Is Satire Bad?

A year ago Max Gillies gave a talk at the 2015 Bendigo Writers Festival.

He discussed impersonating former Australian Prime Ministers, and lamented the lack of characters in politics today.

The question to ask is, who is to blame for that?

Satire is partly about exposing faults in people so that the imperfection can be laughed at.

It is really about humanising the leaders.

But if people laugh at politicians, then the politicians must lose perceived integrity.

People want to vote for the person with the least faults.

Exposing a politicians faults reduces the idea that the politician can lead, and so less people will vote for them.

Politicians already do not want to show errors, and the fear of being joked about only increases the fear of being themselves.

It is disastrous for a politician to have a nervous tick exposed, or a stutter ridiculed, a smoking habit advertised, or to be portrayed as highly impressionable if they ever accept someone else’s idea.

To hold the trust of voters politicians now maintain a dull media controlled image.

The problem is, politicians who do not worry about their image are also those who care least about other people’s opinions and well-being.

Satire has caused dull politics, and in the gap given rise to egotistical politicians.

Is politics too important to laugh about, and should we restrict satire of it?

This is an open question, so while the title suggests an opinion, I’m keen to hear thoughts on if satire is causing more harm than good.

Go ahead.

There’s room below to have an opinion.


2 thoughts on “Is Satire Bad?

  1. Hey Luke

    This is an interesting theory, but I don’t think it’s accurate.

    Satire is not about picking on weaknesses or ticks for entertainment. The role of satire is to use comedy to say the truth about the powerful. It is one of he few weapons that the people have to keep the power of leaders in check. It has been so since Ancient Greece, through medieval times of jesters joking about kings, and Mark Twain capturing the hypocrisies of an antebellum America that was the ‘land of the free’ but still had slavery. More recently Gillies parodied Hawke and Keating in the highflying eighties and John Stewart held the Bush era and its post-truth media to account.

    Politicians have never shrunk in stature or played it safe because of satire. They play it safe today because they are professional politicians, driven by polls, playing a small target game and sloganeering by the numbers. They still very much target the most vulnerable and voiceless to stay in power. You’ll often find its these people that satire tries to speak for.

    If I, or someone else, made fun of a PM eating an onion it’s because it’s very funny. Also it’s because it is a bad decision made by a leader who had made a continuous stream of bad ideas, often for purely political reasons.

    Satire has never made a politician smaller or weaker. Satire merely prevents leaders from becoming too big for their own good. The leaders who aren’t laughed at are the ones that should be feared. The President of a Turkey has begun prosecuting people who make jokes about him. sounds like unchecked power to me.

    Politicians need to be able to laugh at themselves like everybody else. And at the end of the day all politicians are just people. They are flawed. They should be reminded of that. And it is leaders who, despite their flaws and weaknesses, do great and difficult things and they are the ones that earn our respect forever. Churchill was a reckless young man and an alcoholic, but history doesn’t joke about him. It celebrates him.

    1. Thanks Charlie, I still worry that the media is more influential today than with Greeks or Churchill, yet very true that we must be allowed to jest at leaders.

      Also agree that constant polling with a 24 hour hunt for news is probably far more undermining than jokes.

      So while there are many new pressures on being a public figure, which makes it intimidating to be in the public eye, yes, there are far worse influences in media than satire.

      Especially as the joke should be about the idea rather than the person.

      The only question this raises is balance.

      If the jokes are mostly about one person/party, does that influence people through bias, and even become bullying, or is the person/party just making a lot of bad decisions?

      That question is probably too hard to answer, as the material for satire is always going to come from the political party that’s creating things, and opposition parties are always going to do less.

      Also, the party in government is the highest status, and is therefore funnier to target (aka shooting up the scale in comedy).

      I guess the question of bias is really for consumers to decide on, because if people don’t approve then jokes aren’t funny, and the customers won’t watch.

      At least the joke making/attempting should be okay.


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