When the mainstream media are out to get you, it’s up to the comedians to set us all straight.
I’ve always been a fan of what I term media terrorists: those people who show — usually through comedy — mainstream reporting and media for what it is; a manipulative sham.
Chris Morris is easily my favourite because of the way he can see through the medium and cut to the core of its weaknesses using wordplay, clever editing and comic timing to wonderful effect. The result is inspiring, if sometimes uncomfortable, to behold because deep down you know he’s right, despite the tabloids thinking otherwise, and proving his point for him.
Even his less accessible content like Blue Jam is devilishly clever, ripping apart society by reducing the most extreme situations and illnesses into a kind of banal representation, often told from the viewpoint of the people who believe such behaviour is “normal”. I remember sitting up every week waiting for it on the radio and shaking my head in disbelief as the disturbing sound effects and crazy stories unfolded. The TV version Jam is equally bizarre.
While his output is now sporadic and the media inevitably call it indecent, it’s always done for a very good reason: laughter, laughter and more laughter. It really is the best medicine for opening our minds.
From Kazakhstan with love
In a similar vein, I firmly place Sacha Baron Cohen among my list of idols. His caricatures are all perfectly designed to lower inhibitions and allow the surfacing of human traits that society is so often not permitted to express.
By taking characters like Ali G and Borat — instinctively perceived as lower class or “foreign” through appearance alone — Cohen subtly shifts the balance of power; giving his targets the moral high ground when in fact he is in command. The result is an incredible, revealing insight into the undercurrent of xenophobia and twisted morals that the daily media portray.
I mean, who can’t help but laugh when he deliberately gets things wrong and is corrected by a well-meaning but condescending target. Even if talking over someone he never misses a thing, being equally sharp when twisting people’s words or accents or asking ridiculous questions on socially controversial subjects; each cleverly designed to elicit truthful responses and demonstrate his point. Unfettered genius at work.
The Nathan Barley files
No round-up of media greats would be complete without Charlie Brooker. While considerably more low-brow than Morris, his delivery techniques are similar, and the manner with which he wraps social and media observations in comic absurdity are not to be underestimated.
My earliest recollection of his incisive genius was with the fake television listing website TV Go Home. It poked fun at the political correctness of Radio Times through descriptions of a series of outlandish TV shows, my personal favourite being “Touch Stapleton”: a show where members of the public queue up to stroke John Stapleton’s forearm in a non-sexual way.
More recently he has taken to dismantling media by tackling it head on and highlighting its hyperreal nature. Some fantastic visual examples of his work are:
- the perfect parody of a news segment
- demonstration of the manipulative powers of so-called ‘reality’ formats (a sentiment hinted at in Ben Elton’s Dead Famous) in reality TV editing techniques
- exploration of the sensationalised American media
If everyone in the world could see just those three videos we might begin to engender a more media-savvy population who can see how manipulative and harmful the medium is.
I’m not sure when I made the connection or had that ‘wow’ moment that came with the realisation that everything is edited to evoke a reaction, a response or to implant a thought. It was certainly a looong time ago — way before I decided to get rid of my TV — but it’s one that has stayed with me forever. Since I’m not in the same league as the guys above it’s up to you to arm yourself against media, and there’s no better way than through comedy.