I know it panned out badly with Gary Glitter, but I still want to be in Marina Hyde’s gang. During the Q&A she asserted that “Satire never changed anything. We don’t have revolutions in this country, just jokes”. So what’s the point?
Marina Hyde: What Just Happened?
The Grauniad’s satirist-in-chief was in Sheffield last night to promote her new book, What just happened? (published by Guardian Faber). The audience, about a 60/40 female/male split was mainly older and greyer. Sensible coats were much in evidence, as were beards. On the men, obviously. The younger members of the audience tended to be female, according to my totally unscientific method of looking at everybody as they came in the door. I’ve just read that back and realised how creepy it sounds.
Anyway, red wine in plastic cups took precedence over lager. This was just the sort of audience likely to make Suella Braverman [Ed. Who?] go even more swivel-eyed. Maybe we’d block the traffic up by the Hallamshire Hospital or something before going on a falafel-fuelled rampage in Broomhill.
Or maybe not. Actually, the atmosphere was more like an Anglican church: Very polite, very pleasant, very… well… converted.
So what’s the point?
The book is a collection of her Guardian columns starting on 17 June 2016. The day after the assassination of MP Jo Cox. The day after Nigel Farage had stood in front of a poster laid out EXACTLY the same as a Nazi propaganda poster proclaiming we were “at breaking point”. The day after a Dewsbury man with Neo-Nazi connections had shot and stabbed the defenceless former charity worker in the street shouting “BRITAIN FIRST!”
In the introduction, she welcomes readers who have eschewed “the elective comfort of simply forgetting that any of the past few years happened in the mind-boggling way they did”, in favour of reliving “every inspirationally chaotic moment all over again”.
So, what’s the point of all that if it doesn’t change anything?
According to Marina Hyde, even though her columns, by her own admission, don’t change anything, they are “a coping mechanism: satire gives us a new way of looking at things. You feel like you’re being scooped up into that gang”. She cited people like Chris Morris as performing that function for her and several of the audience Q&As began by thanking her for doing the same for them.
This is at the heart of her book. A commonly expressed view in recent times is that we don’t have a mental health crisis, we have an economic, social, spiritual and political crisis which adversely affects millions of people’s mental wellbeing. We’re not soft, as lots of angry white men in Spectator think-pieces (never was the term oxymoron so appropriate) often say; it’s the times that are hard, and it wears people out even though no one’s shooting at us. Yet.
Therefore, in such dispatches from turbulent times, a good satirical column provides an admittedly leaky life-raft for those of us trying to cling on to a belief in a better world in the face of a rising tide of corruption, depravity and division.
Death of shame in public life
She referred to such occult trends when asked about the impact/damage done to British life by Boris Johnson. Referencing the Partygate scandal when the then-PM Johnson was going on TV and telling the nation to stay in their houses and not meet anyone at the same time as hosting a mass of parties, then lying about it repeatedly before being prosecuted by the police.
“It’s the death of shame in public life: Once someone behaves like that it becomes so much easier for others to behave like that afterwards.” Her suggestion that Johnson might, in the public interest, be buried in concrete along with Donald Trump, rather in the manner of the Chernobyl reactors, was warmly received.
In more febrile contexts, such statements might be misrepresented as (according to Paul Dacre and his ilk at least), bitter, woke hatred (copyright The Mail and The Express). However, Dacre clearly has no sense of humour (unless he gets his kicks watching ratting videos), and at the Octagon it was just hard-pressed liberals letting off steam.
In the end, although the whole Brexit debacle has been ‘good for business’ for liberal satirists such as Hyde, she confessed she’d be “willing to sacrifice my column for the common good, especially if we addressed the climate crisis”.
In the meantime, we’ll howl at her columns through our fingers, despite the obvious practical difficulties.
Mind you, there might be one exception: