Monthly Archives: January 2012

Lies, damned lies and austerity: how consent is being manufactured for cuts and caps

We have been told how there is “massive public support” for benefit caps and on the rare occasion a newsreader interviews someone who is against cuts, whoever he or she may be,  will be hectored and bullied by the interviewer. Anti-austerity commentators will always be asked the same loaded questions about cuts. “You realize that there is a need for cuts” and “The country has no money to pay for x, y and z” are two of the most overused  questions in the mainstream media’s lexicon. The disabled and benefit claimants are in the government’s line of fire,  for it is they who have now been accused of ruining the economy along with the “bloated” public sector.

In 1988, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman put their heads together and wrote the highly influential Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.  The right hate it. Not because it was co-written by Chomsky – they hate him too – but because it kicks a massive hole in their thesis that we live in a “free society” that has a “free press”, where all of us enjoy “free speech”.

The basis of Chomsky and Herman’s argument is that there is a propanganda model to which all corporate-owned media adheres. The four identifying features (filters) of the propaganda model are as follows:

  1. Ownership of the medium
  2. Medium’s funding sources
  3. Sourcing
  4. Flak
  5. Anti-communist ideology

With regard to 5, we can replace this with the more useful “ideological” in order to cover all forms of dissent from the government line. If we use the BBC as our exemplar, then the model is fleshed out as follows.

  1. Ownership: owned by the state in what is euphemistically referred to as an “arm’s length relationship”.
  2. Funding: the license payer and to some extent the state.
  3. Sourcing: ‘news’ often comes from government, corporate or City press briefings, press releases and so forth. A great deal of information is taken from pro-free market think tanks. Self-styled economic ‘experts’ like Ruth Lea or David Buik are brought into the studio to attack any dissenting point of view or to give ‘expert’ analysis.
  4. Flak: attacks on any voice that is not consistent with the government line. Viewers emails are aired to give an impression of consent. Example: “Major Payne of Tunbridge Wells emailed us to say, your guest was just as bad as the scroungers. I’d put them into forced labour camps”.
  5. Ideological: opposed to any alternative point of view on the economic crisis by spouting the government line and using government phraseology to rebut those points of view.

Examples of pro-austerity broadcasting includes programmes as Saints and Scroungers.

The BBC explains the show’s ‘mission’,

Dominic Littlewood follows fraud officers as they bust the benefits thieves stealing millions of pounds every year, while charities and councils track down people who actually deserve government help

Dominic Littlewood: the people’s champion.

Saints and Scroungers gives the impression that benefit fraud is widespread. Littlewood’s hard man voiceover adds drama to the footage.

This video gives a taste of the programme

Programmes like Saints and Scroungers  and Panorama insert the notion in the public mind that ‘your’ taxes are being used to support villains and parasites, some of whom own yachts and Bentleys.  The impression is often given by these programmes that every person on benefits is a potential criminal. The numbers of people wrongly claiming benefits is often exaggerated and there are some people who are reluctant to claim any form of benefit for fear of being accused of ‘scrounging’.

But the BBC isn’t alone in this assault on the poor or the disabled. The press, as we know, are guilty of this too.  In Thursday’s Sun, Rod Liddle claimed that “disability” was “fashionable” and told his readers that it was his “New Years resolution” to fake disability, citing ME and fibromyalgia  as those conditions that he’d most like to have.

Here’s an image of the article.

Delingpole defended him on Telegraph blogs with an article titled “The fake disabled are crippling our economy”. This is not only inaccurate; it is a part of an ongoing attempt to scapegoat the disabled.  The suggestion being made by Liddle and Delingpole is that all disabled claimants are cheating the system. They, of course, deny this and their legion of defenders respond by saying, “They’re only attacking the cheats”. The simple truth is that attacks on disabled people have increased sharply over the last few years, helped in no small part by a potent mix of negative news stories of ‘scroungers’ and ‘cheats‘ and government rhetoric.

Using scapegoats to deflect attention away from the real causes of the economic crisis is typical for a government of millionaires who are eager to present themselves as ‘caring’ and in touch. The real causes of the recession are never dealt with and are blamed on a variety of things from the disabled and unemployed to the Euro. Everything and everyone else is accused of “destroying” the economy but the real villain: free-market capitalism. This is a form of sociopathy; the lies, the deception, the bullying, the charm and the desire to dominate others are all characteristics exhibited by this Tory-led regime. However, Labour aren’t entirely blameless. The Blair and Brown governments were committed to reducing the numbers of people claiming Incapacity Benefit and forcing those people into work – whether they were capable of working or not. The press produced story after story of benefit ‘cheats’ who were caught scamming the system. The phrase  “sick note culture” had entered the popular vocabulary.

When this Tory-led government came to power in 2010, George Osborne made the bold claim that benefit fraud was costing the country £5 billion a year and evoked the magic words “costing the hardworking taxpayer”.  Peter Oborne wrote:

However that figure is not true. I have now been onto the Treasury and it is clear that the real figure for fraud in the benefits system is £1.5 billion a year, or less than one third of the sum which Osborne claimed in his spending statement. It is true that there were benefit overpayments of some £5.2 billion in the last financial year (2009/10) but the majority of these according to HMRC figures were error rather than fraud.

Even Citywire admitted that tax evasion cost the Exchequer more than benefit fraud:

At £30 billion per year, fraud in the UK is more than twice as high as thought, with tax evasion costing the public purse over £15 billion per year and benefit fraud just over £1 billion.

Aside from attacks on the disabled and the poor, the government has also insisted that Britain is “running record levels of debt” and that debt, it insists, will be passed on to “future generations”. The question that they and their partners-in-crime repeatedly ask is “Is it fair to saddle our children with this generation’s debt”? But this is a loaded question that is not based on fact rather, it is based on the notion that government finances and domestic finances operate in the same way. This fallacy is repeated by a number of people who accept the government’s position without question. In a recent interview on BBC News on an entirely unrelated issue (High Speed 2), the actor Geoffrey Palmer repeated, almost line for line, the government’s austerity message. “The country’s broke”, he said, adding that “we can’t afford it (HS2)”. If the country is broke, then it is unlikely to be able to raise money on the international bond markets, which it continues to do. Furthermore, it would be unable to continue the costly and disastrous war in Afghanistan, which cost Britain in excess of £20 billion in 2010.

The government and their media allies continues  to demonize and scapegoat the most vulnerable people in society. On last Thursday’s Question Time, Melanie Phillips repeated the topsy-turvy logic of the LM Network that the “bankers are being scapegoated”. This is what passes for morality in the eyes of those who take part in BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, where those who comment on morality have no qualifications in the subject on which they pontificate – none of them are moral philosophers nor would it appear that any of them have as much as an undergraduate degree in philosophy.

The government hates the very thought of opposing points of view and we can see this in the way they will control discourse by accusing those who are anti-austerity of being “deficit deniers”, which is a phrase that is redolent of “Holocaust Denial”.  The Morning Star explains:

But unfortunately the word racist – like nazi or even Holocaust denier – is so emotive, connotes such horrible things and is so insulting that it can intimidate people into silence and shut down reasoned debate, much like deficit denier.

The Labour Party has fallen into the trap of not wanting to be seen as “deficit deniers”, which has brought them closer and closer to the government’s position on cuts. So much for meaningful and effective opposition to this government then. The phrase “deficit denier” is based on a logical fallacy.  It is a connotation fallacy; an appeal to insult – the classic ad hominem.  Unable to fashion a logical and coherent argument for their austerity measures, government ministers concoct insults to silence their critics.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this government is philosophically bankrupt and must resort to bullying and outright lies to convince the public of the need for austerity, but it wouldn’t be able to do this without the media’s fawning complicity.

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Life on Gilligan’s Island (Part 33)

As the London mayoral election draws nearer, Kennite grows more irritable and more hysterical.   In fact, Gilligan’s blogs have become more and more bizarre with each passing week. Today’s blog is no exception.

Under an image of The Londoner, Geordie Mark has inserted the following caption,

Ken’s propaganda newspaper – not to be confused with the Guardian

Oh, the irony! Oh, the hypocrisy! Gilligan won’t want to say this out loud, so I’ll say it instead: Kennite is Emperor Boris’s unofficial Deputy Mayor for [Dis]Information. His job is to churn out as much propaganda in support of Boris as he can and to smear Ken. The only problem with this line of attack, is that, for all his master’s supposed achievements in his four years in office, Kennite chooses not to focus on those but to attack, not just Livingstone, but The Guardian too.  Whatever happened to that unwritten rule that says that journalists shouldn’t attack other journalists?  Geordie Mark doesn’t care; he has torn up the rule book and taken a dump on its fragments for good measure. The end result is a juvenile rant that is redolent of a thwarted and embittered lover.

This week alone, as the campaign gathers speed, The Guardian has published at least two stories about Boris Johnson that – to put it kindly – lack visible means of support. On Tuesday it claimed that Boris had been “lined up” as the Tory candidate for the safe seat of Reigate at the 2015 general election – a hugely damaging allegation, if true, since it would suggest that Boris does not intend to serve a full term if re-elected mayor and that he has priorities other than London.

It isn’t just The Guardian that has this story, Gilly me old fruit. ThisIsSurreyToday also has the story.  Predictably, Tory High Command and the Reigate MP and Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt have both denied it, but there is a caveat,

Surrey County Council leader David Hodge wouldn’t comment on Mr Blunt but said: “Boris is a good politician and I would wish him luck if he wanted to stand.”

I’ll leave you to work out what Cllr. Hodge is trying to say here.

Here’s The Guardian blog that has gotten Geordie Mark so wound up. This is the most interesting paragraph,

Many Tories believe that Johnson would still want to stand for parliament in 2015 even if he wins in London in May. This would mean he would make a triumphant return to parliament a year before his second term as mayor would end in 2016.

Johnson has always harboured ambitions to become leader of the Conservative Party. It’s probably the worst-kept secret in British politics. Kennite’s silence on that particular issue is almost deafening.

I think  Emperor Boris knows his time is up but Kennite pretends that it’s still all to play for. Two polls show that Livingstone is ahead of Johnson.

Further down the blog, the hysterical Kennite tells us,

This week’s misrepresentations are not serious – but they are interesting as a sign of how the Guardian may intend to play this. It’s an outstanding newspaper  – but there has always been something about Boris which drives it completely off its rocker. During the 2008 campaign, it described him as a “sociopath,” a “moneyed creep… from postcode Posh,” a “bigot,” a “snob,” “loathsome,” a “moron” and of course a (gasp) “public schoolboy,” quite unlike anyone at The Guardian, of course.

Actually, Johnson is all of those things and possibly more. Remember this? And this? London is a multicultural, multi-ethnic city and yet, there isn’t a peep  from Geordie Mark about his master’s use of racist language. Each time the Emperor opens his mouth, there is always a risk that something contentious and racist will slip out.

Speaking of racists, Gilly’s blog has attracted the usual fascists and racists like BNP supporter, “Groovybear” and  John Piggott, who has quite a presence as a commenter on various Internet blogs. Here’s an example.

I have some screengrabs here,

Two of Gilligan's biggest fans

Here is another. In this one, the racist Piggott doesn’t bother hide his anti-Semitism.

Kennite tells us that,

Update: In a touching sign of how closely he follows this blog, Dave within the hour changed his page to remove the claim that the video was of Boris – but don’t worry, I’ve got a screengrab. If only I could work out how to put it up…

Screengrabs are easy to do. I did it. Why can’t he?  Anyway here’s the Dave Hill blog that Gilligoon was talking about.

Let’s return  to The Londoner. When Johnson became mayor he said that he would scrap the paper – which he did – and spend the money on planting trees instead. He didn’t spend all of the £2.9m he claimed would be saved.  Where’s the rest of the money? So much for those ‘green’ credentials. Yes, dear readers, it was all posturing and hot air.  Which is par for the course with Bozza Johnson.

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Filed under London, London Mayoral election 2012, Media, propaganda, Tory press, Yellow journalism

Pickles plays the Hokey Cokey with the YBF

Eric Pickles talks rubbish

In a Guardian article from March 2010, Eric Pickles, then the Tory Party Chairman, said that he was “distancing the party from the Young Britons Foundation”.

If that’s the case, Nowhere Towers would like to know why he still turns up to address the young and not-so-young shock troops of the rabid right? Presumably, he’d tell us that he’s attending such meetings in a “personal capacity”. Yeah, okay, if you say so.

The Sontaran  also has close contact with the Trade Union Reform Campaign led by Young Turcs (geddit?) Aidan Burley and Mark Clarke, the YBF’s  “Outreach Officer. In fact, as Political Scrapbook tells us he’s attending this evening’s relaunch of TURC.

Burley was involved in an embarrassing Nazi incident just before Christmas that cost him his job as Justine Greening’s bag carrier. Oddly enough, Nazis didn’t like trade unions either.

So is Pickles in or is he out? Will he shake it all about? Ugh. That’s one mental picture  that I don’t want to see again.

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Guy Debord's Cat

I was reading the local Tory blog, the rather dishonestly titled “Residents First”  (I won’t link to the blog), and was amused to see that the Council is going to build “25 new homes”. Not homes for rent, you understand, but properties to buy.  This is because,

The council announced last year that it would be establishing its own local housing company in order to directly provide new affordable homes for the first time in 30 years to help local residents get onto the property ladder and help create a Borough of Opportunity.

Ah, the “Borough of Opportunity”. It has a nice ring to it. Don’t you agree? Well, no, not when you consider that the opportunities, which the ruling Tory group are alluding to, will go to their chums in the construction industry. Yes friends, it’s opportunity knocks for Wates and McAlpine!

The Tories assure us that other…

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H&F Council to build new homes! (But don’t get too excited)

I was reading the local Tory blog, the rather dishonestly titled “Residents First”  (I won’t link to the blog), and was amused to see that the Council is going to build “25 new homes”. Not homes for rent, you understand, but properties to buy.  This is because,

The council announced last year that it would be establishing its own local housing company in order to directly provide new affordable homes for the first time in 30 years to help local residents get onto the property ladder and help create a Borough of Opportunity.

Ah, the “Borough of Opportunity”. It has a nice ring to it. Don’t you agree? Well, no, not when you consider that the opportunities, which the ruling Tory group are alluding to, will go to their chums in the construction industry. Yes friends, it’s opportunity knocks for Wates and McAlpine!

The Tories assure us that other councils are doing the same thing,

Westminster, Islington and Wandsworth Councils are also pursuing similar approaches to better utilising council assets in order to build new affordable housing.

Two of those councils are Tory-controlled and one is Labour-controlled. So what does that tell us? It tells us that lessons haven’t been learnt: not everyone can afford to buy a shoebox flat in a disused health centre; some people prefer to rent and besides, wasn’t the property bubble partly responsible for the economic crisis? Well, they don’t seem to think so. By the way, the government is behind this HomeBuy nonsense.  The government is implacably opposed to the building of more council homes and wants to drive even more people into debt by saddling them with mortgages on properties that, in all likelihood, they will never be able to sell. The government has also reintroduced the disastrous Right to Buy (RTB), which led to the current housing shortage.

While the Tories crow about their fantastic plan to build a mere 25 homes in the borough, council rents have been increased. That old cliché, “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” seems eerily apposite.

Housing crisis? What housing crisis? Excuse me while I stick my head in the sand.

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Filed under Hammersmith & Fulham, Hammersmith & Fulham Tories, London

Hegemony, censorship and satire

Before 1979, much of British comedy (sit-coms and stand-up comedy) was disconnected from reality and isolated from history; it treated every person who wasn’t white, straight, male or English as objects of ridicule. The Oxbridge comedy was little better; produced in ivory towers, all it could do was gaze longingly at its own navel. In the years preceding the Sixties, political satire was often limited to the print media and, in the mainstream, there was little of that. There was Punch and later Private Eye but the less we say about Punch, the better.

Punch’s “Rhodes Colossus”: satire or triumphalism?

In terms of television, That Was The Week That Was is often cited as the starting point of the British satire ‘boom’.  But it wasn’t a boom at all, merely a controlled explosion that was carried out in a car park at BBC Television Centre. It may have thumbed its nose at the political establishment but it was pretty tame stuff compared to the alternative comedy-cabaret of the 1980’s. To get around censorship laws, TW3 was ostensibly a “news and current affairs” programme. Entertainment was seen as a diversion and as such it was supposed to be free of political content.

TW3 did not address social concerns, its primary objective was to lampoon the political establishment. Ironically, the people who did the lampooning were members of the same social class they lampooned. In other words, they fed off each other. David Frost, the son of a Methodist clergyman,  used his suave image to launch a highly successful career as an interviewer and anchor. He didn’t do too badly either. TW3 attacked racism in the US cornpone states and South African apartheid but failed to tackle the endemic racism that existed in Britain. It was as if to say “We’re not racist because we’re British”. The class system was also lampooned, as this classic clip shows (up to 1.02),

Britain is a class-riven society and in spite of feeble attempts on the part of some political leaders to reconcile the classes; the upper classes – the dominant social and cultural classes – continue to have the whip hand. But if class is a massive fault line, then racism and sexism are the deep cracks that run from it. We are still a very long way away from a truly classless society and we certainly haven’t seen the end of racism and sexism as I pointed out in this blog.

Perhaps I’m being a little unfair to TW3. After all, it was a groundbreaking programme and it broke through the stuffy, oppressive paternalism of British political system – but only briefly. It also attracted audiences numbers of around 14 million at its peak. But, ultimately,  it failed to ignite a satire movement and the heavy hand of the dominant class was once again applied to the writing and performance of satire on television. Those who remember TW3 with a certain dewy-eyed fondness will forget that the programme was produced by members of the same class as the politicians that were mocked.

When it came to live satire, there was only the Establishment Club, its light burned brightly but briefly but, most tellingly, nothing followed it. We also need to remember that theatre scripts and even comedian’s jokes had to be sent to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office for inspection. The Establishment Club could circumvent this diktat by virtue of the fact that it was,  for all intents and purposes, a private members’ club.  It was the exception rather than the norm. This crushing weight of cultural hegemony had been around since the 18th century, when the paranoid political leaders of England responded to what they saw as the threat of  a Jacobite cultural insurgency in the theatres and inns of the country and replied by drafting legislation to outlaw the singing of Jacobite songs and the staging of pro-Jacobite plays.  Furthermore, the Prime Minister of the day, Robert Walpole was mercilessly lampooned by satirists like John Gay, who compared him to a leader of the criminal underclass in Beggar’s Opera.  Walpole, unable to take a joke, responded with the Theatre Licensing Act of 1737. The steps that Walpole’s government took to curb dissent in the theatre had a lasting effect on British culture. No talk of religion or politics was permitted in the inns. Indeed, some pubs still proudly display signs at the bar which read “No politics or religion”. But this isn’t to say that there was no satire at all: it continued to exist in print but it was never far from danger as the Oz Trial and countless other cases brought to trial under the absurd Obscene Publications Act (1957) tell us.

The Obscene Publications Act and the Theatre Licensing Act were only two of the weapons used by the state and it agents in the fight against ‘smut’ (a rather wide-ranging term that is/was often loosely applied). Libel laws have also been used to great effect.  Private Eye has felt the wrath of many a litigant and its coffers are deep – they have to be. Certain organizations and groups like The Freedom Association and individual Tories believe that any criticism of them or their ideas or their idols – whether they are expressed satirically or not – should be met with the threat of taking the offender to court. This makes a mockery the overused phrase of “free speech”, which is routinely trotted out by the likes of TFA and the cult-like Institute of Ideas like some kind of mantra. But it’s a myth and deep down all of us know it is.

After the theatres were freed from the dominance of the state in 1968, few attempts were made to put satire on the television or in any live context for that matter. It was only fringe theatre groups like CAST that made any real effort to tackle social issues, which they did through a blend of popular culture, slogans and biting satire. CAST had been around since 1965 and were improvisers by trade and while the rest of the political fringe theatre movement were obsessed with Piscator and Meyerhold and notions of ideological purity, CAST stood alone by making their work accessible to the masses.

Throughout the Seventies, few attempts, if any, were made to produce real hard biting satire for television. Instead, on the one hand, we were treated to a near endless parade of sexist and racist jokes told by fat Northern comedians who tried to cover up their bigotry by using the “It’s a joke” defence. On the other hand, we had the absurd whimsy of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the memories of which appear to be entirely formed around a handful of decent sketches. Then there was Mike Yarwood, whose impressions of political figures and union leaders was tame, even toothless.

Here’s Yarwood doing an impression of Harold Wilson for the 1974 Election Special

But there was no satire of any note contained within Yarwood’s work. This was not real life and it was a couple of parsecs away from my own lived experience. At least we had Dave Allen and he was the only satirist on prime time television.

The appearance of what would later be coined “alternative comedy” was greeted with brickbats and insults from the comedy establishment. The bow-tied, besuited fatsos of The Comedians claimed that it “wasn’t funny” and  all that the young comedians could do to get laughs was to “use bad language”. Bernard Manning, the leader of this pack of old farts, was never averse to using salty language. In fact, in his own Embassy Club he frequently swore. In what the Daily Mail presented as  a self-penned obituary from beyond the grave, Manning said,

In their obsession with turning comedy into a branch of Left-wing politics, they forgot that the only point of jokes is to make people laugh.

Manning ignored one thing: alternative comedians made their audiences laugh and those audiences didn’t find Manning in the least bit amusing.

The 1970’s were characterized by social strife and yet none of the comedians of the period made any real references to it, unless it was to ridicule the leaders of the trade unions and striking workers. No effort was made to puncture the façade of harmony and unity, under which lay the ugly realities of urban decay, ethnic tensions and industrial collapse. This was an age when the police could do what they wanted.

This sketch from Not the Nine O’Clock News was the first attempt to satirize the police, who had used Sus laws to detain black people on the basis that the colour of their skin made them criminals-in-waiting.

The popular image of the police in the 1970’s was derived from the mythology of Dixon of Dock Green. Television’s treatment of the boys in blue was deferential to say the least.

Here’s Dixon of Dock Green, your friendly neighbourhood bobby who never put a foot wrong.

This image of the police was worlds away from the day-to-day reality for many people. The police routinely fitted people up, fabricated evidence and assaulted, even killed people who were in their custody. They still do it. Ask the families of Blair Peach, Ian Tomlinson and Smiley Culture what they think of the police and they’ll tell you that they get away with murder.

Not the Nine O’Clock News wasn’t alternative comedy but it was a sign that things were, at last, beginning to change. But, on television, this change moved at glacial speed. On the emerging alternative cabaret circuit, there was no aversion to talking about society and politics on stage. In fact, performers were expected to engage with the here and now.

Meanwhile certain Tory MPs had CAST and others in their sights. The MP for Glasgow Cathcart and Monday Clubber, the god-bothering Teddy Taylor, demanded to know why left-wing theatre companies, particularly CAST, were being given public money for ‘political causes‘. This point of view was supported by Norman Tebbitt, who had railed against the Arts Council since taking his seat in the Commons in 1970, calling it “biased” and “elitist”. The Conservative intention then as now was to impose a sort of monoculture on the country; a form of leitkultur as Shreiking Douglas Murray would say. The hegemony must be total.

While alternative acts were ridiculing the political classes on stage, Spitting Image took satire to new levels on the small screen. Its satirical writing was reinforced by its use of grotesque puppet likenesses of the famous people it sent up. Thatcher always appeared as a tyrannical cross-dresser, who bullied her cabinet. Norman Tebbit was depicted as a leather jacket-wearing bovver boy who would rough up anyone who stepped out of line. While Douglas Hurd’s hair resembled, rather memorably, a Mr Whippy ice cream cornet.

While I’m at it, this parody of Tomorrow Belongs to Me from the film Cabaret is particularly savage. This was the closing scene from the 1987 Spitting Image Election Special.

TW3 was denied an election special on the grounds that it would adversely influence voters. It is likely that the McMillan government put pressure on the BBC. Spitting Image got its election specials but they weren’t shown on the same night as the General Election, which meant that the government was still very much afraid of satire and how it might affect their poll numbers.

By 1990, Spitting Image had been effectively defanged and declawed. The reasons given for this change varied from Thatcher’s resignation to the oft-used ‘change in tastes’ mantra.  The image of a grey John Major, with a satellite dish on his head, eating peas seemed to sum up the satirical mood.  Spitting Image’s fire became focussed on the emerging culture of celebrity, it dragged on for a few more years but it was hopeless. In 1996, it was axed. The expense of producing such a show was highlighted as a causal factor in its demise. Latex puppets are rather costly to make so it seems.

There was a gap between 1996 and 1999, when Bremner, Bird and Fortune began its run of 85 shows on Channel Four. But this programme seemed to hark back to TW3 for its rather highbrow approach to the material (Bird and Fortune were involved in the Sixties satire ‘boom’). The satire also relied rather heavily on the viewers’ a priori of the intricacies of the British political system, and for those without a working knowledge of Hansard or a familiarity with politicians (who seem to have deliberately made themselves bland to thwart the satirist-impressionists), it was often little more than a collection of obscure political in-jokes. Bremner, Bird and Fortune left our screens in May 2010, which was, by coincidence, the month of the last General Election. Rory Bremner cited the blandness of the current crop of politicians that influenced their decision to pull the plug on the show but there were other reasons.

Here’s a clip from the programme,

Please try to ignore the foreign subtitles.

These days, political satire is in the shadows. I can count the numbers of satirists on the comedy circuit on one hand (well, maybe one and a bit). There is also an eerie absence of satire on television. It seems as though we have entered a new period of deference and this is what right-wing governments want. In Mussolini’s Italy, satirists were attacked on the streets, even killed (Mascha, 1998). We clearly haven’t reached that point yet.

Satire is counter-hegemonic; it works passively to draw people’s attention to social injustice and political hypocrisy and makes them laugh out loud at the same time. The fact that certain political parties are afraid of it shows a weakness of character on their part.

Britain is crying out for satire and now is the time for satirists to sharpen their wits and plunge their comedic knives into the hearts of the enemies!

References

Gramsci, A., (ed.) (1971) Selections From The Prison Notebooks, London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Itzin, C. (1986). Stages in the Revolution: Political Theatre in Britain Since 1968. London: Methuen

Mascha, E. (1998) “Political Satire and Hegemony: A Case for Passive Revolution During Mussolini’s Ascendance To Power, 1919 to 1925” in Humor, The Journal of The International Society For Humor Studies.

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Filed under censorship, Comedy, humour, Media, satire, Society & culture, Television

OTT: a slice of social history

Thirty years ago this month, OTT, a sort of adult-oriented version of the popular anarchic kids show Tiswas, hit our screens. In those days we only had three television channels to choose from and the fourth was on its way. All the Tiswas regulars were involved: Chris Tarrant, Sally James, Lenny Henry, Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog.  Tiswas attracted a loyal following of young adult males who, hungover from a Friday night’s heavy drinking,  liked nothing better than drooling at Sally James or laughing like drains at the antics of the Phantom Fan Flinger (who was he?) and the Four Bucketeers.

With Tiswas, Tarrant thought that it would be an easy transition from messy kid’s stuff to television adulthood. It was not to be.  The programme was axed at the end of March after only 12 shows. OTT  featured, among other things, a regular stand-up spot with Alexei Sayle.  He was the only good thing in what was a truly forgettable show. What worked as an anarchic children’s show fared miserably as late night entertainment. There was some obvious objectification of women and some blatant sexism  in the programme.

What is striking about this clip of Sayle is the quip he makes about the riots that happened the year before. “I’m Willie Whitelaw and I’m a tortoise” exclaims Sayle.  He also mentions unemployment, which hit the magic three million in January 1982. This week the figure given for the total alleged number of unemployed was 2.68 million. I say “alleged” because I suspect that the figure is much higher. Sayle left the programme by show 9. Ironically, Bernard Manning would appear in the final show.

1982 was the year that alternative comedy got more political. We’re overdue a revival. Enjoy.

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Filed under Comedy, humour, Media, riots, Society & culture, Television