This month marks twenty years since Chris Morris' classic programme Brass Eye first hit our screens. A spiritual successor to The Day Today, Brass Eye satirised the rise of 24-hour breaking news; the way reporters tackled issues (ill-informedly, judgementally, hyperbolically), the obsession with celebrity culture, the format's confusing mechanics (pointless graphs, insipid back and forths between anchors, dizzying yet believable graphics).
Indeed, the show managed to push the limits of what was plausible; OK then, maybe Morris really did ask real life dealers for fictional drugs and bamboozle focus groups, but did Phil Collins really believe in Nonce Sense? In this way it succeeded like few satires or parodies have. Brass Eye was able to hone in on particular issues - drug abuse, needlessly sadistic prisons, mob violence, animal abuse - and show how the framework they were being treated in was absurd, both in government policy and media coverage. The stunts that mocked celebs, the unsubtle political quips, the farcical headlines; these have all been hived off into other comedies, but they lack the overarching concept of 'what a dumb world it is'. Bearing in mind Morris managed to extract all this vitriol from the early New Labour years, surely he could have a field day now...
To finish, I'd like to make a comparison. The last few months have shown a range of satires pitted against Donald Trump, portraying him as everything from a Kremlin spy to a small handed freak to a Breitbart puppet, it's up to you to ask if those jokes worked; did they stop Trump in his tracks? No. Did they make him feel bad personally? Possibly. Do most people think less of him? Probably. Where Brass Eye succeeds is highlighting the inanity of the status quo - that people would be taking absurd drugs like cake post-ecstacy, that prison would be tougher after the Strangeways riot, that computers could give off a dizzying gas in the halycon days of the information age - to celebrities, politicians and viewers alike. In doing so, by fooling interviewees or portraying mobs lynching a paedophile, it showed how unquestioningly engaged in it we could be. We don't need satire which points out some figurehead's personal flaws, but which highlights our complicity.
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