This article by Olivia Brunton of Peebles High School was highly commended in the Scottish Schools' Young Writer of the Year competition, organised by the SR team
Just two weeks after the inauguration that shocked the world, Saturday Night Live (SNL) aired what was to be one of the defining clips of 2017 – a punchy political sketch depicting Melissa McCarthy as the then press secretary, Sean Spicer.
Proudly decked out in an overly large suit, sporting a stunningly slicked down comb-over, McCarthy was hilarious. As she slouched in front of an ironically blue background and took 'journalists'' questions at 'the White House,' the audience was in stitches; her newly prominent forehead just about as large as the persona she took on. She yelled into the camera lens with such vigour that she was more Sean Spicer than Sean Spicer.
Gathering over 30m views, this video was a fresh and biting piece of satire, lampooning the Trump regime for all it was worth. The only real flaw was something relatively minor, something of little importance: it achieved absolutely nothing.
This problem is not unique to this one sketch; McCarthy is not at fault. She did everything a classic satirist should do, lambasting Spicer with the sheer lunacy of a fake 'turd' and a super-soaker of soapy water. She finds the humour in criticising the actions of another, something satirists have been trying to achieve for centuries. And just as McCarthy found out, in having to suffer another six months of Spicer's idiocy, never once has it achieved a single thing.
As far back as the Jacobites, the central institutions of the world were receiving this style of battering at the hands of politically minded comedians. Often cited as a true master of satire, Jonathan Swift was one of the first, and most prolific, people to give this a go. Enraged at the poverty seen in Ireland in the 18th century, he shocked the British public with his dark suggestions of eating children to end hunger. Asserting that they are 'a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food; whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boiled,' the strength of his ridicule almost punches you in the face.
He so blatantly mocks the state of the British stance on Irish inequality that you would think that nobody could miss it. But of course, people did. Somehow, some people thought that Swift was being serious. About eating babies. I mean, come on. This is one of the greatest issues with any form of humour – it is subjective, some people just won't 'get it.'
Even those clever individuals who did read 'A Modest Proposal' as it was intended did not follow the path Swift desired. Far from ending the strife of the Irish, his writing riled politicians and policy-makers but changed nothing. You've only got to look at the potato famine to understand that. So yes, now we can look back and intellectually wonder at just how comedic his extreme style of writing was, at the originality of this form of satire. But we should have learned. If Jonathan Swift couldn't do anything with satire, back when it was new and daring and radical, then we have no chance.
Granted, the majority of satire now does not focus on cannibalism. It is much more concerned with corrupt politicians, decision-making bodies which are causing our societies to crumble, just that little bit at a time. Perhaps that is why satirists are all over American politics like McCarthy's Spicer is all over gum. Really, who can blame them?
There seems to be no easier target than Trump. With his tangerine face and terrible excuse for hair, he may as well have a piece of paper stuck to his back saying 'SATIRISE ME.' Being the most Googled person of 2016, his being the muse of many a satirist is not surprising. Again though, this satire packs no punch. You try making fun of a man whose whole state of being is the biggest joke on the planet and you'll see what I mean. Copious amounts of fake tan and countless wigs have been purchased in the pursuit of mocking Trump but it is hard to poke fun at the truth.
Yes, we will sit at home and laugh at Alec Baldwin's pout, but behind the laughter there is nothing. We are simply distracting ourselves from the words coming out of the real Donald's mouth, trying to bury our heads in the metaphorical sands of satire. The damage he enacts is laughed at, not critically examined, not rebutted. All of these late night hosts, New Yorker writers and outspoken comedians should be campaigning for Americans to sign petitions and protest, picket the White House and actually take action. With the current policy of simply satire, they may as well be chuckling to the punchline of a knock-knock joke for all the political effect it will have. After all, he’s still president isn't he?
Clearly, the very concept of satire is defunct. It believes that everyone who witnesses it will understand it. Wrong. It believes that people actually possess any respect for modern day politicians. Wrong. It believes that the average person can be pushed into action by a little chuckle as they flick through their Facebook timeline. Wrong. Satire is mainstream, but so is the moronic politician and the idiotic voter. One look on Twitter and you'll see some MP wannabe giving Theresa May a hard time and someone else sharing a Nigel Farage meme. And yet nothing ever changes.
Even if a satirist is lucky enough for people to understand their message, which rarely happens of course (I'm looking at you, Stephen Colbert), it doesn’t mean that gaining a giggle achieves anything. The intellectual impact of a quality political joke is null and void. We all see, read, hear satire – we are all satirists. But for all the effort we make, we may as well dress up as clowns and do the YMCA to get the laughs – it would have exactly the same consequences. A click, a smile and then? Absolutely nothing.