As a self-diagnosed artist and writer who has spent the last decade shifting further and further onto the left side of the political seesaw, watching as my weight carried the right higher up in cultural esteem, it’s in difficult times like this that I’m supposed to thrive. Hard times are supposed to create good art, strife bringing out the best in us. What a shame then that those instilling the hard times are also taking away our ability to create art, not only by viciously cutting funding for anything that requires imagination or empathy, but also taking away the entire concept of irony.
The twin apocalypse of Brexit and Trump is still rattling through our brains, and yet the rise of post-truth politics has left us rudderless, unable to truly respond or fight through artistic expression. How can you attack something when it is nestled on a bed of lies, when those who have espoused the views are entirely comfortable with being called out for doing so? To put it simply, in a world where outright lies and emotional grandstanding has become the accepted weapon of the political class, how can you possibly satirise them?
You can even go beyond the political world, the post-truth mentality leaving its sticky fingerprints all over society. I myself became a victim of the post-truth mentality as recently as yesterday. As I handed my money to a man behind a bar, he started to posit his thoughts on Trump becoming the first orange president in the white house. I laughed, and responded, “You know, he said the other day that he’s going to make fake tan free for all over 60s.” Before I could stop him, the man behind the bar started on a tirade about how this is exactly what is wrong with society, and when I informed him it was a lie, he simply responded “Well, the fact I thought it could be true says more about the man than any real quote ever could.”
Admittedly, this socially awkward encounter wasn’t cause for too much concern, but the post-truth mentality goes deeper than that, infecting people’s lives in much more sinister ways. Just last week a friend of mine lost his job after making an offhand joke to his boss about how he better watch how he eats at Christmas if he wants to keep the weight off, to which he was immediately told to clear his desk. He gawped, appealing to his close friend and colleague of four years that it was merely a joke based on something said the week before regarding slow weight gain leading into middle age. His boss countered “That may well be true, but it doesn’t take into account how I feel.”
My friend is now on the streets, having been kicked out by his demanding wife, leaving him to wander through fairly affluent areas of Manchester in the hope that his appeal to people’s emotions will allow him the chance to stay at an overpriced hostel. Ironically, he’s been unable to find any money whatsoever from those with the most of it, as their emotional reach cannot grasp beyond themselves. I posited that if he was able to prove how giving homeless people money would help them financially or politically, through the use of no facts whatsoever, he’d be able to buy an upmarket house in Didsbury within the month.
As he laughed through his tears, I noticed that the newspaper he was currently attempting to use as some form of blanket contained a headline about post-truth being named word of the year. The whole parable of his recent life, combined with this sight, sparked something within me that I couldn’t ignore, which is why I rushed off without giving him any money.
We’re living in a time when those wanting to satirise the political class are merely forced to point out the lies they’ve told or the saccharine appeals they’ve based entire campaigns on, hoping that someone outside of their own political bubble will listen. A world where all irony and sarcasm has been stripped from cultural commentary, as it is no longer able to truly satirise the world around the commentator. It won’t be long before all of political journalism is muddied metaphors and weird fiction. I don’t know about you, but I find that absolutely terrifying.
Donald Trump and Boris Johnson was taken by Matt Brown and is available for use under Creative Commons.