Friday, March 31

Lighten up the satire? That’s a tall order when life is freaking out the most vivid fiction | Catherine Bennett

In 1944, George Orwell received a letter by TS Eliot, director of Faber, rejecting his political satire, Farm. There were several reasons. First, it was not the right time. Also, said the creator of Waste land, “The effect is simply denial.” The poet also objected to the total lack of respect for pigs, since they were logically the “best qualified to manage the farm”, being the most intelligent. “What was needed (someone could argue) was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”

So if some of the major movie critics who watch Adam McKay’s movie Don’t look up (currently most watched on Netflix) have longed for a less satirical kind of satire, they are in a distinguished company. TS Eliot may well have agreed with these critics that McKay’s attack on a society too corrupt and deceived to save itself from an urgent threat to life on Earth, in the film’s case, a comet, could have been done. with more joy. For example, echoing Eliot about pigs, some of the more cartoonish clues could have been made more identifiable. How about humanizing main villain Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance is riveting), a creepy tech billionaire who absurdly intends to live forever? Meanwhile, McKay’s president in America, the absurd Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) has appointed her terrible son chief of staff. Why can’t these weirdos with their silly dialogue look more like, say, Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg, or Elon Musk?

Even unknown scientists (Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) trying to convince an irresponsible leader and click-obsessed medium that the Earth really is in danger, should, it has been suggested, have received intriguing personal trips that would make up for more content. apocalyptic. . Implicit in the professional objections to this film: it is “angry”, “smug”, “sad”, “raucous”, “condescending”, “scarecrow”, “disastrous”, “insensitive”, “without grace”, “depressing” , “Strong hand” but also “toothless” – is the proposition that, if McKay wanted to shake disconnected people into realizing, even talking, the collective complacency about global warming, some kind of gentler approach and immersive could have been more effective.

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How would that work? Maybe imagine swift’s A modest proposal If only I had put aside all the heavy-handed sarcasm, stopped babbling about mirrors, and considered how eating babies made vegans feel. Or something akin to political cartoons without manure, pigs, or insensitive face / body caricature.

However, that the film has a 77% approval rating to 55% of critics (on Rotten Tomatoes) could indicate that audiences have a relatively higher tolerance for angry, broad, insulting, etc. material, at least when this feels like a justifiable response to current politics. It helps though if it’s funny, scathing, gleefully played by an amazing cast, and ultimately achieves a massive tonal shift, from an almost propelling farce to stillness and regret. “We really had it all, didn’t we?” says the DiCaprio scientist. “I mean, if you think about it.” In fact, Don’t look up he ends, despite all his irritating negativity, by telling us something unusually positive about the satire. Maybe, for all repeated ads from its death or terminal weakness, can this genre still revive, as now, in a vigorous and exhilarating life?

After the disparaging criticism, the scientists in particular responded that the film’s description of their discipline being ignored and trivialized rings completely true. Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist, called it “the most accurate film about society’s terrifying lack of response to climate collapse that I have ever seen.”

“Keep it light, fun,” the fictitious scientists are urged, before discussing impending extinction on a Fox-like chat show. And “couldn’t it have been lighter, fun?” it is a good summary, by coincidence, of the advice that the naysayers gave to McKay.

The events dictated that his film offers an additional commentary, also known as a “scatter gun,” about leaders in the pandemic who favored President Orlean’s approach to an incoming health catastrophe: “Sit back and evaluate.” No satirist could have anticipated Trump’s defense of bleach or his fellow ghost Boris Johnson’s vision of the virus as an adversary who, when he chose to acknowledge its existence, “fell to the ground.” McKay’s movie doesn’t feature a hilariously vain government figure fucking in the face of extinction – sensitive audiences would probably have thought a Hancock character was tacky, heavy-handed, or just plain awesome. “It was already a crazy script, but I would say that reality drove us 10-15% crazy.” McKay said. “Well done, actually.”

It is largely due to this routine crazed by the usual suspects that the satire became the subject of repeated obituaries. But given the professional cheek brought to McKay’s death-defying production, it could also be that the old-school Swiftian satire – that is, not pleasant and untouched – has diminished in appeal. Assuming, like Professor Robert Phiddian has arguedAs contemporary scholars find the conventions of satire frustratingly arbitrary and simplifying, it could be that certain viewers are similarly held back by a film whose author’s intent is beyond a productive dispute.

While it turns out that shameless public life hasn’t made satire impossible, it hardly invites subtle treatment. How, with the recommended light touch, is a satirist supposed to ridicule a leader who, performing push-ups or other free editorial tricks, views his absurdity as a superpower? Nor, given Boris Johnson’s likely successors, is his departure likely to restore the satirical standards to which they prevailed when Dr. Strangelove, to which the McKay movie has been rudely compared, was having fun with the double meaning.

Liz Truss, the possible replacement for Johnson, posed in scarlet suits and a striking new pompadour long before critics accused Meryl Streep of exaggerating like President Orlean in a scarlet suit. Actually, compared to the patriotic Truss cheese prayer (“That’s it. A. Shame”), President Orlean’s rhetoric when she, too, is posing as the savior of the free world, is remarkably sane. Truss won’t be impossible to satirize, but any attempt that isn’t at least cruel, angry, raucous, callous, absurd, and depressing will likely look like public relations.

Catherine Bennett is a columnist for Observer

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