The Daily Mash should spend less time going for cheap laughs about supposedly racist, nostalgic Brexiteers and more time using satire to hold real power and privilege to account
Along with countless other non-racist, non-xenophobic Brexiteers who enjoy a good bit of political comedy and satire, I have been waiting patiently for the current virulent outbreak of Brexit fever to abate over at The Daily Mash, a satirical news website which at one time could be relied upon to provoke laughs no matter which party or ideology was in the cross-hairs.
Sadly, judging by today’s latest effort, there is still no sign of remission:
EVERY country in the former British Empire has demanded Britain resume full political control now it has proven it is great again.
Australia, India, Canada, Egypt and South Africa, among a host of others, have all dissolved their governments in a show of awestruck admiration for the British lion’s newfound mighty roar.
Kenya’s president Uluru Kenyatta said: “We never wanted Britain to stop ruling us in the first place – why ever would we? – but you just needed to grab hold of your mojo again.
“Don’t worry about giving us voting rights or any of that nonsense. Now you are once again a proud, resurgent nation unafraid of political correctness, we have absolute trust you will act in our best interest. And the world’s.
“I step down this afternoon. Oh man, I hope we get Michael Gove as governor. That guy is the best.”
The UK now commands a fifth of the world’s population and one-quarter of its total habitable land, which is as it should be.
Retired headmistress Margaret Gerving, from Guildford, said: “I don’t know why America is insisting on being independent. I’m sure they’ll stop being silly eventually.”
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Since a clear majority of Britons voted to leave the European in the June 2016 referendum, the Mash has covered the topic of Brexit and our changing relationship with the European Union with the spittle-flecked fury and haughty, casual moral superiority of an earnest but ill-informed sixth-former.
Thus we have been treated to headlines such as these:
Uniting behind Brexit a bit hard if you think it’s shit – which includes quotes such as “I’ve always believed that Europeans are our friends with whom we no longer want to have wars. So it’s hard to change to seeing them as potentially hostile weirdos whose food is poisonous”. Because of course voting to leave a supranational political union could be motivated by nothing else.
All man wants for Christmas is Brexit – which tells the story of Roy Hobbs, who “d[oes] not care about presents underneath the Christmas tree, and he just wants Britain to stand alone, stronger than it had ever known”.
Relieved Britain no longer biggest f*ck-up of 2016 – in which a character declares: “For months we’ve been the world’s dumbest dickheads, and now we’re actually if anything a useful marker on the road to the total collapse of liberal democracy”.
May confirms Brexit is now a religious cult – in which the Mash’s version of Theresa May declares: “We will form small, inward-looking communities where anyone who criticises Brexit will be subjected to weeks of brainwashing or human sacrifice. I am the one true prophet of Brexit, which means everything I say is a fact, such as ‘Liam Fox is good at whatever it is he is supposed to be doing’. I call it ‘going the full David Koresh’.” That last line is a snide reference to the Waco siege, in which four federal agents and 76 cultists died.
Brexit optimism highest among people who love setting fire to things – in which one demonic Brexiteer exclaims: “All I want from life is to instill fear while cackling like a maniac, so I’m delighted that the government is finally listening to people like me”.
These are but a few examples, chosen more or less at random.
Does Brexit deserve to be made fun of? Absolutely – nothing should be off the table when it comes to political humour. But the Mash’s lazy bias does its satire-loving readers a disservice by nearly completely exempting the Remain side – who, after all, make up most of the establishment that satirical publications normally exist to mock – from any scrutiny of their own.
Imagine the EU referendum result had gone the other way, and Britain had narrowly voted to remain. We Brexiteers (myself included) would not have taken the result well, would be making our displeasure widely known and probably vowing to hold another referendum as soon as possible. But rather than skewering the victorious Remain side for their wide-eyed europhilia and naive trust in the Magical EU Reform Unicorn (or “punching up”, as we apparently now call the intersection between humour and power dynamics) the Mash would instead be quick to laugh at the angry, disappointed Leavers. No matter which way the result went, the Mash would be laughing at Brexiteers right now. And that is both biased and lazy.
Of course, many Brexiteers are vaguely ridiculous and lend themselves to humour, just as many Remainers are glib, shallow, sanctimonious and uninformed. But good satire would poke fun at the real faults of Brexiteers – our sometimes room-emptying obsession with matters of sovereignty, democracy and regulatory matters, for example. There’s lots of comic material in there, even if extracting it takes slightly more effort. Going for the “oh, they’re just hankering for the days of empire” gag (as per the article quoted at the top of this post) is a cheap laugh, and a lazy one.
What’s more, it is wrong. If you actually take the time to talk to Brexiteers, even much of the UKIP brigade, you won’t hear a hankering for empire or a desire to “turn the clock back”. These are rationalisations dreamed up by London-dwelling media types who never socialise with anyone who lives north of Watford and so cannot imagine what might really motivate a person to vote for Brexit.
What you will hear if you do talk to Brexiteers in any number is a strong distrust of political institutions, a sense of personal insecurity or economic precariousness and a sense that time, technology and political machinations have wrought huge changes on Britain with almost no proper discussion or debate. A sense that while we must keep moving forward, government for once needs to prioritise the interests of those who can’t or who don’t want to be citizens of the world rather than those who are able to use the world as their playground.
And if that seems difficult or unwise to mock, then perhaps it is worth questioning whether the Mash and the London-centric elite are spending too much time “punching down” at people they consider inferior rather than holding power (and what they might call “privilege”) to proper account.
Consider this old Daily Mash article from the dying days of the last Labour government, skewering prime minister Gordon Brown’s assertion that a cut in National Insurance tax would somehow be “taking money out of the economy”:
GORDON Brown will once again focus Labour’s election campaign on national insurance after being deafened by the collapse of his own argument.
Mr Brown’s advisers had urged him not to return to the issue, but the prime minister just nodded and smiled and said their voices had gone all dull and fuzzy.
The argument has been collapsing in stages since last week with the final section crashing to the ground in a massive cloud of dust and bits during the Today programme, just after eight o’clock this morning.
Radio Four listener Tom Logan said: “I was spooning some mephedrone into my tea and listening to John Humphrys being a shit, when all of sudden there was this huge, violent noise.
“It was so loud I thought it must be coming from outside, but then I realised it was the last part of the prime minister’s argument on national insurance smashing into the ground like it had been kicked over by a giant toddler.
“I do hope no-one was hurt apart from John Humphrys.”
Within minutes of the argument toppling over, Guardian editor Peter Mandelson was seen scrabbling over the smoking rubble and attempting to rebuild it while mumbling, ’employers know nothing about employing people’ over and over again.
Now, this is funny because it pokes fun at an actual trait of New Labour politicians – that rather paternalistic view that government really does know more about employing people than the employers themselves.
By contrast, the worn-out old stereotype of Brexiteers as scarlet-faced, tweed-bedecked retired colonels hankering after a bygone age is self-evidently false. It fails the common sense test – more than half of voters opted for Brexit, and there just aren’t enough retired colonels out there to deliver that kind of result.
But rather than actually take the time to understand Brexiteers and work out what makes them tick so as to better lampoon them (humour, after all, is always better when it is closely observational), publications like The Daily Mash sit back smugly and fall back on the familiar narrative of grumpy old men hankering for empire.
And that, of course, is their right. Nobody has to read The Daily Mash, and despite Britain’s increasingly tenuous commitment to free speech they can mock and lampoon whoever they like, as should be the case.
But how much better would their comedy be – how much wryer and punchier their humour – if the Mash writers actually took the time to really get to know a few more Brexiteers (so as to at least make fun of them for the right reasons), or even (heaven forfend) turn that caustic wit back on their own side once in a while?
Top image: Alba White Wolf
Bottom image: catchnews.com
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Agreed it’s too easy, but it’s also too depressing to let some of this political guff get away unscathed. “Empire 2.0”? “Brexit means Brexit”? Those interminable, cringe-worthy puns about “GREAT Britain” (*ahem* and Northern Ireland, which seems to be quietly drifting apart from the Union for the sake of a cheap pun and a difficult border). This stuff is awful! I have enough respect for you to believe that you must want Brexit to be better than this – so surely this is what you should be scrutinizing, rather than lamenting how the evil Remainers are still making fun of Brexit.
I agree with you about the smug awfulness of some of the more vocal Remainers, and I sympathise with thoughtful Brexiters who are being tarred with the Nazi brush. I just hope you are not one of the many people having their livelihoods and families destroyed by the government’s handling of the referendum result, which I feel is slightly more important than whether or not you feel the BBC agrees with you (n.b. nobody feels the BBC agrees with them; I find it insufferably right-wing and pro-Brexit). It is up to people like you to promote a positive vision of Brexit. Until Brexiters stop playing the victim card while simultaneously continuing the insufferable “we won, you lost, get over it” rhetoric and start actually DOING something constructive with the process, they are going to be low fruit for satirists.
So glad you mentioned the Daily Mash. I used to be a huge fan and accepted the Brexit jokes to start with – but after about three months of being told I am a knuckle dragging jack boot wearing Nazi I stopped subscribing – after all I still have my London based social circle and the BBC to tell me I am a knuckle dragging jack boot wearing Nazi.
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