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The Voice Of 40-Something Cynical Optimism!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

I need a laugh

I am English- I do have a sense a humour (it is the national characteristic I'm most proud of). This is from the time of Mission Accomplished 2 years or so. Pinko-commie limey Saddam loving nonsense I'm sure...

This is the new spoof bigot
Reviewed by Victor Lewis-Smith, Evening Standard (10 April 2003)

In this ever-changing world, let us pause to consider the tragic fates of humble artisans who suddenly find themselves unemployed, due to circumstances beyond their control. Think of the actor who used to dub Gerry Adams's voice on the news back in the days when Mrs Thatcher was denying the IRA "the oxygen of publicity", and who became redundant on the day that John Major wisely ended the ludicrous censorship. Or those parliamentary sketch artists who were similarly consigned to the dustbin of history when TV cameras moved into the House of Commons, thus depriving us of such hastily drawn pastel masterpieces as "Heseltine Swinging the Mace".

Nor should we forget the many Diana lookalikes who had to hang up their paste tiaras on that fateful September morning, when the Princess was (like Mon Cherie liqueur chocolates) brought from Paris to Britain in a box.

Were I one of Saddam Hussein's many doubles, I'd currently be exchanging my AK47 for a P45, then popping down to my local branch of Al-Boots and looting some blond hair dye and a Gillette. Future employment prospects for his lookalikes do not seem bright, although if any of them manage to avoid being lynched on the streets of Baghdad over the next few days, they could perhaps make a living in the US by imitating their former fuhrer on a hilarious spoof news programme called The O'Reilly Factor.

The US-based Fox News channel (shown here on satellite and cable) has developed a reputation for being uncompromisingly jingoistic in its coverage, but this brilliant late-night comedy (a parody of an extreme Right-wing discussion programme) proves that the station's management has a wickedly subversive sense of humour, and isn't afraid to lampoon itself on occasion. Because, in the best traditions of Panorama's spaghetti harvest, the programme pokes fun at current affairs programmes by ridiculing the excesses and pomposity of nonstop war coverage in a way that hasn't been equalled since The Day Today.

The central joke is that the presenter, Bill O'Reilly, sneers contemptuously at all things Un-American (even though he's of Irish immigrant stock himself), as he rants for a full hour about global politics.

Better still, he pretends to be in the early stages of Alzheimer's and constantly gets his facts muddled up, alleging last night (for example) that America won the Vietnam war and that Saddam is a terrorist, responsible for the 11 September attacks.

Some of his best material satirises the fashionable, redneck view of the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys", and last night's rabid references to "the loathsome French president" and "Jacques Chirac, that weasel" cleverly exposed the absurdity of America's current knee-jerk Francophobia.

To keep his viewers on their toes, he recently slipped in a subtle line about "those French, they can keep their francs", neatly mocking the ignorance of those Americans who don't even realise that the euro has been in circulation for years, and that the franc disappeared long ago.

Just as Randy Newman was misunderstood by those who thought his Short People song was serious, so there's a danger, I suppose, that dullards might not realise that O'Reilly is a clever joke, and that he's a spoof bigot, rather than a real one.

To make the joke absolutely clear, an array of semi-senile retired generals from central casting were wheeled into the studio to deliver ever more ridiculous lines, with one proudly announcing, "We've killed an estimated 95,000 Iraqi soldiers," (perhaps they have, but only in a wicked satire would they boast of such a terrible thing), while the presenter added, "We paid for this war, so we get to say who gets the contracts". My favourite cameo role was a Dr Peter Singer, a "liberal" philosopher from Princeton University, who nervously suggested that perhaps Iraqi civilian lives were just as valuable as American ones, and was promptly shouted down by O'Reilly. Another running joke on the show is that the presenter believes so fervently in America values of freedom of expression that he bawls out anyone who dares to disagree with him.

"Viewers know who provided the accurate coverage of the war and who was flat-out wrong," he thundered (a sly dig at his own employers, who slapped "Fox News Exclusive" on stories about chemical weapons finds that soon turned out to be non-existent), and that's the one flaw in this otherwise brilliant comedy format.

Ultimately, the joke will start to wear thin, so do try to tune in and catch O'Reilly before he tires of playing this cross between a sadistic headmaster and an ill-informed redneck with self-esteem problems decides to put the character into cold storage.

I've enjoyed watching his transformation over the past three weeks, from his initial maniacal jingoism (when he half-feared defeat) to his current rampant triumphalism, and in truth he's only a slight exaggeration of some of the more absurd commentators one sees on genuine news programmes, who have heralded shots of celebrating Baghdadis as proof positive that all will be well from here on in.

Have they never seen newsreels of French peasant women welcoming Nazi troops during the Second World War, then a few years later welcoming the Allied forces? They're simple people, after all, and therefore far too intelligent to do anything else.

More Victor Lewis-Smith TV reviews for the Evening Standard can be found at (you have to register I'm afraid and you will get sent stuff about London until kingdom come, but as Doctor Johnson said "He who tires of London tires of life").


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