April fool! How would you know?
Posted on April 1, 2019
For, since the little wit that fools have was silenced, the little foolery that wise men have makes a great show.
Celia in Shakespeare’s As You Like It
Pity the poor satirist. Spare a thought for the joke writer. It’s April 1st and it behoves such people to come up with something witty, outlandish and inventive; something where the line between the feasible and the improbable becomes temporarily blurred. On April 1st in 2019, just where are they meant to go?
To Ukraine perhaps? To the presidential elections, where the leader after the first poll is Voloydymyr Zeklenskiy who, in a twist that seems to go beyond the postmodern, is a sitcom actor who plays an ordinary citizen who becomes president, having stood on an anti-corruption platform? Voldoymyr has adopted an idiosyncratic approach to electoral politics. This involves him having no policy statements, giving no interviews and taking no part in active campaigning. He likes to say what he thinks people want to hear.
It’s not difficult to speculate about where Volodymyr may have looked for inspiration. The leader of the free world is another who speaks and splurts as he feels at any given moment. So desensitised have we all now become to these wild outpourings that anything, up to and including phallicly charged boasts about the size of his warhead, are met with nothing more than a weary shrug.
Trump’s tenure and Zeklenskiy’s bid for power are part of a greater cultural narrative. Back in 1969 the academic Neil Postman was worried about an education system that failed to produce critical thinkers and suggested that one consequence for society could be ‘that a major requirement for the holding of political office be prior success as a show-business personality’. Twelve years later, Ronald Reagan became President of the United States and some fourteen years after that, just in case we needed confirmation that some lessons are hard leant, Arnold Schwarzenegger became Governor of California. Oddly, to look at footage of either of them now is to witness a degree of grace and style of which the current incumbent of the White House is entirely bereft. (Trust me on this – try it).
As much as such opportunistic individuals present an initial gift to the sketch-writers, their unrelenting incompetence, along with – in most cases -their commitment to a desperate authoritarianism, are now so normalised, that for artists to take these people and their ideas ad absurdum – the hallmark of political satire – becomes almost impossible.
I dunno: what will they do next, eh? Imprison academics and journalists? Make abortion illegal? Build walls and razor-wire borders across national boundaries? Leave desperate people to drown in the seas off their coastlines? Create hostile environments for citizens of their own countries? Let large corporations sell anything, material or digital, to our children as long as they make a profit? Discredit expert opinion on all matters, but particularly those which warn of a foreseeable impact on the health and wellbeing of our grandchildren? Come on; none of them can be that stupid.
There remains, thank goodness, a strong British tradition of unfettered, often vulgar, political lampoonery. Last weekend I listened to and watched a good deal of it: The Now Show, The Last Leg and the utterly scurrilous Frankie Boyle’s New World Order. To the credit of all involved, contributors were funny and pointed, but there was no escaping the enduring undercurrent of anger, bemusement and even anxiety. On a domestic level – and, yes, I’m afraid we get drawn toward the B word with magnetic certainty – even though the main cast of that farce seem to have escaped from Harry Enfield’s brilliant spoof public information films, there is a limit to how much vitriol can be extracted before exasperation inevitably takes over.
Our problem is that those who really should be the butt of jokes – a little, macho body-builder who poses topless on a horse; a spoilt rich kid with a daft haircut who’s inherited his dad’s nuclear arsenal; strutting autocrats from Turkey to Hungary to Brazil – are now too many to be written off as temporary aberrations. It’s one thing ridiculing them because their deluded self-aggrandisement looks so out of touch with a society that, largely, hopes it has developed beyond such brutish simplicity; it becomes harder to do so when they start shooting down planes and hacking into vital service systems.
But mock, diminish and belittle them we must. Revealing that these flyblown emperors have no clothes, other than a flimsy shroud of bluster and dangerous self-importance, has never been more vital. Ridicule on its own won’t be enough. Informed political debate, discourse and participative action, as tough as these may be to develop in the current noise, must be the main weapons of resistance and protest. But we can still continue to fight them on the sketch shows and repel them with our stand-ups.
So comedians of the world unite – the stage is yours and , unlike the devil, we do have the best tunes and, indisputably, the best jokes.
And did you know that Michael Gove is still a front runner for the Tory leadership?
Ay-pril fooooool …..oh, wait a minute…