THE RIGHT TO RIDICULE: SATIRE AS PROTEST

By Jess O’Dwyer

“There is a political power in laughing at these people.”

So say Led By Donkeys, a “Brexit accountability project” created by four friends who wanted to “[channel] frustration into action and [hold] politicians to account with a bit of humour.” The group go around the country putting up billboards with quotes or Tweets from pro-Brexit politicians, as well as projecting or broadcasting previous interviews on Brexit. This is to show a side-by-side comparison of their changes in stance, highlighting contradiction and hypocrisy.

Their latest project was a competition to design posters that mock the government’s “Get Ready For Brexit” ad campaign, created to prepare people for a possible no-deal Brexit on 31st October, which of course did not end up happening. The government’s campaign has been labelled a “redundant and misleading move” – the type of situation satirists live to mock and exploit. To me, this competition is an excellent example of exercising not only your freedom of speech, but also your right to protest.

Using politicians’ rhetoric against them is a powerful thing. All too often it seems like politicians spend more of their lives twisting each other’s words than delivering on their pledges or getting anything meaningful accomplished. The Conservative party in particular feels like a parody of itself at times, with people like Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the Commons, acting like a Victorian workhouse owner, suggesting the reason people died in Grenfell Tower was because they “lacked common sense”. These at times horribly bleak jokes often write themselves, and it is important to point that out. Freedom of speech should extend to the freedom to mock people in privileged positions of power, because that is part of our power, and right, as the general public.

ledbydonkeys2

One of many Led By Donkeys billboards designed to highlight Boris Johnson’s hypocrisy around Brexit. Credit: Led By Donkeys

I think it is safe to say politics has been more chaotic and bizarre as of late. In these fearful times of climate change and the rise of white nationalism we all need something to cling onto to keep us sane, or at least to take the edge off for a while.

Britain has a proud tradition of mocking politicians of every stripe, pointing out their lies and ineptitudes, their disdain for the working class, immigrants and any other marginalised or underprivileged group in society. The purpose of satire is not just to entertain, but to inform the public of what is going on in a way that is more accessible and palatable to those who may not usually engage in politics or those who distrust the usual sources of news. Satirical news shows are abundant on British television, from long-running standards Have I Got News For You and Mock the Week to newer developments on the formula like The Mash Report. When so much of entertainment nowadays is cheap, vapid sameness seen in the likes of reality TV, it is heartening to see that some people are trying to inform the public and entertain them, instead of just lulling them further into a state of ignorant passivity.

Sharing a meme about Theresa May running through a wheat field is more effective and important than it may seem

Not everyone is able to participate in rallies or protests. In a capitalist society like ours, protest is suppressed by making the masses not only docile, but apathetic and overworked. There is a danger, however, with traditional forms of protest that we take ourselves too seriously, placing ourselves or our heroes on the pedestal we want to tear our oppressors down from. Satire reminds us to laugh at everything, including ourselves, which is both cathartic and necessary in difficult times. Just as Extinction Rebellion’s economic disruption tactics aim to dismantle the capitalist machine, satire and parody should be used to dismantle the right-wing media and government’s propaganda machine.

I adore satire because it shines a light on the ugly side of politics, but presents it in a way that makes it less scary. It is the cry of ‘Riddikulus!’ that strips the boggarts of government malice and ineptitude of their power, by transforming them into things we can laugh at. Sharing a meme about Theresa May running through a wheat field is more effective and important than it may seem. Satire and parody are still a form of political engagement, they just happen to actually be fun as well. If you can laugh at the powerful’s attempts to scare you, you are the truly powerful one. All they have is fear. Without that, they are nothing.

Featured image credit: Led By Donkeys


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