Monday, 7 March 2016

The Triumvirate of the Damned; Or Jesus Lives, But Satire Is Dead

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to what appeared to be a shocking statement by Republican Senator and would-be Presidential candidate Marco Rubio. In it Rubio held forth on his opposition to abortion in virtually all circumstances, even, when challenged by the interviewer, if Martians invaded and assaulted American women. Zika virus meantime was possibly God's way of punishing babies, so no legitimate ground for a termination.

Eventually by looking at other items on the "news" site, I ascertained that this was, in fact satire - the giveaway article was one where President Obama was reported to be angry about internet porn, but only because it was costing him so much to view.

Yet it was a close call - because the thing is, it isn't so difficult to imagine Rubio saying what was attributed to him. His party, after all, boasts a range of lawmakers who see rape as the woman's fault and have been prepared to legislate to enforce this warped view, inspiring memes such as this one, where each statement is not satire, but hard-fact comments from elected (male) American representatives.

And, of course, somehow, on some distant planet, Rubio is seen as the "moderate" member of the Triumvirate of the Damned composed of himself, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

Satire works when it takes the most ludicrously extreme position of a public figure and then stretches it to a logical but far-beyond-feasible horizon. The humour is in the warning - this is where you are headed if you take their dogmatic stupidity to its furthest but nigh-impossible conclusion.

But satire dies if it is no longer a humorous warning and becomes instead an all-too likely forecast. Because, in this era of post-factual and post-reason politics, anything at all really is possible.

Back in 1980, the British satirical TV programme, Not the Nine O'Clock News, included this sketch:

People were amused because, under the early days of the Thatcher Government, the Tories were imposing swingeing cuts on welfare spending. If they kept on this path, the satire held, the next thing they would indeed do would be to tax white sticks and wheelchairs. Except, of course, no one thought for a moment that they actually would, even if we knew a good number of them might like to - because it was simply too far, too outrageous. So, even under Thatcher, even under the greed-inducing, society-denying Iron Lady, they never did - indeed, latterly, they even encouraged hundreds of thousands of people to classify as disabled in order to reduce the official unemployment figures.

Whizz forward thirty years and now we have headlines like these:

Now, Government ministers with six figure expenses claims extol the need to cut disability benefit by £30 a week and utter statements chillingly close to Hitler's arbeit mach frei (work sets you free),  while a Tory councillor recommended euthanasia by the guillotine for disabled children with little rebuke. There is no longer anything to joke about. Anything, it seems, really is possible.

And so to the Republican Presidential race.

Marco Rubio perhaps does slide into some faint degree of distant reason set against his rival Ted Cruz, who happily lets his preacher father go on TV to declare that God has sent his son to make America great again while, in his own appearances, Cruz himself claims God is helping his campaign. In the Republican debates he has declared he will bomb Syria until the sand glows - an aspiration unlikely to have been approved by Jesus though Ted at least claims to be in the know on that score, with his direct-line to Heaven. But in case things aren't absolutely certain, just for sake of clarity, Cruz has welcomed the support of a rightwing Pastor who claimed God sent Hitler to hunt Jews.

And then, of course, there is Trump. And what can you say? From the satirical to the surreal, and back to the only too real. Prayed over and blessed by Christian and Jewish faith leaders, he wants to build a "beautiful" wall and make Mexico pay. Ban Muslims from entering America and make the ones already there wear special badges so people can identify them in the street. Torture for freedom. Wage war for peace.

This is a man who mocks the disability of a reporter and just gets more popular. A man who talks about the size of his genitals at a political rally and is cheered to the rafters. A man who leads a baying mob in roaring applause of the choke-slamming of a photographer he didn't like . A man whose speeches have allegedly inspired white rightwingers to commit acts of violence against minorities. A man who boasts he could kill someone, but his supporters would just keep voting for him...

You can point to the parallels with Hitler and the Jews. To Stalin and the Berlin Wall. To any number of dictators. Or psychopaths. But you can't laugh.

Outstretched arms for the Trump Pledge in Florida

Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, was released in 1964 against a backdrop of the Cold War. Yet while it satirized the doctrine of mutual assured destruction that was central to military planning and the politics of the time, the characters so powerfully and humorously portrayed were nevertheless parodies: ludicrous extensions of the appallingly unpleasant but nevertheless limited-by-some-faint-degree-of-reason individuals the story lampooned. Major Kongs existed for sure, but they wouldn't really get to ride the Bomb.

But now, with it almost a dead certainty that one of those three will win the Republican nomination and have at least an evens chance of actually becoming President, while nearly everything becomes ludicrous, anything also becomes possible.

And the joke is over.

In the twisted minds of the Triumvirs, Jesus is alive and working through them.

If he is, he might wish himself dead.

He could be entombed alongside the stone cold corpse of satire.

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