Long-term followers of my ‘oeuvre’ may recall a weekly YouTube series of mine that spanned a year from the spring of 2014 to 2015; called ‘25 Hour News’, it parodied rolling news channels by presenting a satirical spin on the headlines of the preceding seven days. Although most episodes have since been deleted on account of their irrelevance to the here and now (not to mention a few ‘copyright’ issues), there are still a small handful of specials available, including my takes on both the Scottish Independence Referendum and the 2015 General Election as well as a compilation review of 2014. Revelling in freedom from the permanently anxious censorship committees that police the potential for offence re most television comedies these days, I viewed everyone as fair game for having the urine extracted from them.
At the time when ISIS decided American journalists would function better by having their heads removed, I recall concocting a spoof on a certain 70s game show called ‘Muhammad Forsyth and the Decapitation Game’; I only put together the opening titles and a description of what the programme consisted and that was that – job done. The audience was in the thousands rather than the millions, so I didn’t have to respond to the kind of ludicrous Twitter outrage that this week greeted a rare comedy parody of our friends in the Middle East.
The blurb in the Radio Times accompanying the new BBC2 series ‘Revolting’ painted it as a hidden prank show, to which my reaction was ‘just what the world needs – a hipster Beadle’s About’; it wasn’t until the online serial offence-takers kicked up a fuss yesterday over a sketch from the show spoofing those horrific reality TV ‘rich wives’ programmes that I realised the series apparently amounted to more than a ‘Candid Camera’ for the Instagram generation.
The skit in question was called ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’ and was, I thought, a pretty funny piss-take of both a nauseating television genre and the equally nauseating principles of those stupid enough to seek salvation by selling themselves into Jihadi slavery. Lest we forget, British Muslim women who have made the journey from the UK to Syria haven’t been kidnapped; they volunteered. And if they’re dumb enough to fall for the ISIS PR, they’re worthy of ridicule, as is the organisation nobody forced them to join. Considering the absence of sensitivity to non-believers and infidels that the ISIS philosophy promotes, why should anyone spare them the deserved scythe of satire? According to the ISIS apologists on the left, however (those for whom Israel is the only Middle Eastern nation that has blood on its hands), this sketch was beyond the pale.
‘Real Housewives of ISIS? Wow, the BBC got some explaining to do’; ‘The Real Housewives of ISIS is so distasteful. Lowest of the low from BBC2’; ‘Sick, you are truly sick in the head and morally bankrupt’ – just a small selection of the Twitter comments that followed the programme’s broadcast. I suppose the ‘morally bankrupt’ accusation is the one that stands out; morally bankrupt by taking the piss as opposed to the unimpeachable morality of the suicide bomber? One can’t help but think that the same voices would probably have reacted in similar fashion to ‘The Great Dictator’ had Twitter existed in 1940. ‘Chaplin, you are morally bankrupt 4 attacking Nazis and Hitler’!
To be fair, Chaplin himself later admitted that had he known of the Final Solution when he made ‘The Great Dictator’, he wouldn’t have poked fun at Adolf in quite the same way, but by making a movie satirising Hitler in the US at a time when America had yet to enter the Second World War, he was putting himself out on something of a limb. The great exodus of European Jews from the continental film industry to Hollywood bore fruit for American cinema in the years to come, but the stories they told upon arrival were ones Chaplin absorbed when formulating the concept of ‘The Great Dictator’; he’d also viewed Leni Riefenstahl’s grandiose Nazi propaganda movie, ‘Triumph of the Will’, and had apparently found it unintentionally hilarious. The end result of these influences was one of the first comedic takes on Hitler and the Nazis, but not the last; as the conflict escalated, Chaplin was hardly alone in mocking the Führer.
Cartoons and comics aimed at children were crammed with humorous interpretations of Hitler and Mussolini throughout the war years; wartime strips in The Dandy and The Beano included ‘Addie and Hermy, the Nasty Nazis’ (Hitler and Goering reborn as archetypal DC Thompson dimwits) and ‘Musso the Wop (He’s A Big-A-Da-Flop)’. It’s an age-old truism that one way an enemy can be belittled by those not in a position to take them on with force is to laugh at them; just look at James Gillray’s caricatures of Napoleon in the early nineteenth century, whereby the physically inaccurate portrayal of Bonaparte as a short-arse literally belittled him and established the myth of the French Emperor’s size that still lingers. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this image contributed towards Napoleon’s eventual overthrow, but it definitely served to make him less of a bogeyman in the popular imagination and defused the fear of him that he undoubtedly drew strength from.
It’s a measure of how effective the PC intelligentsia have been in dictating to TV companies what we can and can’t laugh at that something such as the ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’ sketch is seen as outrageous. A fashionably dismissed comedy from the 70s like ‘The Goodies’ had a dig at Apartheid in an episode simply called ‘South Africa’, one scene of which features a spoof travel ad for the country wherein the Black & White Minstrels act as salesmen for the system that had its fair share of appeasers in Europe at the time. It all sounds very radical and daring by today’s standards, but this was a pre-watershed mainstream series that was even regarded as lightweight back then.
There are so many aspects of contemporary life that often seem more like parody than the real thing, and I sometimes think the architect of the present day’s culture is not some great political thinker, but Chris Morris. And, as the old adage goes, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Laughter is an essential salvation at times like these, and the BBC should actually be applauded for allowing ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’ to air; they’ve nothing to defend or apologise for.
© The Editor