Wednesday, 19 December 2018

It's Panto time!

It’s panto time

Amidst the gravity of the five day Brexit debate the House of Commons got into the Christmas spirit by staging another Westminster pantomime.  After her distinctly unamusing prologue the Prime Minster invited cabinet members to explore their political futures by making a pitch for her job.  Gove, Raab, Javid – and a few ex-Ministers like Johnson – in effect asked ‘where’s my political career’, to be greeted by catcalls from around the House of ‘It’s behind you’.  Then as the debate proper got underway, MPs from across the House rose to declare ‘We’re leaving the EU.’  At which point another Honourable Member would rise to respond ‘Oh no we’re not.’  I’m tempted to record the appearance of Mesdames Leadsom and McVey as the Ugly Sisters but that’s not acceptable in this day and age.  So perhaps there is a role in Vaudeville for Gove and Johnson…

Like many I have been puzzled by the exact meaning of this year’s May trope, replacing last year’s ‘strong and stable’: the new one is ‘very clear’, or some variant thereon.  Then I realised it’s actually a synonym for ‘mendacious’.  Listen to any of her recent speeches and you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve finished the last two years’ Christmas posts with the hope that the next will be an improvement, but it hasn’t worked, so let’s try: hoping that next year is even shittier. You never know, it might work.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Quomodo aliquis Jacobum Rees-Mogg victimam saturae facere potest? *

Latin epithets seem to have become the norm on SIC – two in a year.  But then there is no shortage of those around us who insist on harking back to what they argue was a happier past.  And prominent among them is Jacob Rees-Mogg.   He’s often portrayed as a figure of fun, which admittedly is very easy to do – the Member for the 18th century (though an earlier pre-Reformation century might be more appropriate), pictured as a 10 year-old reading the FT, openly affectionate about his Nanny.

Yet, underneath the self-satirising image there lurks a dangerous force in British politics.  His selective grasp of theology is well-publicised – opponent on religious grounds of abortion under any circumstance (even after rape) and gay marriage, but apparently unconcerned about the First Beatitude (blessed are the poor).  He has consistently voted at every opportunity for reductions in welfare benefits, and for stricter enforcement of immigration rules – including supporting a tighter asylum regime.  He’s generally opposed any increase in taxation rates for the better off.

Of course just now he’s best known for his obsessive support for Brexit and his role as chair of the self-styled European Research Group (European Myths Group might be more accurate).  What the ERG and other shady right wing fringe groups (such as the Institute for Economic Affairs, and the inappropriately named Tax Payers Alliance) are really after isn’t just 'taking back control' for its own sake, but as a step towards destroying all the employment, consumer and other protections that membership of the EU provides.  And beyond that, some of their member share close ties to the US healthcare market, and see Brexit as a route to replacing he NHS with an American two tier system (great if you can afford the fees, non existent if you can’t).  As Polly Toynbee revealed recently (Hard right brexit) Raab, the recently departed Brexit secretary (who couldn’t support the treaty he negotiated) published a number of papers proposing an extreme right-wing policy agenda, including radical reductions in the number of government departments, welfare cuts, reduced employment protection, and an end of equalities legislation.

So yes, if you have trouble with free movement, do think of Rees-Mogg – he makes me shit anyway.

* How do you satirise Jacob Rees-Mogg?

Monday, 15 October 2018

You couldn’t make it up….

A dark sense of humour appears to have descended on the government, as it approaches quite possibly its swansong.  First, the day before Theresa May goes isolated into the Cabinet chamber in pursuit of her elusive, nay fantasy, Brexit “plan”, she announces free dancing lessons for the lonely.  She has demonstrated to the nation – more accurately the world – how desperately she needs dancing lessons (not to mention help in improving her international negotiating skills.)

But even more bizarrely, the Foreign Secretary is pictured this morning with a number of his EU colleagues in a maze that we learn adorns the garden of his grace and favour gaff, Chevening.  A number of satirists have commented recently that their job is getting harder because so much of contemporary politics is self-satirising; but no-one expects senior government minsters to take the piss out of themselves…

Jeremy Hunt and his EU counterparts trying to navigate the maze at the Chevening country retreat in Kent.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Knob gags???

When I started SIC a few years back, I never thought it would stoop to knob gags.  But then I never thought that the US could elect a dangerous clown like Trump as president.  As Weinstein said – in a rather different context – things were different then.

If I had any doubts about mocking someone’s (alleged) genital abnormalities, this article by Hadley Freeman in last week’s Guardian soon reassured me:

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

It’s easy to dismiss fake news – but: Quid est veritas?

It’s not often SIC has quoted biblical sources, or indulged in Latin epithets.  For those whose Latin is a bit rusty, the phrase means ‘what is truth’, which is what the Bible claims Pilate said to Jesus – and, as Bacon put it – didn’t wait for an answer.  It’s prompted a whole range of philosophical explorations, which suggest that identifying the truth isn’t necessarily straightforward.

I don’t think it’s being unduly harsh on the 45th President of the United States if I suggest his allegations about fake news don’t always carry the intellectual weight of these philosophical debates about truth.  According to CNN (who of course you can’t believe anyway) Donald Trump has – sort of – claimed to have invented the term: "The media is really, the word, one of the greatest of all terms I've come up with, is 'fake.'"  I say ‘sort of’ because penetrating the POTUS distinctive linguistic style is rarely straightforward.  However, what is true is that he didn’t originate the phrase – I’ve come across usages in the North American press in the late 19th century, for example:

“Along with all the sensationalism, the lack of responsibility, the getting together of fake news, and the contriving of evident pictorial falsehoods, a great deal of talent goes into the make-up of newspapers.”   Richard Watson Gilder, editor in chief of The Century, in an interview for Outlook magazine, February 1899. 

Trump celebrated the anniversary of his inauguration with an announcement of his ‘Fake News’ awards – 11 headlines which over the course of the year he had dubbed fake.  One was a forecast, another an unpublished tweet, and most were rapidly corrected where they were genuinely wrong.  The 11th was RUSSIA COLLUSION (POTUS does love caps) described as ‘the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people. THERE IS NO COLLUSION!’  Well, maybe but the (grand) jury is still out on that one.

Of course Trump himself has been known to post the occasional porkie – more than 2,000 in his first year of office, according to The Washington Post.  Some are trivial – for example his proclamation that the crowd at his inauguration was the largest ever; others less so, such as his continued claims about Obama’s birthplace, or the   allegations about rigged elections and voter fraud.  

Some of the stories in the fake news awards are simply untrue; but Trump’s use of the phrase goes far beyond this.  His overall condemnation not just of individual stories but of most (if not all) the institutions of the major mainstream news media suggests that for Trump, there are simply competing realities.  This was hinted at early on in his presidency when Kellyanne Conway referred to ‘alternative facts’, and said Donald Trump ‘doesn’t think he’s lying.’    But, and this is the real problem, there are millions of other Americans out there who subscribe to the same competing reality – and for whom there is no amount of evidence-based correction that can undermine what the Trumpster says.  Of course the problem isn’t restricted to the US – although the Guardian reported recently that trust in social media is eroding, there are still many for whom a shared post on Facebook automatically gets stored in the true and trusted file.  And this creates huge opportunities for organisations like Cambridge  Analytica – not to mention Putin’s elves:  more about that next time.