Satire is a way of speaking truth to power, and also to highlight and question the values of our society – racism, attitudes to money, etc. Instead we get reality TV that reinforcing the most questionable values. The tolerance of satire is an indication of how healthy is our democracy. We’re not as tolerant anymore, or those in power at least. Even our authoritarian ex NZ Prime Minister Robert Muldoon accepted it, at least its right to be there.
In our more commercial and ‘managing the perceptions’ age where marketing the spin is everything, satire has declined. Should we be worried? Carroll O’Connor from All in the Family argued there was not enough of it before he died in 2001 (on the Donny & Marie show – go figure). It’s arguably a lot worse now. In New Zealand we used to have A Week of It, and McPhail & Gadsby, and the satirical sitcoms of those writers as well as Roger Hall. We lost John Clarke to Australia, where he now plays an important role in shining a mirror on all the half truths and distorted spin of those that would happily deceive us. He’s on the ABC. I don’t know why a corporate-owned network doesn’t have him. You’ll have to ask them.
At least we had John Stewart, although NZ Sky pulled it a few years ago – I have no idea why. I really don’t believe the public mind is at all served by large corporate media. It is a myth that they are only concerned about the ratings. The Campbell Live debacle put that myth to rest. Reading about Rupert Murdock, his attacks on the BBC and public broadcasting generally, his UK Sky deals and News of the World is chilling. His links to and power over UK politicians is chilling. His messaging is Brave New World chilling. Goebbels chilling. Murdock is just one. And he owns Fox, which ought to shine a light on what might have happened, is happening, in the UK. In his novel Dominion, C J Sansom puts forward the idea that no one person or organisation should control more than 10% of the country’s media. And we need a ring-fenced public broadcasting system.
The loss of critique and questioning is very much aligned with the rise of an economic and commercial ideology that sees the world through a lens of money rather than life. Without satire, with an ever-growing corporate control of messaging and both national and international policy making, this perverted power & avarice purpose of humanity is not even raised, let alone questioned and openly critiqued.
It is not just our democracy that is at risk. If a political, commercial or economic commentator has no regard for the history:
- of the rise and fall and rise of human purpose and philosophical thought;
- of social, economic & environmental exploitation in all its forms – colonisation, privatisation of commons, short-term greed for power & position, socialisation of costs, feudalism, corporatism – the forces that rationalise it and allow it, and exploitation’s inevitable consequences;
- of the ‘cult of entitlement’ and consequent blindness that grew with some religious orders, the Stuart and Bourbon absolute monarchs, the aristocracy of Versailles, and the robber baron bankers and corporates of yesterday and, again, today;
then the very future of our communities and planet is put at risk.
I’ll miss you John Stewart. One final thought. The Guardian is managed through a company, formerly a trust, with the purpose of editorial independence and maintaining financial health to ensure it cannot be taken over by a competitor. For some reason, the Guardian is often referred to as ‘left wing’. That seems to be an epithet that is associated with not so much ‘left wing’ views (whatever they are), but with critique of today’s powerful. By that definition, all critique is ‘left wing’, which is simply another way that the powerful diminish the value of critique – by labelling it with a name around which they build a pejorative meaning: ‘Liberal’; ‘Left-wing’; ‘Academic’; ‘not-practical’; ‘shiny-arse’. Ad hominems, fallacious. Chris Perley