is sent directly to your phone, there is an ever increasing tidal wave of horror and misery, when the trending topics on twitter are all subjects that show humanity at it worse it easy to feel dehumanised. The easy response is to switch off, stop reading the paper, or just presume the people publishing know what they are talking about and not ask too many questions, right?

Comedy makes us laugh, a good joke can defuse tension. It makes the unbearable, tolerable even for just a second, comedy can bring an audience in, you can confront the audience with an issue they don't want to look at. Laughter brings us closer together, an audience laughing together at the same joke are united.  In short comedy can help remind us that we are human. I don’t know if it’s a narcotic or a vitamin on the spiritual system, but at least comedy reminds us we have one.