Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Satire Is Dead

Nick is on about satire this week. I'm disappointed that 'satire is dead' bush yields only 172,000 pages. I expected a million or so.

Actually, our boy makes some good points. Nick calls Brown a "demented spendthrift who stuffed the pockets of bureaucrats, IT salesmen, management consultants and hospital consultants while the patients whose money he had taken lay in NHS beds slowly dying in pools of their own excrement" which is a little over the top, but not that much.

Update, by Bruschettaboy: NB that Nick Cohen knows less than Aaro about macroeconomics, if such a thing were possible. There is some good stuff on problems in the NHS there, but the overall characterisation of Brown as a "demented spendthrift" has no very sound basis in the PSBR figures and is purely and simply a George Osborne talking point. You can see that no thought has gone into the piece from the fact that Nick gaily throws around all sorts of numbers of different orders of magnitude as if they were equally important; sort of like a Burroughsian cut-up technique applied to the Pre-Budget Report. By the way, one third of the "Squandered" trillion pounds of "Our Money" referred to in David Craig's book has gone into the benefits system, so if you're an Observer reader receiving state benefits or a pension, you might be interested to know that Nick Cohen considers you a complete waste of Decent people's money. Or if you're a doctor for that matter, you parasitical bastard bleeding the workers dry with your fancy pay rises. Where's Pol Pot when you need him? Sorry, Chardonnay Chap, appallingly rude of me to butt in like that. As you were.

While his attacks on Brown's economic competence are well-placed (and the sort of commentary that a former-broadsheet should carry), his digs at satire are, well, laughable.

He [Henry Naylor, chief writer of Headcases] shouldn't be so cocksure, because if not for 100 years then for a good two decades, British satire has had a dire record.


Nick is still mates with Francis Wheen of satirical rag Private Eye isn't he? (Not that I think the Eye is any great shakes either, if it comes to that.) Has he shared this view?

Spitting Image's writers presented Margaret Thatcher's ministers as cowering eunuchs, and looked lost when the supposed sycophants overthrew her.


Oh come on, everyone was surprised. I read the Guardian and the Independent in those days. and I don't recall any political observer saying anything like "You've got to watch out for Geoffrey Howe."

I think Nick gets satire completely wrong. He seems to think it should carry accurate political analysis first and humour second when it's the other way around. He thinks satirists should concentrate on politicians rather than on celebrities, when there's no point in mimicking someone if only a few cognosenti recognise the imitation. Despite what Nick seems to think, even if there was a heyday of British television satire in the 60s, the Frost Report etc didn't "draw blood" on a regular basis.

At the risk of sounding like Tony Benn when he's sounding off on "issues", good satire doesn't concentrate on personalities, but on, I suppose, issues. Jon Stewart is a superb (in my opinion anyway) comedian, but his commentary doesn't just stick to the obvious ad hominems (Bush is a moronic dry-drunk sort of thing) but goes into the twisted logic behind the stupidity. The problem with "Spitting Image" was that it got locked into 1-dimensional characterization. A good newspaper cartoonist (oxymoron watch, where are you?) could show, for instance, John Major as "a grey but decent ditherer" one day and as "an obstinate man tormented by resentments" the next because, strangely, both are true. Proper satire doesn't depend on a one-to-one relationship with reality.

As for the "crisis of confidence in British culture" - that's just bollocks.

In other Decent news, Martin Amis gets a good kicking in the NYT from Michiko Kakutani (via Steven Poole).

Indeed "The Second Plane" is such a weak, risible and often objectionable volume that the reader finishes it convinced that Mr. Amis should stick to writing fiction and literary criticism, as he’s thoroughly discredited himself with these essays as any sort of political or social commentator.


I'd forgotten how up his own arse Amis could be.

The solecism, that is to say, is not grammatical but moral-aesthetic - an offense against decorum; and decorum means 'seemliness,' which comes from soemr, 'fitting,' and soema, 'to honor.' 9/11, 7/7: who or what decided that particular acts of slaughter, particular whirlwinds of plasma and body parts, in which a random sample of the innocent is killed, maimed, or otherwise crippled in body and mind, deserve a numerical shorthand? Whom does this 'honor'? What makes this 'fitting'?


Since 'decorum' does mean 'seemliness' why not say 'seemliness' in the first place? And it's a pity that 'Remembrance Day' falls on the eleventh day of the eleventh month and it's traditional to observe two minutes silence at the eleventh hour on that day? Who decided (apart from this being the anniversary of the end of WWI) that this numerical shorthand, etc, almost an entire generation of young men, etc?


This last is not exactly a Decent watch, but related to MA's Islamophobia (not a word I really like, but there doesn't seem to be a better one - bar 'out and out craziness'). Amis not so long ago published a book with the title "The War Against Cliche" - he seems to think he's being original or percipient in his condemnations of Muslims. Amis has lower-browed counterparts and they have confirmed, in confirmation was needed, that online commenters to newspaper articles make on despair of mankind in general. Andrew O'Hagan, who is generally a pretty sensible commentator, wrote Fear of Islam is ruining our chance for peace in the Torygraph and attracted 100% wingnuts. What is really shocking is they repeat the usual prejudices against Islam without having read or understood the piece. "The difference between the IRA and Islam is that Allah says 'Die for me'. Jesus said 'I died for you'" (Posted by F. and U. Adenufyet on April 8, 2008 8:33 AM) Apart from the IRA = Jesus thing, which I really cannot get my head around, and the travestying of Islamic beliefs, O'Hagan's starting point was the story (BBC version) of the "desecration of nearly 150 Muslim graves at a French World War I cemetery". I know next to nothing about French colonial history, but I think these soldiers were actually volunteers. I admit no one actually asked them to die for France, but that was what it came to.

How blinkered, how prejudiced does someone have to be not to be able to say that the vandalism of graves (which in itself reminds me of Tony Harrison's "V") and using swastikas at that is a vile act? (NB, I am sort of hoping that Aaro picks up this story for the JC.)

10 Comments:

Blogger Larry Teabag said...

Someone should direct Mr Cohen towards the Decentpedia.

4/09/2008 09:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Dr Paul said...

I can't take Martin Amis seriously after reading his book on Stalin. My comments on it are here.

4/09/2008 10:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Lobby Ludd said...

I think I can trump you dr paul. I don't take Martin Amis seriously, so I didn't read his book on Stalin.

4/09/2008 10:33:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

To put that in perspective, the United Nations estimated that in 2006, 35,000 died in the civil war in Iraq.

I'm wondering, is this the first time Cohen has mentioned post-invasion Iraqi casualties?

4/10/2008 12:28:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I've just interjected a comment on Nick's economics into the middle of the piece, instead of posting it as a comment here. Is that unforgivably rude? It felt so delightfully transgressive while I was doing it. In any case, very sorry CC if I've stepped over the line and do feel free to edit the shit out of my posts.

4/10/2008 07:29:00 AM  
Anonymous shake said...

Sorry to repeat myself, but the phrases 'Chris Morris' and 'light entertainer' are hovering over the entire Cohen piece aren't they?

Anyway, onto Amis. It's good to see someone picking this up and debunking it:

he suggests that Western liberals acted as if “suicide-mass murder” committed by Islamic terrorists was “reasonable, indeed logical and even admirable.”

It's a standard Decent line of attack and as usual there's pretty much no proof for it. and:

Amis not so long ago published a book with the title "The War Against Cliche" - he seems to think he's being original or percipient in his condemnations of Muslims.

This was a point raised in the TLS review of The Second Plane .

The general Decent love-in over Amis's recent book has been incredibly embarrassing, exposing them once again as people who will praise anything that fits in with their prejudices, no matter how wretched it is (see also their love of Oliver Kamm); but they'll probably think that it's just 'weak-minded arts elite appeasing terrorism' yet again.

Maybe the question to be asked of Amis's book, again, is what it actually gives us that's new. As Kakutani says, he rehashes almost all of his opinions from Hitchens, Lewis and Steyn. What's the point?

4/10/2008 08:08:00 AM  
Anonymous shake said...

forgot this, sorry:

he seems to think he's being original or percipient in his condemnations of Muslims

that seemed to be the reason why Geras approvingly reposted Amis saying 'Don't contradict your times'. But the problem with this is that Amis is (unfortunately) echoing the zeitgeist of reactionary Britain with his boneheaded, uninformed 'opinions' on Islam. Saying 'terrorism is bad' and 'islam is bad' over and over again is the antithesis of 'contradicting your times'.

4/10/2008 08:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

worth remembering that Nick thought of himself as a bit satirical when his column used to be called "hold on a minute" - he also I think did most of the short lived "demon ears" diary in the Observer - . SO pre-Decency he tried a little satire, with limited success. He is now committed to total humorlousness .

4/10/2008 06:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

that seemed to be the reason why Geras approvingly reposted Amis saying 'Don't contradict your times'. But the problem with this is that Amis is (unfortunately) echoing the zeitgeist of reactionary Britain with his boneheaded, uninformed 'opinions' on Islam. Saying 'terrorism is bad' and 'islam is bad' over and over again is the antithesis of 'contradicting your times'.

Absolutely. It's the kind of comment that reflects Amis' and Geras' complete detachment from the real world.

4/10/2008 06:20:00 PM  
Anonymous darkhorse said...

"To put that in perspective, the United Nations estimated that in 2006, 35,000 died in the civil war in Iraq."

I was a little worried by that throwaway comment. I'm not sure how the mention of Iraq puts it into perspective. After all, couldn't he just say, "to put it into perspective..THAT'S 34,000 PEOPLE IN A YEAR, NEARLY 100 A DAY!!!"

I see the formulation of a new Decent-Get-Out. "So you condemn me for my support of the Iraq War? Well, do you condemn those who run the NHS, an equally bloody venture? No? Hypocrite. Your view is irrelevant".

4/10/2008 07:12:00 PM  

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