Niall McCrae: Satire can save us from socialism

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)

Niall McCrae

  • Bik Byro

    Brilliant article! The VIZ is a magnificent comic! It’s a shame we don’t see much of Buster Gonad (and his unfeasibly large testicles) and Johnny Far tpants any more. But Student Grant, Millie Tant and the Modern Parents were a proper swipe at “Islington Coffee Shop” leftism. I still buy it occasionally to this day.
    Incidentally, their cryptic crossword is also a pleasant interesting teaser, though just not quite up to the “Private Eye” one.

    • Reborn

      My favourite’s Roger Mellie.
      I last bought it a month back, & was raised on the Beano in the 1950s, so
      Viz has nostalgic qualities in the artwork, though not the vocabulary.
      Re satire.
      I feel that UK politics is beyond satire & look to Yes Minister as a straightforward
      documentary on mainstream UK politics.
      Labour is, however, not mainstream, or even British.
      It is a 1950s style near communist party, that derives its support at the ballot box from
      persons under 50 who do not remember the destruction wrought on us all
      by communist dominated unions.
      In the 70s, brave people risked their lives to escape the hell of East Germany.
      Corbyn & his inamorata actually chose to go there for holidays.
      The man may be personally charming.
      So was the socialist Hitler.
      Both men are/were evil.

      • Bik Byro

        Totally agree. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the majority of people who can remember the winter of discontent don’t want to go back there.
        Any my favourite Roger Mellie was when he did “Through the Keyhole”

  • Jonathon Davies

    This is why the meme war matters.

  • James Chilton

    The vituperative arts – satire, irony, ridicule, and lampoon are in decline. In any case, I don’t think they can “save” a society from anything. We can’t laugh into oblivion the self-destructive drift of social life in general or the politics of anyone in particular.

    • therealguyfaux ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

      The only trouble with the thesis that you can somehow laugh the Left into oblivion by satire/parody/etc. is that Poe’s Law enters the frame, a formulation to the effect of “You cannot post something satirical on the ‘Net parodying an extreme position without use of smileys or other indications of humour, since there will be some out there who will find it indistinguishable from the real thing.” Right now in America, there’s a Twitter parody account for the WH spokesman, one which lacks the blue check mark, and even misspells the man’s name (as “Sean SPICIER,” not “Spicer”)– he receives much vituperation from some who do not realise he is a parody, as he skewers the Democrats and all Leftward from them.

      The difference between Right and Left, as far as the reaction to parody good enough to fool the unwary, seems to be that when told it is parody, the Left STILL insist “It’s NOT funny!”, but the Right react with, “Good Lord, nowadays, who could tell?” And the Left’s parodies of the Right usually rely on straw men, whereas the Right’s parodies of the Left are much nearer the mark the better for the laugh value. Shorter: “The Right = ‘clever’; the Left =’cleaver’.”

      • James Chilton

        In anticipation of Poe’s Law, Art Buchwald said, “You can’t make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you’re doing is observing it.”

  • Adam Minister

    “It won’t come from the BBC” …hasn’t listened to Dead Ringers recently then. Yet again if Niall spent half as much time inspecting the Tories he wouldn’t have to worry about Corbyn.

  • John Birch

    I used to work all over the world and as soon as I got back I used to buy viz because nothing was funnier. It’s impossible to read viz without bursting into laughter unless you are one of the types portrayed. Mili tant for example.
    Absolutely hilarious and very clever.
    The gipsy strip that got them into trouble was called The thieving gipsys, absolutely spot on and clearly accurate to anyone with an ounce of common sense.
    Unfortunately ,they had recently been made a protected species so viz had to print an apology for telling the truth. ( it was early days for apologies for telling the truth)
    The apology made me fall about laughing until I realised it was not a joke but a tongue in cheek apology because they had been hit by the legal teams behind the travellers associations and obviously the truth was now forbidden.
    To me that was a very very dangerous position and part of the slide into the situation where we are now .

    • brownowl

      Actually, I think you’ll find it was called “Thieving Gypsy Bastards”, and yes, it was indeed spot on, and very funny.

      I worked in Brussels in those days, and whichever of us went back to Blighty, was obliged to bring Viz back.

      • John Birch

        You’re correct with the title.
        Have you read the book, inside story of viz rude kids. By Chris Donald.
        Still available on amazon, I
        Just checked
        The story from start up to a publishing phenomena .
        Amazing book, if you love viz you will be fascinated by the stories and bizarre characters involved in bringing the magazines together.
        A great read.

  • DA65

    Brilliantly written – is Niall McCrae actually Jonathan Meades in disguise? It reads very much like him!

  • Tethys


  • EUman remains

    And the Pathetic Sharks, a masterpiece against health’n’safety zealots.

  • UKCitizen

    I have honestly given up on most comedy programs these days. The only comedians that seem to be in the public eye are left leaning or neutral at best.
    Viz is British comedy or should I say used to be, self reflective, cutting and shining a light in those dark places only satire dares to tread.
    Now most mainstream comedy seems to be leftwing political commentary as that is all that is allowed.