I read Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House over the weekend, and the main takeaway I had from that book is: this is what a satirist’s cultural victory looks like. Some of that comes from the fact I paused a biography of Lenin to smash through Michael Wolff’s book, and the contrast between the two principals as human beings – never mind ideology – couldn’t be starker.
Lenin was a deeply serious man of strong convictions and ruthless energy, who put himself, his family and his comrades on the line over and over again in pursuit of his beliefs. There’s only one word in that sentence that describes Trump: ruthless.
At primary school, I was the kid with the enviable collection of MAD magazines – the obsessive weirdo who built a knowledge of American culture and politics purely so he would understand every punchline. One recess, Carl Mackay exclaimed to me, “Everything they say is a joke!” like it was a revelation. Yeah, Carl, I thought. That’s the point.
And some day I would be one of the Usual Gang of Idiots… probably after I invented the time machine.
But just because I always aspired to being a modern-day court jester didn’t mean I wanted the entirety of our culture to go that way. What’s the point of being an iconoclast if nobody takes anything seriously? How can we make exaggerated jokes about our countrymen when they’re literally wearing chicken buckets on their heads at the cricket?
“There has to be advertising for people who don’t have a sense of humour,” Don Draper berates his underlings in one episode of Mad Men. The same should go for our leaders, too. You think Bill Shorten enjoys having to try to be funny? He should be working his own side of the street, not ours. There’s a spectre haunting satire, and it’s the strange feeling we’ve become obsolete.
Here we are, in a world where our politicians are beyond mockery, and the worst thing you can be seen to do is take yourself – or a cause – seriously. It’s a long way from the Beyond the Fringe-era with Peter Cook causing a legitimate stir by sending up the in-attendance British PM (yeah, I watched The Crown S2 as well as marathoning Mad Men over the Christmas break).
Bring back some actual stable geniuses instead of oddball bloviators who declare themselves so, despite an overwhelming lack of evidence on both fronts. (I mean, really. I’d never refer to myself as a stable genius. And I’m a stable genius.)
Let’s elect some serious men and women searching for serious solutions to serious problems instead of trying to score points off each other. Not only because it will probably help get some positive things done in this century, but also because it will serve as the comedic equivalent of crop rotation or rebuilding game populations for hunters.
That’s my manifesto: give us wannabe jesters something beyond barrel-dwelling fish to shoot at.