Here we go again. "Once more unto the breach," Shakespeare has Henry V begin his soliloquy. Everyone feels like that when it's time to get back to work after the summer break and face another year of whatever it is we do to keep capitalism's engines running. But the satirist has an especially keen appreciation of Henry V's speech because it's a call to arms, it's a demand to go to war – and satire is always at war.
"Set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide," Henry V continues. Yes, that's me every Friday morning, when I sit down to operate without anaesthetic on the newsmaking wretch of the week. "Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage." Ardern! Bridges! Peters! That guy who leads Act, whatsisname, you know, the one who can't dance! It's election year, and I'm gonna mock till I drop.
Well – kind of. Politics doesn't actually engage me in such a deep way that I feel a great deal of rage about it. It amuses me, sometimes; bores me, more often. But election year gives things an edge. Our political masters and aspirants will be on public display, smiling till their faces ache, full of promises and campaign-road trip pastries, presenting themselves as obvious targets. Good. I like obvious targets.
The talk has been for some time now that a new set of obvious targets are about to announce their joint run for a seat in Parliament. I heard it from a Knight of the Realm, and when I mentioned it to a former lowly press gallery hack, he said that's what he'd heard, too, and what's more he believed it was really going to happen. It's this: the Māori Party will relaunch itself with a leadership team of Hone Harawira, John Tamihere, Lance O'Sullivan and Brian Tamaki.
I know, I know, you can't make this stuff up, it sounds too crazy to be true. I don't mean politically. If such a political supergroup does actually form, they'd have a pretty strong chance. But as satire – I mean, where do you start? JT is a walking parody, Tamaki calls himself a bishop, Hone operates on whim and provocation.
Things could only get better if a new, very white, very conservative political supergroup emerged, led by Don Brash, Colin Craig, Michelle Boag and gun salesman David Tipple. Or if a new, correctly diverse, very liberal political supergroup emerged, led by...oh but I better not name my dream team of wets and nags. Liberals are more sensitive than conservatives and I'd face the worst thing that can happen to someone in modern life: I'd be cancelled.
Anyway, the lot we've got will suffice for satire in 2020. But I'll write some of the Secret Diaries with a heavy heart, even a reluctance, or at least with confused motives. I like Jacinda. I like Simon. It's nothing personal but both can certainly appear ridiculous.
Politics, though, is the business of serious decisions that affect lives. The world is forever going to hell in a hat and what kind of idiot responds only with laughter? Anna Pavlovna asks a better question, in War and Peace: "How can one help being worried in these times, if one has any feeling?"
There just seems something very twee about satirising the most powerful creatures in the world. They have the ability to make things miserable for people and for the planet. So what if Trump is mocked by masters of the satirical trade on US talk shows? It doesn't stop him.
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Like poetry, satire makes nothing happen. It's harmless. This is kind of annoying when you set out to go to war.
And so every January when I sit down to think about the year ahead of Secret Diaries, I turn to English academic Matthew Hodgart's great 1969 study, not very imaginatively titled Satire, for guidance and for a reminder of the noble or ignoble calling of satire. I always find something new in it and this time I came across this remark: "The satirist shows his enemy as condemned to repeat the same meaningless movements over and over again, like the damned in Dante's Hell."
Interesting. But not very comforting or inspiring. Those "same meaningless movements" – good grief, isn't that a description of the Secret Diary, published over and over again every week since 2009? That's the thing about working as a satirist. The world gets the last laugh.
Until it does, though, I look forward to the year ahead of mocking, of lampooning, of creating awful likenesses of the good and the great. Even war has its comedies. Let battle commence. To further quote Henry V: "The game's afoot."