The world seems to be exploding in a frenzy of politics at the moment. Everywhere you look there is a political dilemma of one kind or another - be it the horror of the possibility of Trump as President, the Brexit fiasco or our own recent election chaos. All of which provides juicy fodder for the satirists among us. According to my Google dictionary, satire is defined as “the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues”. Satire is synonymous with mockery, ridicule and scorn, which doesn’t sound very nice and begs the question, is it necessary?
Of course one person’s satire is another person’s insult. It is meant to hold up those in power to scrutiny, to challenge our perceptions and question morality. As a result it can be dangerous and subject satirists to reprisals, as was the very sad case at Charlie Hebdo. And this is why it’s so necessary to a fully functioning, successful, democratic and free society. Satire is all about free speech - the freedom to challenge those in power, to say the unsayable, to get it all out in the open, to examine and test and maintain our rights. After all, there are places in our world where satire is not welcome, where speaking out against the regime can have you killed or imprisoned. Fortunately for us here in Australia we are still allowed to speak out, unless of course you happen to work in an off-shore detention centre, which just goes to prove that even we are not immune to losing our freedom of speech.
Good satire can be very funny – there’s a sense of laughing not just at those in power, but also at yourself and what you believe in. As an art form it tends to preach to the converted – those who are laughing are already believers and those who aren’t believers will find it silly or offensive and for this reason, satire will never really change society. It’s unlikely that satire will change the viewer’s mind. All it does is maintain freedom of speech and of course, entertain us. According to Stephen Harrington in a recent article in The Conversation, the rise in popularity of satire as an art form is partly due to a perception that traditional journalism and media are not holding the powers that be to account. There is little balanced view and even programs like the ABC’s The Chaser have lost their originality. The most visible satire in Australia is via political cartoons in the daily papers and in fact, the annual Behind the Lines exhibition presented by the Museum of Australian Democracy celebrates this tradition and is highly recommended. Cartoonists are like the quiet achievers in terms of satire and presenting views that challenge the status quo.
When talking about satire though, and especially in the performing arts, you can’t go past The Wharf Revue, showing at Riverside from 31 August to 3 September. It always has something for just about everybody, no matter which side of the political spectrum you fall on. And this is where The Wharf Revue is really very clever. It won’t matter who you voted for on July 2 this year, you will find this show hilariously funny because it satirises both sides of the political fence. No-one is left unscathed and freedom of speech is most definitely on display.
The Wharf Revue is one of my favourite theatrical shows and I try to see it every year. The incredible talent and wit of Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott always astound me. Every year for 16 years they have been producing this show for the Sydney Theatre Company and I would love to be a fly on the wall to watch the creative process as they write and produce it. Who can forget their wickedly funny portrayal of the poor old Australian Democrats with their high pants, longs socks and sandals and jolly enthusiasm? Or Drew Forsythe as Pauline Hanson – I wonder if she’ll get another showing this year? I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with Malcolm Turnbull and I’m guessing that Donald Trump may get a look in as well. After all, how could they resist? I’ll miss Joolya – Amanda Bishop was brilliant as Julia Gillard but I suspect that this year they will be spoilt for choice. If other years are anything to go by, there will be biting, cutting wit interspersed with frothy bubbles of silliness and a backdrop of very clever song. The Wharf Revue is intelligent comedy and we’re very lucky to have the freedom to enjoy it.