Mockery or flattery?
This month kicked off with the return of Spitting Image, the UK satire show that was big in the 1980s. I kicked off with an opinion piece explaining why it felt so flat in our current political climate. Its caricatures of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are barely exaggerated versions of the images the politicians themselves have created. It doesn’t get beneath the latex skin to expose their deep flaws, or cut to the heart of social problems.
There’s an argument these days that our politicians are so outlandish and shameless that they’re impossible to satirise. They’re walking self-mockeries, using laughs to help build an anti-establishment persona, despite their immense privilege. But perhaps satire simply needs to recalibrate its weapons, or even fashion some new ones. Perhaps, as politicians become more like entertainers, satirists need to get a little more serious.
Rethinking the future
Later in October I found myself confronting similar ideas while researching a different subject. The piece hasn’t been published yet, but I’ve been diving back into the dystopian worlds of cyberpunk.
The style and themes of cyberpunk are especially big in video games right now. The highly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 looms on the horizon, with dozens of other titles either recently released or forthcoming. One thing that’s usually central to cyberpunk fictions is their exaggerated representation of social disparities and injustices. But do they get under the skin?
I’ve found it fascinating reading and re-reading a lot of critical analysis of cyberpunk films, books, TV and games. One point studies often raise is that actually cyberpunk can be rather conservative, despite its critical eye. Its anti-heroes find ways to succeed as individuals among terrible social inequalities. Or they escape the horrors of the hi-tech city to a more traditional existence. The deeper problems remain untouched.
But I find it equally interesting to see how cyberpunk has evolved over the years. In some cases it’s now far more focused on questions of fighting back against poverty, discrimination and environmental decay. As with Spitting Image, many writers are still looking backwards to the 80s for inspiration. Yet others are rethinking how to use the power of their art in present conditions.