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Satirists are natural conservatives. From the Romans on, they have flourished by pitching an older, superior order against ridiculous and sinister innovations.

Juvenal contrasted old Rome with the vulgarity brought by Greek flatterers and Jewish merchants who had so corrupted the eternal city that they left “no room for honest callings”. All the great satirists followed his example of nostalgia and alarm. Swift hated the Whigs for dragging his peaceful country into the long wars against Louis XIV. The threat of mass society to the old aristocratic order appalled Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell. By the Eighties, it was the turn of Leftists to be Conservatives and deliver furious tirades against Margaret Thatcher’s destruction of social democratic values they had assumed to be settled. Norman Tebbit showed he understood the satirical dynamic better than many literary critics when he wrote of the best satire of the Thatcher years: “Spitting Image’s creators were rooted in a mid-20th-century ‘Guard­ianesque’ political consensus, which, at the time, was being comprehensively trashed by the Thatcherite reformers.”

Thatcher won, of course. The targets of satire nearly always do. Swift no more stopped the Whigs making England a European power than Michael Moore stopped George W. Bush winning the 2004 election. Politicians should not necessarily worry if their opponents have the best jokes. To call satire a conservative art is another way of saying that it is the art of the defeated. Even Orwell’s Animal Farm only became an obit­uary for Soviet communism after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Like everyone else in the Forties, Orwell imagined the regime carrying on indefinitely, until “a time came when there was no one who remembered the old days before the Rebellion”.

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ADAMS
June 27th, 2008
12:06 AM
A good article, and I love the magazine so far. To bring up Headcases in this important subject is, I think, irrelevant. It's a small, mistaken programme. It's not the 'New Spitting Image' and only said it was to get some publicity. Let's focus on proper satire. Columnists, stand-ups, sketch-writers and cartoonists. And I think they're doing fine. Rory Bremner, Craig Brown, Matthew Parris, Morland, and there are many others. The limits are always going to be the Brass Eye factor (Daily Mail outrage) and the timidity of Editors in general. And part of that is, yes, don't scare the punters. Or confuse them. However, satirists should speak to everyone. Not just the Westminster Village or 'chattering classes', as they sometimes do now. For example, however bad Ed Balls may be, he is not yet on on the nation's conscience. Yes, one could struggle to expose him every day in a cartoon or column, for example, but if he's not well enough known, he's not well enough known. Full stop. You can work your fingers raw drubbing him every day, but only a "public" story (dodgy political 'initiative', scandal, faux pas... ) will bring him fully to the public's sight. Finally, I believe you are being depressive. Quote: "To call satire a conservative art is another way of saying that it is the art of the defeated." You were the one who called satirists conservative. I disagree. Good ones do not harbour "nostalgia and alarm" but look forward to a less imperfect society. Above all, they sniff a fault a mile off, draw attention to it, but, above all, make sure the punter gets their drift!

Peter
June 10th, 2008
2:06 PM
But Blair has gone now, and it turns out he was nowhere near as Right wing as those who mocked him — myself included — imagined. Yes he was. And your journalism stands up well if read today. Don't give up on us. It is unsurprising that Cameron can easily accept a Blairite settlement and even campaign on the basis of outflanking it on the left!

Neil
June 1st, 2008
12:06 PM
Part of it is possibly that since the hounding of the makers of "Brass Eye", probably the last genuinely biting satire to reach TV, by the regulators and reactionary parts of the media, broadcasters are too scared to show anything too hard-hitting, with the obvious knock on effect on writers no?

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