Who’s laughing at who?

Reactionary Wolves in Progressive sheep’s clothing.

In the 1980s comedy was a weapon of the people, and satire it’s most political expression. But today on Facebook and Twitter, have we allowed our subversion to get subverted?

In the last decade, satirical news articles have gone from being an amusing oddity to being almost as commonly posted on social media as their straight-faced targets, with several Facebook pages now reaching thousands of users with spoof headlines and sardonic takes, filling a void left by political mockumentaries, witty sketch shows and absurdist candid camera programmes of the 1990s and early 2000s.

It’s easy to laugh along with them. With their general “progressive” and “Anti-Tory” politics they float right under the radar for most well-meaning lefties. But is it really safe to assume that satirical means anti-establishment, or that anti-establishment means ‘on the side of the downtrodden’?

Over the past year or two a trend of vehemently anti-Corbyn, anti-Brexit and vaguely anti working-class rhetoric has begun spilling out from The Daily Mash (874k likes) and Newsthump (355k likes) which they pepper into a sea of legitimately funny content.

As Brexit seems to be the focal point of almost all satire in the UK, these sites have made use to not only push an anti-brexit position but also slate Corbyn / Labour in relation to Brexit. Newsthump with “Jeremy Corbyn finally reveals his own laughably unrealistic Brexit plan” and “To prevent No Deal you’ll have to let Jeremy f*ck up everything else, insists Labour” and The Daily Mash with “How Labour’s half-ars*d car-crash of a Brexit policy will fail to work” and “Everyone dying to ask left wing brexiter f**king planet he’s on”

An arguably worse trend amongst these publications is to directly attack the general Brexit voting public, The Daily Mash with “Your guide to the blissfully simple world of brexiters” and the absolutely disgusting headline by Newsthump “Ku Klux Klan quick to distance themselves from Hard Brexiters” which seeks to portray Brexit supporters as somehow worse or more extreme than a White Supremacist terrorist organisation. 

Support for remaining in the EU are both outlets only explicit positions – and this tells us a lot about the target of their humour, buying into the widely held prejudice that Brexit was the product of the uneducated proletariat being mislead by the wily bourgeoisie. Looking at this headline from the Daily Mash “We got through the war and we’ll get through this’ says plumber born in 1977”, if class is not being presented as a reason why the man is stupid, why mention he is a plumber at all? 

Articles mentioning Corbyn are exclusively negative, a mixture of commentary on his supposed ineptitude and an obscure hint that Corbyn is some sort of careerist willing to do anything to get into power. “Corbyn and May bond over shared love of betraying supporters’ interests to secure power” and “Jeremy Corbyn finally joins Brexit debate to come down firmly on the side of making Jeremy Corbyn prime minister” by NT and “Corbyn under pressure to remove head from arse” and “Corbyn ‘both justified and a dick” by DM.

One of the more sinister trends, that is evident across both satire sites is the push to solidify the narrative that Corbyn, or indeed Labour supporters in general, are antisemitic, fanatical or outright dangerous, headlines like DMs “Corbyn asks Jewish people to stop being bad” ,  “Labour blames accusations of anti-Semitism on ‘Global Jewish conspiracy’ to undermine Jeremy Corbyn” and “Jeremy Corbyn fans first personality cult devoted to someone with no personality” are prime examples of the sort of right wing slander facing the opposition party, jokes which wouldn’t be out of place on far-right facebook pages..

Then there’s the question of what we might call ‘neutrality in a time of war’. Whilst they send-up both Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, with 9 years of Tory rule, it is hard to see how ridiculing the opposition leader is anything other than a defence of the government and ruling class. Newsthumps headline “Are we the Baddies?” asks concerned Jeremy Corbyn” makes me wonder, if they’re implying Labour are the baddies, who do they think are the goodies?

This dedicated protection of the status quo is evident in their refusal to differentiate between progressive and reactionary politics. Both publications are comfortable giving Boris Johnson, a man who supported a campaign for Nelson Mandela to be hanged, the same venom they give Jeremy Corbyn, a man who was arrested protesting Apartheid. This positioning shows these satire sites appear to be class conscious. Protecting their own class interests by not upsetting the apple cart, in an era when social media businesses boom, taxes for the rich are minimal and superficial social liberalism is the price “influencers” pay to maintain cohesion. 

It is unsurprising then, to discover after a quick Google, that the founders of The Daily Mash, Neil Rafferty and Paul Stokes, were both formerly journalists for right-wing rags: Stokes was business editor for The Scotsman, and Rafferty as a political correspondent for The Sunday Times.

Newsthump, the lesser of the two evils, which was founded by businessman Richard Smith, appears to take a more “London metropolitan” stance, metaphorically shrugging their shoulders and laughing at the “scruffy” labour leader.

With people consuming a lot of their political content through short form social media posts, it seems concerning that these pages might be reactionary wolves in a progressive sheep’s clothing, and the serious power behind the headlines you are not meant to take seriously.

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