by Giles Fraser
Friday, 4
October 2019
Idea
17:55

Satire isn’t as powerful as you think

by Giles Fraser

Chris Morris has been talking about satire on Channel 4 news:

“The problem is that we have got used to a kind of satire that placates the court. You do nice dissection of the way things are … and you get slapped on the back by the orthodox elite.”

He doesn’t explain who the “orthodox elite” are. Are they, for instance, the same as the “north London, metropolitan, liberal elite” as referred to by Home Secretary Priti Patel at the Conservative Party conference? – a reference that one satirist, David Baddiel, understood as dog-whistle anti-Semitism:

“Whether she knows it or not, “North London metropolitan liberal elite” is alt-right code — shit alt right code — for Jews.”

All of which reminded me of a brilliant article by Hugo Rifkind that deserves revisiting.

Satire doesn’t change minds, Rifkind argues. It just makes us feel a little better about ourselves and the world we live in.

“Peter Cook used to say that his comedy club, The Establishment, was loosely based on the Berlin cabaret clubs of the 1920s and 1930s. Which, as he put it, “did so much to prevent the rise of Adolf Hitler”. Think of that, when you giggle at the latest online evisceration of Donald Trump. As in, laugh, by all means, but understand why you are laughing, and how much good it is likely to do.”

He’s right. The biting satire of Saturday Night Live did little to prevent the rise of Trump. If anything, it served more firmly to establish people in their political silos.

Spitting Image may be coming back. But don’t expect it to change very much. Satirists have a tendency to over-estimate their power to change the world.

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