Tom Lehrer once said that he gave up satire after Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, declaring the profession redundant after that. It’s tempting to suggest that political satire is redundant in Australia too. We have a government that offers no leadership and an opposition that offers no alternative. In these most laughable times, there’s no-one on television specifically making an act out of saying how laughable it is. Perhaps there should be.
When talking of television political satire, it’s impossible not to mention The Gillies Report in the nid-80s, but there has also been the most excellent BackBerner around the turn of the century. Right now, there’s bugger all. All we have that approaches satire are the 7PM Project, At Home with Julia and The Gruen Transfer – and they all approach satire very timidly.
The 7PM project started out as an attempt at a local version of The Daily Show, but they stuffed up in trying to mix in actual news. So we had, “Here’s a news headline. And here’s a joke about it. Here’s another news headline. And here’s another joke. Here’s another news headline. Ooh, there’s nothing funny about that – let’s look uncomfortable and move on.” Then they gave a platform to right-wing trolls like Steve Price and Andrew Bolt, brought on as their “serious” analysts and now 7PM is basically an info-tainment program. But the host doesn’t shave – ooh, they’re just so edgy!
The point 7PM missed is that The Daily Show does more serious commentary by staying true to their mission of being a comedy program rather than trying to go half way to being serious. The one thing I dislike about the Daily Show is that they still call it fake news. It’s not. The news is real. The difference is that being a comedy program the Daily Show gets to take something that’s really stupid and say, “Hey, that’s really stupid!”
At Home With Julia buries the occasional satirical observation so deep inside a painfully unfunny sitcom that it’s not worth waiting for, and the Gruen Transfer tells us all how we’re being lied to while praising the cleverness of those lies. There has also been the Chaser, but too often they tarnish their brand by going for the “OMG! I can’t believe you just did that,” laughs. The only place we have for actual, literate satire is the perennial Clarke and Dawe.
While this is going on, supposedly serious programs are leaving it to the audience to make their own jokes. Q and A has given up on its “experiments in democracy,” and is instead going for just being good television (where “good television,” is a euphemism for an entertaining train wreck. Most of the guests are commentators more than anyone involved in policy, the questions are mostly grandstanding and the on-screen tweets are mostly bad jokes and attention-seekers. (Yes, I am as guilty of this as anyone else).
With so much of politics and analysis allowing casual observers to make their own jokes, I for one am beginning to miss informed, well crafted satire.