Sunday, June 27, 2004

The Importance of Lampoonery

“It’s their lying. Conniving conflict-of-interest-laden greedy evil doing that’s the problem.”
This sentence was found in a review of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 by B. Ruby Rich. It’s is used in the context of Moore’s reliance on lampoonery to attack America’s ruling elite. It is followed up with the question: “Does humour enrich outrage or diminish it?”. The implication being that humour somehow lets the baddies off the hook.
This is something that I’ve come across often when performing political comedy. But my belief in the effectiveness of lampoonery as a political tool is not just backed up by personal experience but by over a thousand years of tradition. From the Greeks through to Lenny Bruce and Dario Fo comedy and farce have been viewed by those in power as one of their greatest enemies.
In medieval Italy jongleurs performing crude buffonatti were persecuted by the church and the landowners for their performances mocking the rich and were routinely flayed alive. Henry VIII of England banned the performance of Mummer’s Plays which were seen as deeply subversive. In the medieval court The Fool or Jester was often the most influential opinion former.
In the age of illiteracy people performing simple comic routines could transmit a powerful political message to an uneducated mass in a way no other form could achieve. Maybe this explains Moore’s influence in America and his use of techniques that appear crude and simplistic. Greed and corruption are not terribly complicated things.
The genius, if you like, of the ruling class of the late 20th and early 21st centuries is to deploy language and image in such a way as to create an alternate reality in which invasion and occupation is liberation, downsizing is economic sense, and democracy is the choice between the right-wing guy and the very right-wing guy. To engage this myth with it’s own language on a serious level is to accept its reality. Only by lampooning this fake truth can we expose the lie.

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