Brexit Speak- Part 2

Brexit Speak- Part 2

Continued from last week

This three-part column has to do with the awfulness of the Brexit process and with the dangers of Brexit Speak, the use of abusive language in tackling one’s political opponents, and the damage to democratic and progressive values this entails.

But the Brexit process does also lend itself to comedy and, especially, to satire. After all, as Brexit grinds on, a senior Danish politician has said “and we always thought you British were so boringly stable” and an Indian politician has commented “it may be serious for you, but thanks for giving so many belly-laughs to the rest of the world.”
Last week I quoted the satirical columnist Tom Peck, who writes for i newspaper in the UK. To quote him further, discussing the Queen’s state opening of the new session of parliament, with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, Peck talks about the temptation to emit “a half-strangled bark of laughter when Her Majesty read out the bit about new legislation ‘to minimize the impact of divorce, particularly on children.’ Several members actually did laugh, within audible range of the prime minister, and his girlfriend sitting in the gallery above, for whom he is currently minimizing the impact of his current wife, and his children (number still unspecified) on his life.”

Now, in my books that is a brilliant bit of satirical writing, especially in its play on the words “minimize the impact.” But does it go too far, is it too personal, too vindictive, too wounding?
I would say not. The language is not openly insulting and the squalor of Johnson’s public and private life are surely fair game for satire. And there is always, as the great English poet and radical John Milton put it, the duty to “speak truth to power.”

Is any subject immune from satire? I would say not. It’s possible to make a joke about rape as long as the target (the object of the satirical weapon) is the rapist; or about slavery or the Holocaust, as long as the target is the slaver, the murderer. That way, satire acts in defense of the abused, the oppressed.
There is, too, the principle that the harshness of the satire should be commensurate with the awfulness of the target. This applies to cartoons as well as to purely verbal satire.
Some years ago, after all, the great South African cartoonist Zapiro was criticized for a cartoon in which he showed Jacob Zuma (at the time up on a rape charge) unzipping his pants to rape Lady Justice, depicted, as is customary, as a woman.

I believe the cartoon caused offence primarily because it showed Zuma’s political supporters urging Zuma “Go for it, boss!”
It was this that was not felt to be commensurate with the moral failings of Zuma’s political support network.

To be continued

Prof Chris Dunton

Previous MPs face heavy penalties
Next MPs must embrace change

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