A good piece of political satire can quickly illuminate a truth or make a point that can take thousands of words of straight up reporting. Satire is also capable of bringing information outside the current context to a story or it can use humour to take an important story to a wider audience. I enjoy political satire, and 2017 has been a great year for satirists with lots of events ripe for satirisation, so I have chosen five of my favourite examples from this year.
No list of the best political satire of the year would be complete without something from NewsThump.com and this article is one of their best. Like all good satire it is both funny and makes an important point. The article mocks British alt-right YouTube personality and general purveyor of hatred Paul Joseph Watson, while making the important point that by blaming all Muslims for every terrorist attack he is creating just the culture of fear and hatred that extremists use to recruit more terrorists.
It is the goal ISIS and their ilk to convince Muslims that they cannot live in the West and practice their religion without being the subject of suspicion and hostility. Whereas most British people can generally see the difference between a few extremists and a peaceful majority, it is self-important alt-right hate mongers with a vision of apocalyptic culture war who are feeding a climate of suspicion of all Muslims that allows ISIS to flourish. This piece gets bonus points for finding a model who looks as punchable as Watson for their cover photo.
Like NewsThump.com above, no list of British satire would be complete without the Daily Mash. Oxford and Cambridge Universities came under criticism this year for classism in admissions. It was revealed that twenty-one Oxbridge colleges didn’t accept a single student of colour from the UK. This article makes the point that it is not just Britain's top universities that are riddled with classism, but the entire education system and our entire society.
In 21st century Britain your lot in life is decided by your class and racial background. Why? Because we are very unequal society and the advantages your parents can give you matter more than your talent or hard work. Even institutions created to be social levellers, like grammar schools, have been colonized by middle class parents with sharp elbows. The classism in the admissions policy of Oxford and Cambridge is just a very visible example of this. The scandal goes beyond Oxbridge and Eton, and effects the entire country.
We cross the pond now to look at a depressing news story that was too ripe for satire. A grumpy Google employee (now ex-employee) decided that because he was a conservative, he was actually the most discriminated against person in the world, and to prove this, he wrote a memo claiming that women can’t work in tech because their brains don’t work that way.
This article, written from the point of a view of a robot manufacturing products for Google, artfully parodies some of said grumpy Google employee’s own arguments through exaggeration. For example, the robot’s claim that humans and machines “inherently differ” takes aim at the tired trope that women’s brains aren’t set up right for jobs in the tech industry. This article also make the point that robots are much better suited for the world of work than humans, so maybe we should think about all jobs they’ll be doing in the future before we all wake up to a world where there is no work and no one can earn any money.
A truly brilliant piece of satire should be easily confused with what it is mocking, yet at the same time be a clear parody of it. This satirical piece of podcasting was so subtly done that I have to admit that at first I was taken in. Joel, Marsin, Iain and Craig run their podcast Kraken where they take a funny and irreverent look at anything from politics to Punisher comics. They often have guests and in this episode they invited on Alliot, who is a fictional far right activist whose analogies about racial purity always come back to single malt whiskey.
Alliot’s impression of a softly spoken, reasonable sounding, deeply racist alt-right nut job is note perfect. Depressingly believable moments include when he accuses Theresa May of being on the left (because she doesn’t support his vision of a racially segregated society and wants people to mix like blended whiskies) or when he claims that he disliked how a group of vagabonds stole from a cohesive, harmonious society of beautiful formed beings in in Guardian of the Galaxy Volume 2 (siding with the villains over the heroes).
As a character Alliot is just crazy enough and just real enough that I could believe that really are alt-right activists who believe that single malt whisky is the basis for a perfect society. This satire is so on the nose that I was actually left fuming that one of my favourite podcasts had given a platform to such an awful person.
The best piece of satire I read all year was written by a serious political journalist, not a professional satirist, and it is a perfect humorous parody of a lot of articles I have read. Like the Malt-right above, I was at first taken in that this was a serious piece of on-the-scene reporting from a town in France that had voted overwhelmingly for Emmanuel Macron. As the piece progresses, the French stereotypes subtly become more obvious until the basis in satire becomes evident.
What makes this piece so brilliant is that there are two interesting points being made here. The first is making fun of all the metropolitan journalists who dashed to forgotten post-industrial towns to grab a few quick insights in the wake of the Brexit vote or Trump’s election. The article parodies journalists were keen to seek out an archetypical member of the left-behind to grab a few quick quotes from about what madness had driven them to ruin the country for everyone.
As well as this, the article shows how Macron was able to easily defeat the far right candidate Marine Le Pen for president, by contrasting the French presidential election with the American one. Points such as how other right wing French politicians threw their “weight behind a centrist in the final round” instead of “pander[ing] to her more in order to prop up their own base”. This shows a country less politically fraught than America, where a conventional politician was able to defeat populists. Like all good satire, this article is witty and has a real insight.
These are my favourite pieces of satire from this year. What are yours? Let me know in the comments below.