Trump, Johnson and the truth mirror
Posted by Simon Parke, 18 May 2020, 10.46am
The 2nd series of Dad’s Army was different from the 1st; the writers changed their approach to Sergeant Wilson.
After spending the 1st series complaining about his lack of energy, in the 2nd series, the writers allowed John le Mesurier to play himself as Sergeant Wilson; and it worked a treat.
A vague, upper class and rather disengaged sergeant was a brilliant foil for Captain Mainwaring. It was also the wonderful John le Mesurier.
Sometimes, the best thing a comic writer can do is give up writing comedy and resort to real life.
Sarah Cooper is currently doing it to great effect with videos posted on twitter. (And presumably other platforms.)
She does nothing other than lip sync Donald Trump’s press conferences – and it’s marvellous.
There’s no script, no gags, no invention - it’s pure Trump. But we listen differently to the words now coming to us not from behind a big podium, but from the mouth of a young black woman.
Truly, there is blood on the carpet; and it’s not Sarah’s.
Closer to home, Mathew Parris recently wrote a dismantling piece in The Times on Boris Johnson. But the most dismantling section was not written by Parris himself - but by Johnson.
Parris quoted an answer he gave in Parliament to Sir Keir Starmer. It was eight or so lines; and maybe it sounds better in situ, declared vigorously from the dispatch box in the mother of parliaments.
But when seen in cold print, it is pathetic, unworthy; and leaves Johnson very exposed as a leader; and all the more devastating for the fact that, like Trump, he wrote the script himself.
There’s a season for everything and a season for satirical invention, when you take the character before you and just push it a little bit further for comic effect. This is the bread and butter of satire.
But there’s also a season for the truth mirror, when, without invention or deviation, you simply offer the words spoken and say, ‘What do you think?’
This is no uproarious spoof; it’s more powerful than that. Instead, we are invited to listen accurately…and laugh, weep or scream; probably all three.
At present, I feel this is the most powerful satire; the satire that most holds leaders to account.
I once wrote for ‘Spitting Image’ but I’m not sure what they could do with Trump now. Where do you go with parody, when he’s recommending swallowing bleach?
He’s in a land beyond satire’s reach as is the government response to the Cummings affair, which occurred after this was written and merely amplifies the message.
Our words give us away - my words, your words, Trump’s words, Johnson’s words, Hancock’s, Gove’s, Cummings’.
Our words wear high-viz jackets, they spill revelation about our souls, way beyond what we intend. Listen to anyone talk for twenty minutes, and there’s not much of the big stuff you don’t know.
It’s not just what they say, but how they say it, and what they don’t say – our words reveal us, which can make for sobering personal reflection.
I am constantly challenged by the origin of my words: where did that come from? What did that exchange reveal? What were my words trying to hide?
The truth mirror starts with me; but needn’t end there.
As Jesus said: ‘A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.’
And when someone is full of it, as Sarah Cooper reminds us, no invention is necessary; only the truth mirror.
Our leaders may lie - but their words don’t.