Satirising the Daily Mail and crashing Dave Cameron’s parties, The Revolution Will Be Televised is making political satire essential again.
Is revolution in the air? Last Wednesday, many thousands wearing Guy Fawkes masks participated in a major demonstration against the current political system as part of an organised ‘Million Mask March’. One of the protesters was Russell Brand, who recently caused a stir by issuing a rallying cry for a revolution. Yet not everyone was so receptive; in fact, Robert Webb was so blooming angry that he joined the Labour Party and composed an open letter to Brand, writing rather poetically, “please read some fucking Orwell.”
The main purpose of the show is to shine a light on corruption and hypocrisy
It feels like the right time therefore for the return of political prank show The Revolution Will Be Televised. The second series, starring Jolyon Rubinstein and Heydon Prowse, began airing last night on BBC3. The great thing about the show is the fearlessness of Rubinstein and Prowse in pulling off the big stunts – by posing respectively as fictional Conservative politician James Twottington-Burbage and Liberal Democrat MP Barnaby Plankton, they have been able to gatecrash exclusive events.
For example, Conservative James Twottington-Burbage treats Vince Cable as a subordinate, asking him “You’ll get me a latte? Good boy”, at a Liberal Democrat conference. Barnaby, on the other hand, ambushed George Osborne and tried to give him a gift: a GCSE Maths textbook. In the new series, James Twottington even managed to breach security and speak to the Prime Minister himself.
The targets of The Revolution Will Be Televised are not just the politicians, but also major corporations and bankers. Before embarking on a prank, the reasons are always given why they are targeting a certain politician or institution. The main purpose of the show is to shine a light on corruption, hypocrisy and other unfavourable activities which are often overlooked by the mainstream media (such as the amount of alleged unpaid corporation taxes by Vodafone and Topshop).
The Revolution Will Be Televised is much-needed considering the real dearth of cutting political satire on TV at the moment. It is perhaps a surprise that BBC3 is the channel that is filling the void – it’s certainly a contrast from Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show. The success of the show (it recently won a BAFTA for Best Comedy Programme in 2013) is that the message chimes with the viewers, who have shown antipathy towards the political class. These are perilous times: use of food banks is rocketing sky high, wages are falling month by month whilst inflation is rising and meanwhile major corporations aren’t paying taxes.
The Revolution Will Be Televised is much-needed considering the dearth of political satire on TV at the moment
In austerity Britain, the poorest and most vulnerable in society are being made scapegoats for an economic crisis they they did not create. Yet if you turn on the television, at times, it seems as if it is their fault. Programmes with accusatory and shouty titles like BBC1’s We Pay Your Benefits and Channel 5’s On Benefits and Proud are misleading and perpetuate myths about benefit claimants – lazy people scrounging off the state, actively seeking to live a life on benefits. For one thing, television pointing a finger and sneering at the unemployed overlooks the fact that most of the welfare spending goes on pensioners, not those out of work.
Also, according to a report by think tank Class, less than half of Jobseekers Allowance Claimaints claim the benefit for more than 13 weeks and less than 10% claim for more than a year. How often is this highlighted on our televisions? Television presents this ideal of ‘aspiration nation’, where the entrepreneurs are held up as the doyen of our society. A recent example of this is BBC2’s Iceland Foods: Life In The Freezer Cabinet, which is basically an advertisement led by Iceland CEO Michael Walker. Being aspirational is a decent character trait to posses. Nevertheless, it’s not always that useful if you don’t have certain advantages in life.
Television exalting CEOs and demonising the unemployed belies the fact that zero-hour contracts and unpaid internships are rife, while secure full-time jobs are increasingly scarce. We need more shows like The Revolution Will Be Televised and less of the likes of We Pay Your Benefits. Maybe the BBC could get Nick and Margaret from The Apprentice to present another programme, but this time on banks. It could be entitled We Bailed You Out, in reference to the biggest taxpayer-funded bailout ever.
All images: BBC