Picture Bo’ Selecta with Received Pronunciation and you have the new generation of Spitting Image. That assessment may sound slightly harsh however by no means am I detracting from its great genius: 2020s version of Spitting Image holds up the mirror to world in which Spitting Image is considered hard-hitting satire. This iteration of ‘life imitating art’ is a tad too close to the bone for me.
After 23 years off air, the recent re-boot of this once-popular political satire program seemed to be akin to the descent of reason and normality again. In the 1980s, Spitting Image exposed the absurdity of the world’s most powerful and provided light relief in the dark days of Thatcherism. Now it exposes that some students are vegan.
With the neo-absurd like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Donald Trump and Priti Patel; you would think that the writers’ room was steaming with hot takes. Instead, the ‘satirical insights’ into these public personas seem to do nothing but uphold what has already been carefully crafted. Johnson is seen to be struggling with a two-piece jigsaw and Dominic Cummings wants to eat babies. I can imagine Johnson sitting in No. 10, watching Spitting Image and laughing away as, not because it’s funny but, it continues to depict him as a buffoon rather than the master-carpenter of trojan horses.
As a conscious being in modern society, satire is essential for understanding the ironies of the world and helping not to feel crushed by them all. The most potent satire often jibes from the periphery and is born out of a strong anti-institutional stance. I wish I had more examples of satire to hand that weren’t Radio 4 shows however I did, after all, grow up in 21st century Britain. When watching Spitting Image and the light ribbings they give to the figures such as Trump and Johnson, one can’t help but think that they’re just talking to themselves. When trying to flaw yourself, you’re always going to reserve the hardest punches for fear of the pain.
On Twitter, Spitting Image has received a flood of criticism for its apparent ‘punching down’, meaning that the punchline is almost always directed to the relatively powerless. Students and Greta Thunberg seem to be primary targets despite Matt Hancock standing right there. Of course, some are sympathetic to the satirisation of ‘pretentious students’ and ‘autism’ however I found it unsettling. In one scene, Boris Johnson is pretending to be a student in lockdown, expecting a drug-fuelled shagfest (and no, he didn’t just go to Michael Gove’s house). A student responds to his suggestion to smoke weed saying that it’s “cultural appropriation” to do so. Another scene shows Greta Thunberg going to the football with the programme’s attempt at a ‘regular bloke’, wherein she shifts her obsession from something unimportant; the climate crisis to something important; West Ham winning the Premier League. For me, the characterisations of students and Greta Thunberg blatantly show the results of decade-long government apathy. Greta Thunberg hammers on about the environment because nobody else seems to. Students are sensitive to cultural appropriation because they’ve probably gone to the British Museum and felt weird. But so long as a pint-drinking, football-drinking h-dropping bloke is depicted, all is well. The American network NBC has decided not to screen Spitting Image in the USA, fearing it will “cause too much offence” for audiences. This suggests that maybe the programme is doing it’s job. Perhaps Spitting Image dares to touch society’s untouchable: teenage climate activists and scammed students, all the while cheering for the regular, working people. I would argue that the jokes about Greta Thunberg’s Asperger’s tendencies undermine that.
Photo Credit: The Daily Mirror