Saturday, April 16, 2011

Jonathan Coe on satire

From today's Guardian:
I'm frequently told that I'm a satirical writer, and although I don't think the label really fits me any more, it probably does apply to What a Carve Up!. But the problem with most satire, I've started to feel, is that it doesn't just preach, it preaches to the converted. Satire – besides being what Milan Kundera disparagingly called a "thesis art" – actually suppresses political anger rather than stoking it up. Political energies which might otherwise be translated into action are instead channelled into comedy and released – dissipated – in the form of laughter.

An interviewer recently asked me if I thought there was a dearth of political satire in this country at the moment. I would argue that there is too much. Our comedians have a default position – comfortably left-liberal, slightly sneery, relying on sharing rather than challenging the assumptions of their audience – and this keeps up a low-level rumble of cynical chuckling which allows our political masters to keep on doing whatever they want to do, completely untouched and unthreatened. And there is an element of this, I feel, in What a Carve Up!. Over the years I've found that one of the reasons its admirers like it so much is because they already share its politics.
Amen. Amen. Amen. I tried, and probably failed, to say something similar when discussing 10 O'Clock Live.


Ira Nayman said...

Without necessarily arguing the point, I would like to point out that there is virtue in preaching to the converted. For one thing, it can help people feel they belong to a community of like-minded citizens. For another, it can help rally and focus people when their party is in the minority. It is also true that laughter can help people through tough times, which, in and of itself, is reason enough for satire to exist.

Simon Titley said...

The problem with today's political satire is that is indiscriminate. Rather than satirise specific and deserving targets (as the early '60s satire boom did with the fag-end of the Macmillan government), it attacks the political process itself.

TV programmes such as 'Have I Got News For You' and 'Mock The Week' hold up all politicians and the whole political process to ridicule.

The result is an all-enveloping cynicism, which assumes that anyone and everyone in public life operate on the most base motives.

The last razor-sharp political satire I saw was the 'Two Johns' dialogues (John Bird and John Fortune), which intelligently stripped bare the humbug of certain types in public life.

So isn't the real problem not satire, but schoolyard mockery pretending to be satire?