Comedian Katy Brand takes a withering look at Dankula, Benjamin, Batten and Galloway and how comedy seems to have been co-opted by authoritarians.
Goodness me, satire enjoys a very broad definition these days, doesn’t it? It seems almost any thoughtless, dick-head remark can enjoy the protective umbrella of claiming humour to stick it to the Establishment.
In the past, it has been mostly associated with comedians with left-of-centre politics, trying to use razor-sharp wit to keep the worst excesses of the right at bay, peaking in the 1980s with Spitting Image’s brutal take down of Thatcher and her harem of biddable men. But, though it was funny, was it ever useful or effective?
Where are we now? It’s hardly as if satire has won, in fact, it seems to have been co-opted by the ever-rising authoritarians in our midst. As Peter Cook, who has often been credited as the father of the British satirical movement, once observed about 1930s satire in Germany: “those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War”. Well, quite.
Then the 1990s came, with Blair and some hope for the future, and the satirists floundered. This lot were so slick, there was nothing to take the piss out of. And we got complacent and, before we knew it, Blair had fucked up so badly with the Iraq War that no one could think of anything funny to say at all, and the satirists slunk off to regroup.
And into the vacuum came the Alt-Right and their particular flava of bantz, rebranding satire for their own dubious ends.
Shitposters and Keyboard Warriors
We’ve had Count Dankula, an erstwhile keyboard warrior (the very BRAVEST kind) who taught his girlfriend’s pug to perform a Nazi salute when given the command ‘gas the Jews’.
Whether his girlfriend had given her consent to this, I do not know, but I start to wonder whether this sort of thing matters to the satire bros.
When confronted with legitimate race hate accusations, the Count pulled the long-neglected satire card out of his back pocket and everyone had to sit down for a minute. Was this satire? And, if so, a satire on what exactly? Fascist dogs? When will they be stopped?
He was tried and convicted, and everyone had a lot to say about freedom of speech, and the context of jokes, and humour. It was a legitimate debate and, for what it’s worth, I don’t support the conviction. But, neither do I support the idea that this is satire. Because it isn’t.
Was this satire? And if so, a satire on what exactly? Fascist dogs? When will they be stopped?
Satire is meant to be funny, it’s meant to make a point, it’s meant to have a target – it’s meant to use humour to tell us something important. Count Dankula said he thought it would be a pleasing juxtaposition between the pug’s empirical cuteness, and the horror of a Nazi salute. Well, okay, but so would shitting on the carpet when given the command “make mummy some chocolate”. But, I notice he didn’t go that way.
Why the Nazi salute? Why that in particular? What is the target? Pugs? Or Nazis? It’s hard to say.
The Gags used to Gag Women
Some men will bring satire upon themselves if we only allow them the space to do so. Witness Julian Assange complaining that his privacy has been invaded. In this case, we can simply stand back and let the satire take care of itself. But, not always, because sometimes we must have satire thrust upon us.
Our most recent purveyor of the form is UKIP leader Gerard Batten, a man too right-wing even for Nigel Farage, who went on TV to defend his friend and UKIP candidate Carl Benjamin when an old tweet was discovered that Benjamin sent to MP Jess Phillips saying “I wouldn’t even rape you”.
This isn’t a joke about rape, and it isn’t satire. It’s simply a way of insulting a woman who intimidates and scares you, and you wish would shut up.
Batten brushed it aside, saying it was satire. But, let’s apply the old test, shall we?
A satire on what? What is the target? As a joke, it doesn’t make sense or, at least, it doesn’t stand up. Is it funny? No, not to anyone over the age of 12. So, let’s unpack it: he’s saying that Jess Phillips is too ugly for him to rape. As if rapists only ever pick the most beautiful women as deserving of their attention. And not that Jess Phillips isn’t beautiful – in fact she must be one of the top five sexiest MPs of all time – but this is beside the point.
Rape is a crime of power, not a crime of sex. A rapist wants to use his power and his penis to humiliate a woman, to shut her up, and shut her down. Know how you can tell a man isn’t a rapist? Because he doesn’t understand how anyone could maintain an erection with a woman who is sobbing, fighting, or paralysed with fear. But, a rapist can, because those are the things that get him off the most. Is it still funny, Carl? Is it satire, Gerard?
There have been jokes made about rape that I have laughed at. I have even written a couple myself. But, this isn’t a joke about rape, and it isn’t satire. It’s simply a way of insulting a woman who intimidates and scares you and you wish would shut up. It’s a social media rape – you want to humiliate her by implying that she is not good enough, even for your precious dick to be pushed into her.
Again, what is the target? Not rapists – this is not an attack on sex pests, if anything, it seems to hold a grudging admiration for them: “you go ahead mate, you’re made of stronger stuff than I, and so is your cock. Me? I wouldn’t even rape her”.
Is it an attack on Jess Phillips’ political beliefs? Well, why not mention them? No, it’s an attack on her, as a woman. It’s the oldest attack there is, for a particular type of man who is used to telling people whether they are worth anything or not, and who holds a special standard for women, whose main achievement in life should be universal sexual appeal, compliance, a lovely smile, and preferably a tray of beers in her hand.
Galloway and Assange
Another self-proclaimed proponent of top banter, George Galloway, had some things of his own to contribute about Jess and her womanhood. Galloway also had some things to say about Assange’s rape allegations back in the day, just to tie everything up nice and neatly.
Claiming in Brother Julian’s defence that a man should not have to ask “permission before each insertion” – as if once you have had consensual sex with a woman you are then entitled to exist in a state of continuous intercourse with her whatever her thoughts on the matter, does not fill me with confidence but let’s press on regardless, as indeed George himself might. He called Jess Phillips “sordid, unseemly and grotesque”.
Her response was to immediately take those words and make them her official Twitter description, thereby showing him how very little he means to her. Is it funny? Yes. What’s the target? George Galloway’s ego, along with all the other guys who seem to want to claim they are ‘only joking’ while stirring the belching pot of misogyny and racism. The satire bros got owned. Now that’s satire.