A FAMOUS GROUSE
IT has been getting grim in the funny business. We were reflecting on this, not as usual at the Mahogany Ridge, but at the French embassy’s reception on Tuesday to mark the occasion of the opening of Parliament.
All had been convivial and the dapper ambassador, Christophe Farnaud, appeared to have recovered from an earlier meeting with Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies.
Just to put you in the picture, Davies had once again ventured unsupervised into his wardrobe and had emerged sporting flapping trousers, mismatched jacket and charity store necktie. “Quelle horreur” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
But, some hours later and his nerves settled, Farnaud was back on form, swanning among guests at the hotel school in Granger Bay, all smiles and diplomatic levity.
There was some amusement at this, and we wondered what it was about our communists that made them so lumpy. Then came word the wine was finally running out and, with a despond in the offing, the conversation turned, as it invariably does these days, to the orange menace.
US president Donald Trump has reportedly ushered in a new golden age of ridicule. As the Guardian put it, “The past year dealt severe blows to the established political order, and with politicians continuing to take aim at the mainstream media, the business of satire has boomed.”
Ratings for American TV comedy programmes, like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show, have soared. Britain’s Private Eye achieved its highest ever print circulation last year, and its Christmas issue was the biggest seller in the title’s 55-year history, shifting more than 287 000 copies.
The magazine’s editor, Ian Hislop, has expressed a note of caution. “It is a golden time,” he told the Guardian, “but then Peter Cook, who used to own Private Eye, would say, well the really golden time of satire was Berlin in the Thirties and it didn’t go so well after that.”
It wasn’t going so well for the producer of a local satirical puppet show, who told me: “Trump is a nightmare. Our writers can’t cope. He’s outdoing himself all the time. It’s impossible to keep up. The sh*t piles up too fast.”
And Trump has indeed seeded so many potential global catastrophes that it was difficult to make sense of any of them. Travel bans, assaults on the media, threats of trade wars, the rollback of LGBT and women’s rights, scrapping of environmental protection plans, undermining the judiciary. Like a zoetrope spinning too fast, they’ve all blurred into one odious brown smear.
Worse still, a cartoonist added, any attempt to lampoon Trump in this country provoked the most absurd, racist responses from right-wingers. “Put a shower-head on Jacob Zuma, well, that’s okay. But put a golden shower-head on Trump and out comes the lunatic fringe.”
Trump really has emboldened the orcs, and they’re goose-stepping and trolling from the swamp en masse, screaming at the liberal elites, bellowing on about sore losers and telling them to suck it up because, hey, that’s how democracy works. News images of supremacists in black shirts giving fascist salutes are now commonplace. The Klan is riding again.
And Trump’s only been at it for a month. Or as he put it at a press conference on Thursday, “I don’t think there’s ever been a president who in a short period of time has done what we’ve done.”
How we laughed, etc, and how appropriate then that Trump should have called our own delusional president and discuss, according to the White House, how to “collaborate on shared security interests”, among other things.
This was perhaps an ideal moment for Zuma to appraise Trump about our own efforts in dealing with “fake media” and other paper tigers, namely the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill.
Opponents of the bill, and there are many of us, firmly believe that the bill, as it stands, will curb rights to freedom of speech.
We were not all that convinced when Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffrey suggested this week that satirists and political commentators needn’t worry about being gagged.
“Obviously, we can’t be too oversensitive about people’s dignity,” Jeffrey was quoted as saying. “People have to accept that you can get told things you don’t like. The question is that abuse of a person because of the group they belong to; whether it’s religious; whether it’s gender; whether it is race or ethnicity. It is something we need to look very carefully at.”
These are fine-sounding, do-gooder type words. But then Jeffrey is a politician, and politicians, funnily enough, really do lie.
This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.