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Not easy to be jester in court gone mad

25 August 2011 783 views No Comment

Not easy to be jester in court gone mad

IT’S getting harder and harder to write satire. Those of us trying to think up wildly absurd ideas are constantly being undermined and gazumped by reality.

The “real” world has become so absurd. Conservative gays forming the Gay Shooters Party? Look up the Pink Pistols in Wikipedia. Cane toad leather goods? Check out eBay. What about a rock opera based on Milton’s Paradise Lost? Improbable? Well, it has recently been announced that Alex Proyas, the director of I, Robot, will be making a film of Paradise Lost in Sydney. Partly funded by the NSW government, it stars actor Bradley Cooper as Lucifer. Sounds a hoot. Fact is certainly stranger and funnier than fiction, much of the time, or so it seems.

Satirists, meanwhile, are in the uncomfortable position of playing court jester in a world gone mad. They need to be familiar with the ways of the powerful to make a living. But they know that at any time they might well get the chop!

Confronted by overwhelming power, words are sometimes the only weapons available. It is not surprising that, in Queensland, much biting satire was hatched at the height of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s authoritarian reign. It was a time of rapacious development, rampant environmental destruction and violent law and order confrontations between phalanxes of jackbooted police, be-thonged hippies and sandal-wearing Christians.

While everything and everyone is fair game for the satirist, satire does have its own moral code. Satire takes aim at the powerful, or those who think they are. If humour is directed at little people, it’s merely a form of bullying.

While satire draws its inspiration from real life, at its best it is neither name-calling nor mimicry. We can be amused by the technical accomplishment of the mimic whose portrayal of character is exact. In contrast, satirists exaggerate personal characteristics and situations in much the same way as caricaturists do. And for the same reason – to get people thinking about the way we are and where we are heading.

This is why writing satire is so difficult, and so necessary, never more so than now. Even so, any self-respecting satirist has his or her work cut out playing catch-up with the absurdities of real life.

Ross Fitzgerald and Trevor Jordan’s social and political satire, Fools’ Paradise: Life in an Altered State, is published in Melbourne next month by PressOn/Arcadia.

The Wry Side, The Australian, August 25, 2011