This Week’s Death and Miraculous Resurrection of Satire

Reading the Zoe Williams article for The Guardian on the most recent death of satire, it occurred to me that our current candidates for president present satirists with almost opposite problems. With Donald Trump, of course, the problem is that there’s too much about the man himself—the Trump persona has been honed over the decades to be outrageous, and then on top of that is his monstrous arrogance, ignorance and incompetence, and then on top of that is his vicious misogyny, racism and xenophobia. Alec Baldwin is funny and mean, and I like that, but any sketch or series of sketches is going to leave out more than it can put in. To do Trump, you have to do all the bizarre physical quirks that are his deliberate persona, and that’s going to distract from the stuff that should be a satirist’s (as opposed to an impressionist’s) target.

With Hillary Clinton, and of course I am a huge admirer of hers and have been for almost twenty-five years so I am not in a good position to judge, the things that you would want to satirize are things that simply aren’t visible: her penchant for secrecy, her distrust of the media and everyone outside her circle of advisors, her poor choice of political advisors, her slow and careful decisions about what policies are safe to support and when—even in a sketch set in a private meeting, those would be difficult to spoof. You can, of course, make fun of her stiffness and her pantsuits and her focus-grouped coif, but that’s not really satire, is it?

It seems to me, though, that a gifted satirist could make something of what it might be like to be a small cog in the Clinton machine—something perhaps along the Alan B’stard lines, although not in the legislature but the White House, or possibly like the Clarke and Dawe Olympic thing without the Olympics. I’m thinking a television show set in the Office for Public Secrets, with our protagonist a hapless clerk fresh out of college who has to manage increasingly bizarre and grandiose schemes to keep secret and/or destroy the records of totally boring things. The antagonist is the last DC Bureau reporter from the last print newspaper in Indiana (or whatever) who also comes up with increasingly bizarre and grandiose (and indeed criminal) schemes to gain access to impossibly bland data. I can’t imagine who would play the young protagonists, but I’m imagining Howard Hesseman as the journalist’s boss (possibly only via Skype) and Gregory Sierra as the long-suffering time-serving flack roped into heading the OPS. His boss, a muckamuck and Friend of Hillary’s, should be a terrifying, ruthless and distant figure who appears on interstitial bits that are mock ninety-second press conferences and perfectly controlled photo ops.

You could do a six-episode series, where each episode the secrets are from a different topic and are dealt with in some manner glancingly appropriate to that topic (but in practice simply ludicrous) so that, oh, let’s call episode one Drones, in which the word comes down that they have to get rid of a transcript of a meeting between HRC, a foreign drone manufacturer and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Our protagonist—let’s go ahead and saddle her with the name Chelsea, shall we?—has to get hold of the drone exec’s laptop and delete the calendar with the meeting schedule, so she gets a meeting by pretending to be, oh, the representative of a Pan-African paramilitary organization. Meanwhile the journalist is using one of those toy helicopters with cameras to follow her around. The laptop, of course, has software that can hack in to and control the drones… in the end, of course, it would turn out that the actual transcript of the meeting is less than a page long and all Hillary does is make a reference to drone use under our previous presidents. Similarly the Foundation episode would have Chelsea chasing after some receipt from a foreign donor, possibly inadvertently kidnapping the foreign minister of Lesotho, while the journalist (hmmm, maybe Walter? Wallter with two lls and it drives him crazy because they keep getting it wrong on the byline?) is pretending to be a surgeon who wants to work at the Maseru Hospital in order to get at the information and winds up having to treat the unconscious body of the recovered civil servant? In Rigged the maguffin is a talking points memo about meeting with the new House members; in Focus the maguffin is a photo of her people trying out a policy change on a focus group; in Staff the maguffin is a disgraced advisor who the White House wants to deny ever having talked to (and who presumably Chelsea inadvertently kills or at least she has to dispose of the body). The last episode of course involves the directive to eliminate any record of their own office and work. I have no idea whether I’d end the thing with (a) everybody dying at the end, with it being uncertain whether the deaths were faked, or (2) Wallter the reporter finally succeeding at getting his hands on a bona fide leak at the moment that his newspaper folds.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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