Hard News by Russell Brown


Irony Deficient

Although TV3 in particular has been able to build a successful development strategy around comedy in recent years, the hard stuff -- satire, and particularly political satire -- is basically absent from our screens these days.

The days of A Week of It are long gone, along with those superb Country Calendar spoofs. Ditto for Gibson Group's indelicate Facelift and Public Eye. The last really good screen satire was The Jaquie Brown Diaries, although I have been informed that that was less funny if you didn't live in Auckland or work in media. (In that vein, I recall some NZ On Air qualitative research in 2004 that suggested that ordinary people didn't like Eating Media Lunch because they felt it didn't like them.)

You won't find a great deal of it in the papers, either -- Steve Braunias' 'Secret Diary' series is still valued by a handful of the Fairfax regionals (and a broader internet readership), but as Graham Reid explained in signing off from his marvellously deadpan On holiday with the average NZ family series for the Herald:

Some people got the joke - okay, nothing much happens at this time of year, but we surely aren't reduced to publishing that much of nothing? - but others took it very seriously. A reader in Paris (as in France) was disappointed we'd publish a story about "a little [expletive] of a child with no appreciation of the fact that she is able even to go on a family holiday. I certainly hope this is not the average New Zealand family today as I know it wasn't when I lived there, only a matter of a couple of years ago. At the risk of sounding old school, I think children like that are ignorant and sheltered of the world around them and will eventually grow up to be [another expletive]." True. And they'll probably also be potty-mouthed and have their humour gland removed too.

Too many readers were confused, and the Herald was apparently unwilling to run any further satire from Graham unless it was clearly marked SATIRE, which he felt rather defeated the point of satire. After he was unable to interest The Listener in such material, I was more than delighted to have him publish on this site a fabulous series of satirical works under the banner Alt.Nation.

Print's big holdout is Metro magazine, which, crammed as it is with the talents of Braunias, David Slack and others, sometimes seems too full of ironic literary impersonation.

But perhaps 'twere always thus. In past decades, the most richly ironic writing has been brought to the world by small presses and pamphlets. I used Bob Gormack's wonderful A Maori Lament in Great New Zealand Argument after finding it in Nag's Head's Bookie No.1, itself a parody of Caxton's serious-minded Book. Fairburn's mischevious "pollytickle parrotty" of the speaking style of Michael Joseph Savage, The Sky is a Limpet,  appeared as a pamphlet under the Lowry imprint in 1939 and forms just part of the satirical canon of the man I once ventured to be The best blogger there never was.

The works of the small presses were made for niche audiences -- and their job is done by the internet. When the mood seizes them, Danyl McLachlan, Scott Yorke and Lyndon Hood all write political satire as good as anything in the New Zealand tradition. As Dave Armstrong (presently co-writing Down the List, which appears on Sunday Mornings on Radio New Zealand National) observes in a report compiled for this week's Media3 by Jose Barbosa, it's a damn shame those guys don't have the opportunity to write for television.

I tend to think another factor is that internet audiences seem more comfortable with irony and ambiguity than mainstream media viewers. The odd person may not recongise Danyl's satire as satire, but he's never going to be deluged with letters telling him what a terrible person he is.

Even the modern genre which embodies the greatest potential for misunderstanding, the parody Twitter account, can generally be parsed by its readers. Most of us were in on the joke when Josh Drummond and Jackson James Wood killed off Dr Brash (who, by the way, is back from the dead). It is, of course, relatively rare for the authors of these accounts to unmask themselves. I don't know who the once-scabrous Paul Holmes parodist is, but it's been funny watching him gradually forget that he's supposed to pretending to be someone else.

Anyway, I'll be discussing all this and more with fellow Metro columnists David Slack and Ruth Spencer on the show this week.

I'll also be talking to Ben Gracewood about mobile privacy and whatever-the-hell happened with Wheedle, and I'm making a track on UK Channel 4's Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Report.

If you'd like to join us for tomorrow's (ie: Thursday's) recording, come along to the Villa Dalmacija ballroom, 10 New North Road, Auckland, at 5.30pm. There'll be a laugh in it, promise. And the drinks are cheap.

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