Five years from now, will the hordes be laughing with Corbyn, or at him? Having lurched into another battle between a negotiated liberal-conservative polity and socialism, we should learn from the recent past on how to escape from the clutches of earnest left-wing absolutists. The fulminating boil of political and cultural Marxism was lanced not by the mainstream media or moderate politicians, but by a comic created in a Newcastle bedroom.
Back in the 1980s, three forms of political satire emerged. The Comedy Store, a small auditorium at Leicester Square, platformed the phenomenon of the ‘stand-up’ comedian. Over a series of five-minute stints of variable talent, the compere was most reliable for laughs, but one or two acts would raise the roof. A common theme was Thatcher, and Bolshie comedians competed in their ‘right on’ credentials. But it became too predictable, and I tired of the ideological imposition. By contrast, the puppet show Spitting Image was remarkably balanced, with Roy Hattersley mocked as much as Douglas Hurd. Late Sunday evening on Channel 4 was the highlight of the week.
Arguably, the most significant humorous advent of the 1980s was the Viz. With cartoons mimicking the array of outmoded boys’ comics published by DC Thomson of Dundee, Simon and Chris Donald introduced an adult equivalent. To the unenlightened, the Viz was a montage of puerile ‘bums and tits’ jokes, but regular readers knew better. This shoestring production issued incisive social commentary on the ‘warts’n’all’ realities of British society.
Like Corbynism, the Left of the 1980s was obsessed with social justice, demanding redistribution of the growing wealth emanating from Thatcher’s economic reforms and privatisation. The parody of left-wing comedians was the pin-striped Tory, or the posh ‘yuppy’ (young, upward and mobile) in the wine bar. Meanwhile, the working class was romanticised by Labour politicians of public school Oxbridge background.
The Viz portrayed ordinary folk unembellished by the angry righteousness of the Left. Biffa Bacon, the rough kid raised by the roughest of parents on a godforsaken Tyneside council estate, with no social worker in sight. The Fat Slags, whose carnal impulses are satisfied at every opportunity, from Bigg Market to the dental surgery. Sid the Sexist, the dismally failed Cock o’the North. Eight Ace, the useless alcoholic evicted to the garden shed, whose horizon ends at the corner shop.
The real North was brought to life on those pages. For all their faults, the characters were somehow likeable, true Brits sticking up their fingers to authority. The South was represented by less endearing characters, although the Sun-reading, arrogant Cockney Wanker had authenticity as ‘barrow-boy done good’. But the political undertone of the Viz was clearly conveyed by three protagonists of middle-class contempt.
The Modern Parents were the muesli-munching caricature of North London moral rectitude. With ethical and ecological conceit, they exploit their two sons (one having a girl’s name) in a social experiment to overturn all norms of family life. The poor boys are deprived of toys, trips to the seaside and movies, instead enduring austere meditation classes and protests for obscure causes. The Modern Parents can readily be seen at marches, with their young daughters holding placards about evil Tories.
Next entry from stage left is Millie Tant, the ugliness of uncompromising feminist misandry. All men are rapists and oppressors, who must taste their own medicine. But Millie faces cognitive dissonance, repeatedly meeting men who are kind to her. So she reinterprets their behaviour as masked sexism, and her absurd accusations are often taken seriously. Last week, we saw Millie in Jemma Beale, who was convicted of fabricating 15 rape cases, leading to one man being jailed for seven years.
Corbynistas in the making were Student Grant and fellow campus freshers, whose intellectual superiority from flicking through Nietzsche and Sartre fuels an overweening sense of entitlement. In one sketch they lower themselves to watch a World Cup football match on television. When Crispin cheers for England he is admonished for jingoism; a female student apologises to a black guy for this traumatising reprise of slavery.
There is nothing adorable about these characters. Their flaws induce no sympathy: the upturned noses, divisive identity politics and hypocritical morality. Life for the politically-correct intelligentsia is a charade, constantly keeping up appearances. With little amendment, the Viz made mirth of the public sector job advertisements that filled the supplements of the Guardian in the pre-internet era. Desperately seeking a Susan who might stay longer than the last one, the Inner London Education Authority boasts of being ‘where teaching is all about learning’; in Grimsby, it’s ‘where learning is all about teaching’. Either way, common sense need not apply.
The Viz is a picture album of David Goodhart’s division of Somewheres and Anywheres. The Left’s most quoted line from its bête noire Margaret Thatcher was ‘there is no such thing as society’. But this is apparently the outlook of rootless cosmopolitans who voted Remain and support a party in favour of open immigration. Against them is the provincial hinterland depicted by Viz characters, a deep well of bigoted Brexiteers.
Facing a humourless swell of Marxism, we need something like the Viz today. The monthly comic survives on the top rack, but it has undoubtedly been neutered by sensitivities. A major topic of our times, the rapid growth of fundamentalist Islam, is sidestepped. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and the establishment tendency to suppress critics, you can understand. In the 1990s the Viz was threatened after an overly realistic gipsy cartoon, which earned a UN reprimand.
But there is plenty of material, and a massive potential audience, for a humorous medium to eviscerate the Corbyn cult. It won’t come from the BBC, whose political bias is parodied by Frankie Boyle’s current show New World Order, an unbridled Corbynfest. Perhaps Viz can return to the fore, feeding a fresh-thinking generation that rejects the repressive campus culture. Socialism, they’ll see, always goes ‘tits up’.
(Image: Garry Knight)