WHATEVER happened to satire? Is the present passion for
observational comedy simply a failure of nerve? Abba Anthony must
be turning in his desert grave.
There was a lovely outbreak of satire on social media recently,
aimed at David Cameron. He'd tweeted a photo of himself on the
phone, looking statesmanlike and concerned. We learned from the
caption - provided by him - that he was talking to President Obama.
The caption said: "I've been speaking to Barack Obama about the
situation in Ukraine."
I was happy that he had spoken to the President, but that is his
job; and why post a "selfie" of the moment? Why not use the time
spent taking the photo to phone President Putin, for instance? On
display is an exercise in self-importance: "Here I am, a
serious-minded leader, talking to the President."
The response on Twitter was magnificent. People posted pictures
of themselves looking suitably concerned "on the phone" to
President Obama; but none of the phones were phones. The comedian
Rob Delaney held a tube of toothpaste; the actor Sir Patrick
Stewart joined in the transatlantic call holding a tub of Wet Ones;
and the writer Michael Moreno held a dog to his ear.
Talk of death here should not surprise; for the parent of satire
is the desert: the savage authenticity of the big sand, and, in
particular, the Seven Deadly Sins, which emerged in the
fourth-century Saharan wastes. For let's be clear: satire is a
moral business, assuming a right and a wrong. Like some of the
preachers they attack, satirists are extreme moralists, obsessed
with good and bad. And how do they make judgements about people?
They start with the famous seven: wrath, avarice, sloth, pride,
lust, envy, and gluttony.
Behind satire is the idea that there is a good path you can
leave; that there is such a thing as authenticity, which can be
jettisoned for inauthenticity - particularly prevalent among those
with snouts in the trough of power, which makes liars and rascals
of us all.
No one has been more satirical about religion than Jesus; his
"whitewashed tombs" jibe was one of many verbal assaults. But then,
in his day, religion had great power, and needed dismantling.
Today, our well-paid comedians mainly offer observational
comedy. There is nothing wrong with that. It is fun to make wry
observations about our quirky world: "I bought my girlfriend some
flowers from the garage the other day. It seemed the quickest way
to end the relationship." But it is satire-lite - a diluted form of
the original, and some way away from the desert.
Like the Desert Fathers, satirists rage at the world's vanity.
The seven deadly sins? You're 'avin' a laugh.