Back in the late 1970s British television took a marked change of direction. Traditional sitcoms such as The Good Life, George & Mildred and Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em which never sought to do anything other than make people laugh, were replaced by what became known as “alternative comedy”. This gave birth to such programmes as Not The Nine O’Clock News, The Young Ones followed by Saturday Live, where their stars would make a virtue out of railing against the Establishment, championing proactive democracy, “power to the people” and all that. It made careers for the likes of Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle and Jeremy Hardy, who most recently thought SNP MP Kevan Jones, who has publicly spoken about suffering mental illness throughout his life and doesn’t share his views on Trident renewal was fair game for this zinger: “I would have thought you could hazard a guess that if someone supports nuclear weapons, if your view of existence is so bleak you’re prepared to help with the extermination of the entire northern hemisphere, that kind of suggests depression, don’t you?”, self-styled “alternative comedians” who inflicted their unsophisticated dreck upon impressionable kids who sucked it all up with the gratitude and ignorance of a parched dog drinking from a public toilet.
In the Noughties and now we have Marks Steel, Thomas and Usbrigstocke, and still Jeremy Hardy. Little has changed. They always think they’re right – whether in comedy and politics – and everybody else are basically mentally deranged Nazi sympathisers.
They were and still are happy to take the Establishment shilling while shitting their political invective onto an eagerly wanking audience to the point where it’s adulation became rimming. Even Private Eye, born out of the satire boom of the early 1960s, would – often at great legal expense – seek to expose cronyism and corruption perpetrated by institutions of all levels of Government, local, national or international.
These stars, shows and satirical magazines sought to represent their audience in a way which “the people” couldn’t do for themselves, with a platform unavailable to the masses but cornered and guarded fiercely by those fortunate enough to enjoy their position of celebrity and responsibility.
Campaigning for change, to the political system and politics as a whole, was exactly what the self-styled icons of anti-Establishment had built their careers – and fortunes on, with some stand-up comedians earning millions of pounds per year from hard-working fans, doing a 90-minute set telling those same people without a modicum of irony how little money they have. Their livelihoods were dependent on fawning fans lapping up their bile, worshipped by those who could do nothing in the vain hope that their idols could make things happen. For decades, this was a bit like trying to sixty-nine in a hammock: an interesting experience but of uncertain duration.
And so over the years “alternative” became the Establishment lapdog, the mainstream, having lured an entire generation, incapable of forming opinions for themselves, into blind, unquestioning obedience. If you think of the mainstream media as the Stadio Sant’Elia, then the part that isn’t all gooey-eyed about political institutions would be roughly represented by the bit where Gary Lineker wiped his backside in Italia ’90, way back when diarrhoea would pour from the hole between his lower rather than upper cheeks. But the thing is, the enormous smug egos that form this mainstream media have finally succumbed to that well-known but most annoying of cholesterol problems: egg on face. They’d been found out. In the last few years, through the explosion of social media – Twitter in particular – Establishment figures have become more accessible. No longer did TV shows and magazines, once the sole purveyors of Establishment-bashing, hold a monopoly in anti-deferential behaviour towards the great and the good. And soon, people realised that not only could they throw out the odd snarky Tweet about the political issue of the day, or whinge endlessly about how disconnected they’ve become from the political system and politics as a whole, but with enough numbers they could have influence. They could organise. They could effect change. And given the right opportunity, that change could be massive.
And so to the most important political upheaval in modern times. In the General Election of 2015 then Prime Minister, David Cameron promised a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU) and would therefore have a mandate – if Cameron won the election – to follow through on the result, whatever it was.
And so the referendum came in June 2016, and the electorate, fed up of having laws decided by an unelected body in a different country, with the EU, it’s institutions and regulations registering “gushing” on the cronyism cum-o-meter, over 17.5 million people – 52% of voters – decided that Britain should leave the EU.
In Britain people had voted for change. Massive change. In their millions people had chosen the option so progressive they’d provided the most disruptive, the greatest systemic shift in how politics was done, and most importantly over all, they had taken to the stage and performed their own anti-Establishment show. And their audience was huge.
It was like fucking someone up the arse for the first time. The thought of what they were going into may at first have seemed unpleasant, off-putting even. But that didn’t matter, because the experience would be wonderful, the climax majestic and for the first time they’d shafted something they’d never thought they would: Brexit. People were prepared to put up with the prospect of shit in return for lashings of hot spunk, the resulting creampie being deliciously satisfying. And you can’t get more progressive than that.
You’d be forgiven for thinking, after all of that anti-Establishment anarchy and the now box-ticking British televisual representatives of cutting edge satire, swivel-eyed (sorry, lazy-eyed) race-baiter Jonathan Romesh Ranganathan and his ilk (to borrow the phrase used by William Keegan in The Guardian about Nigel Farage) would be dancing through the streets, their cause won, their careers vindicated, right?
Wrong. If there’s any truth in the phrase that we learn from our mistakes then these people should be geniuses, in fact they’ve been found out. Rather like those pub “brawls” you see when old men square up to each other, both happy to shout “come on then” but too afraid to fight. And that is exactly how those oh-so-brave stars of screen and print are. Spineless. Their bottle has gone. And so instead to try and retain some relevance, they enthusiastically, morbidly predict doom. Armageddon. World War Three. Billions in debt. Muslims deported. Chocolate made illegal (well, a tax on sugar). And when even the University of Cambridge, whose alumni include some of today’s “top comedians” admits that forecasts “were very flawed and very partisan”, lefty columnists have to resort to the ridiculous. Here’s Mark Steel in The Independent:
“And to comply with free movement of labour, the EU is going to ban teaspoons – if you want your tea stirred you’ll have to let a Bulgarian do it with his knob. All our pets will have to be handed in to Brussels in exchange for a huge European Superpet. Then, once Turkey is admitted into the EU, they’ll invite black holes to join too, so we’ll all be swallowed into perpetual darkness – costing us up to £12 a year extra in lightbulbs. The moon will be designated Slovakian and given a flat in Exeter, causing havoc with tides along the coast of Devon, and Jihadism will be taught at nursery schools that will be failed by Ofsted if they don’t explode once a week.”
There’s nothing they’d like more than for Brexit to go wrong, to justify their opinion, their careers, even their very existence. Even Eric Idle, admittedly the least interesting or funny of the Pythons but still a part of what was arguably the forerunner to “alternative” comedy (with apologies to Spike Milligan), described those wishing to leave the EU as “brain dead”.
And we were all stupid for making it happen, see? All that anti-Establishment stuff… “The EU wasn’t that bad…” and “the older generation have condemned the young to a life of misery” which led to 78-year-old Guardian columnist William Keegan to describe Brexiteers as “so-called people”.
The thing is, now the “so-called people” have seen the light, realise what they can achieve, the TV shows and magazines, once the sole purveyors of Establishment-bashing, can’t offer anything. No hope, no solution, no change. They’ve been found out. Their relevance extinguished, “alternative comedy” has choked on its own vomit.