Laugh if you like. But we need satire more than ever

The world of social media is a swirling, sometimes dizzying mess of contradictions. A powerful force for mobilising political change, or sometimes a glorified mass of torches and pitchforks; a means to instantly engage and debate with people of all leanings and all continents, or a means to obsessively harass, troll and threaten strangers; a tool to broaden horizons, or to be bombarded with nonsensical junk. But our social media, increasingly, are assuming a role that is crucial in a democracy: satirising and ridiculing the powerful.

Satire is so subversive – and often politically fatal for those who rule – because it exposes the absurdities of power. Authority attempts to assert itself partly through a veneer of respectability and seriousness. When that is stripped away, its legitimacy can be lost, along with our subservience. But as Jeremy Paxman asked a few months ago, “Where is the Spitting Image of today? ... Imagine the sport the show could have with Cameron and Clegg. But I don’t care whether it’s puppets or cartoons or real people. Just give us some decent satire.

Take the now flourishing Twitter-land of Trumpton. In a dig at Ukip’s desire to take Britain back to something approximating the iconic 1960s children’s programme, a Trumpton Ukip account was founded. It proved not to be to the taste of the party’s Scottish MEP, David Coburn, who attempted to have the account shut down and even apparently threatened legal action. Big mistake: the powerful attempting to menace those who poke fun at them is the ultimate provocation, and is particularly self-defeating. All Coburn has achieved is to make a relatively small-fry account the Twitter trend of the moment.

Political satire is booming online, where taking the mighty and the powerful down a peg or two is a sport. On the web you can find Vine videos of George Osborne looking spaced out at prime minister’s questions; and the mocking of broken political promises, from “We’re all in it together” to the trebling of tuition fees. Some of it is crude, unpolished or just not very funny. But thank goodness social media have taken up the mantle – because there is all too little of it on our TV screens.

Satire is so subversive – and often politically fatal for those who rule – because it exposes the absurdities of power. Authority attempts to assert itself partly through a veneer of respectability and seriousness. When that is stripped away, its legitimacy can be lost, along with our subservience. But as Jeremy Paxman asked a few months ago, “Where is the Spitting Image of today? … Imagine the sport the show could have with Cameron and Clegg. But I don’t care whether it’s puppets or cartoons or real people. Just give us some decent satire.

Image from: salon.com