Could it be that satire is about to enjoy a golden age? The year ahead looks set to provide the dear old Secret Diary (established 2009, one proprietor) with a wealth of material, going by the rich and complicated comedies that took place over summer in the shape of Novak Djokovic, Boris Johnson, Clarke Gayford, and Bishop Twit himself, Brian Tamaki. It was a silly news season like no other, possibly the silliest on record, and it augurs well for satiric possibilities in 2022.
You only have to look as far as the royal wedding. It's as though every snippet of news previewing the nuptials of Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford has been written by a master satirist. The venue chosen by the former president of the International Union of Socialist Youth is at a homestead owned by a hedge fund billionaire. Lorde will sing! Sebastian van der Zwan, editor of Woman's Day, has said: "It's going to be huge… Add in Neve as a flower girl and it's a wedding made in Woman's Day heaven."
Can't wait! As well, a new face in political life promises to deliver at least some moments of comedy gold throughout: the Secret Diary welcomes National leader Christopher Luxon to the fray. He's yet to really say or do anything of interest but it's early days and there's something about this guy that promises missteps, misspokeness, and general assorted mistakes. He has an appealing enthusiasm for the job. He looks like he has a good sense of humour. That same gee-whiz approach to life lends itself to saying things without thinking. Satire relies on this kind of impulsiveness; the enemy of satire is people who think without saying things.
Sometimes it seems that Act, the Greens, and the Māori Party are committing that exact crime. They hardly ever say anything and give the impression they're thinking very deeply about things. They owe it to the general public to quit this high mindedness and come out with howlers, slip on the banana peels of vanity, get caught up in any kind of scandal. The fact is we'll all need as much comedy as possible this year. Things aren't going to be especially funny when Omicron lets rip.
But history teaches us there is humour in a killer plague that brings tragedy and suffering to countless millions. A 2010 book, Representing the Plague in Early Modern England, edited By Rebecca Totaro and Ernest B. Gilman, studied how writers responded to the Black Death of 1346 to 1353 with black comedy: "The bubonic plague compelled change in all aspects of lived experience in England, but at the same time, it opened space for writers to explore new ideas and new literary forms—not all of them sombre or horrifying and some of them downright hilarious."
Okay. Well, I'll try my best to find the downright hilarious in the forthcoming spread of Omicron, although right now I'm pretty much only feeling downright terrified. So much for the summer of 2022 heralding a golden age of satire. It's more like the calm before whatever viral storm is about to sweep the land.
But life will go on. Public figures will behave appallingly, hopefully. At the start of every year, I always re-read passages from Matthew Hodgart's illuminating 1969 study Satire, to remind myself of the satirist's function and classical methods. He writes, "The basic technique of the satirist is reduction: the degradation or devaluation of the victim by reducing their stature and dignity." I can do that. It's fun, in New Zealand, where no one really exerts that much power, even the Prime Minister; but what to do when the "victim" is backed by incredible forces and has the power to inflict as much damage to society and the planet as they wish? I am referring here to a man born on June 14, 1946, at the Jamaica Hospital Medical Centre, who went on to have a successful career in business, television, and politics, and whose time seemed up this time last year but the signs are that we have to brace ourselves for the return of one Donald John Trump.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Satire never stood a chance against Trump when he was President. His comeback would be even worse, for everyone. Yes, so much for the summer of 2022 heralding a golden age of satire… I seem to be talking myself into a state of anxiety, spooked by the threats of those two viral infections, Omicron and Trump. Right now both of them are dormant. Right now Bishop Twit is locked up, the incident of Clarke Gayford blustering down the phone to a chemist is still fresh in the memory, and Boris Johnson is hanging on by a hair on his blond mop. Good times. In sickness and in health, satire has a duty to entertain; the Secret Diary, published every Saturday, exists in a silly season all year round.