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In these brightly Orwellian days, where cynical governments can smile 'Trust
me...' and know we will fill in the blanks 'I'm lying' and not care; where
'biting' satire is left in the sole hands of a cricket-loving impressionist;
where the laurel of 'great comedy' is placed on the head of yet another
formulaic spoof of fly-in-the-wall documentaries; in these grimly shining
times, Chris Morris is a dark beacon of sense, moral fury, fierce
intelligence, intransigent vision; a man of endless, astonishing invention,
intimidating energy and a gleefully, pranksterish sensibility.
The problem with today's 'satire' is that it sets up an 'us against them' opposition, in which we snicker with the satirist at a host of immovable, indifferent caricatures. Most of our most prominent satirists are of the same generation, background and ideology of the ruling classes, and their humour has the flavour of locker-room ribbing rather than devastating anger. Most satire consists of an audience talking to itself, reassuring itself of its own worth, its own values against targets so clearly ridiculous they don't really exist. It is satire as easy listening, as reassuring as old socks.
The reason many people don't like Chris Morris is not because of the 'taboo' subject matter he tackles, but because he doesn't play fair, he doesn't play cricket. He never allows the audience the comfort of complacent complicity. if we sneer at another hapless celebrity duped into piously anguishing over some preposterous non-issue in an obscene public gesture of their own ethical value and depth, we are stating that we are truly 'authentic', that we would never be caught out, that our values are sound. And then Morris will insert a crass joke that strips away the warm cloak of lazy irony - an imitation of the author of 'A Brief History of Time', for instance - that repels us, shakes us out of a cosy 'us vs them' mentality, forcing us to face up to the complexity of what we're watching, or - shock, horror! - think for ourselves.
When I was watching the 'Brass eye' repeats recently, I was struck by how little they had dated, how exhilirating and intellectually stimulating, as well as cripplingly funny, they still were. Surely a media satire, with its inbuilt topicality, should become instantly anachronistic. You could argue that this is a damning indictment of a media that hasn't changed its mind-numbing habits in the last half-decade. I would argue, however, that 'Brass eye' is not really a media satire at all, or is not one fundamentally, despite its destructively accurate potshots at sensationalism, the paucity of media intelligence, a culture with a media that no longer records or reflects reality, but actually creates it, as in the recent case of a major Sunday newspaper printing photos of paedophiles, encouraging the public to savage them, conveniently creating the next morning's news. This is all an essential part of what 'Brass eye' does.
But it is more than that. Morris is our century's Jonathan Swift, and last week's 'Brass eye special' on media hysteria about paedophilia was his 'A Modest Proposal', a satire so savage, so angry, so uncomfortable, so ironic in the true, original sense of that phrase, that people mistook the satire for its object, because Morris held up a mirror to our society, a totalitarian, propaganda-corrupt culture posing as a democracy; and to ourselves, we who conceal brutal, fascist instincts under a guise of ethical concern. We didn't like it, and rather than acknowledge our own darkness, we tried to smash the mirror. Like Swift, Morris has always been more concerned with language and ontology than the media per se, the way words no longer mean what they are supposed to mean, in the way the advance of media technology has created an illusionistic world in which 'real' people have to live, in which we try to make the illusion real, to devastating results. And yet, again like Irishman, the sheer invention with which Morris records this communicative decadence channelled through language, liberates and gives some hope - but only if we accept the challenge of 'Brass eye'.
Brass Eye is a quite awesome achievement. As I write this review, most of
Britain's press is up in arms over the recent one-off episode which
satirised the particularly sensitive subject of paedophilia. The majority
of people claim that it is simply sick to even attempt to make a comedy
based on such a theme. However, while not for the easily offended, Chris
Morris' style has always been to approach serious issues using interesting
methods. This particular episode managed to make some very interesting
points, often highlighting the gross inconsistencies in the way in which
crime and taboo subjects are dealt with.
A great deal of the humour comes from Morris managing to get celebrities to say the stupidest things. The fact that they are so easily convinced to speak such nonsense, highlights the ignorance and paranoia surrounding the whole subject. Amongst other things, we are told that paedophiles can feel children's faces via computer screens, that they occupy an area of internet the size of Ireland, that they can make toxic fumes rise from keyboards to make children more suggestible, that, genetically, they have more in common with crabs than people. At one stage, Kate Thornton tells us with utter seriousness that HOECS games are used by paedophiles to interact with children. It is quite incredible to see these people saying such things with such belief.
Other highlights include the Eminem spoof, JL B8; a story about a cheeky cockney ex-paedophile who does bus tours of his 'old haunts' - a brilliant spoof of the way the press treats the old east-end London gangsters these days; and an on-going news report showing a crowd lynching a paedophile when released from prison and burning him in a wicker phallus: scarily reminiscent of the mobs that ran wild in Britain in summer 2000.
To dismiss this or any other episode in the '97 series as sick and utterly unamusing, is to display an ignorance or unwillingness to address the very serious issues being dealt with. Just because there is humour involved, does not mean the issues are being sanitised - it actually makes them more poignant.
There is actually very little point in writing this- it will never be
repeated on British television as it offended too many of the moronic
celebrities who unwittingly contributed it; it is unlikely that American
will show it, as even HBO would probably baulk at the content; it is
definite that it will never be released on video. Yet, to the lucky few
actually saw it- as opposed to the hysteria that followed its only
broadcast- it remains the greatest satire of the 1990s, perhaps of the
Chris Morris is merciless in his humour- an abused girl is asked if her attacker was as good-looking as he is; in completely convincing fake American news extracts, we are told of menaces to American society such as the increase of priests with guns, and of the forgotten fourth man of the Apollo 11 mission whose role was that of sexual slave to the other three. Celebrities are fooled into supporting all kinds of ridiculous causes- Jilly Cooper and Alexandra Paul support an elephant in a German zoo which has stuck its trunk in its anus in a fit of depression; Stephen Berkoff warns us of the perils of 'heavy electricity' falling out of wires; and, controversially, several celebrities and Members of Parliament speak out against the fictitious drug 'Cake'- questions were even raised in Parliament, which led to the postponement of the original showing.
Many have found this programme grossly offensive, yet the conclusion is obvious- either celebrities are stupid, or they will jump on any bandwagon to promote themselves. The boldness too- Morris is a man who will take a hidden camera and ask real drug dealers for non-existent drugs whilst wearing only a nappy (diaper)and a beach ball.
Chris Morris is God.
One of my favourite bits in Brass Eye is during the 'Crime' episode
when celebrities record video messages for criminals. They're hosted by
Tommy Vance, who spouts hilarious dribble about "foaming nut-brown
ale", but the best bit is when he introduces a message intended for
murderers "You are a murderer," he says with an attempt at gravity,
"and I can only pray to God that you watch and you listen very
carefully to this." We then cut to Vanessa Feltz who, with complete
sincerity and self-righteous fury, delivers one of the funniest
monologues in history - she plays the part of a murdered individual.
"Do you even know what a feeling is? I do but I can't have any more
because of you. I hate you." Her acting alone is enough to have me
cracking up ("Look into my eyes, murderer") but I love the thought that
she delivered this message fully believing that it would be shown to
convicted criminals. Could you just imagine it? The laughter from the
prisons would engulf the British Isles.
But seeing celebrities humiliated is one of the primary joys of Brass Eye. In every episode we're confronted with their stupidity, their need for attention and their unthinking desire to promote 'good' causes. It's amazing that not one of them listens to what they're saying. I mean, whether it's Paul Daniels talking about an elephant having its trunk stuck up its anus, or Noel Edmonds talking about the evils of Cake, or Nick Owen talking about "sodomised electrons"; none of them question the information they're given. And it's not like the practical jokes are subtle. Just take Dr Fox. He spouts the following: "Genetically, paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me. Now that is scientific fact. There's no real evidence for it, but it is scientific fact." Only a simpleton in desperate need of an ego stroke could say that with a straight face.
Therefore it's nothing but a pleasure to see the celebrities ridiculed. And another marvellous piece is when Richard Blackwood tells us that paedophiles can make keyboards release gasses that make children suggestible. And yet another great moment is when Stephen Berkoff gives us a demonstration of 'heavy electricity'. He really gets into his speech, smashing toy figures. But what I love is that after he bashes a human figurine he charmingly says, "That could be your mother." If I remember right that line was used when the programme was first advertised, and that line delivery was what got me watching the programme in the first place. But the most devious anti-celebrity piece is when a poem by Nicolas Parsons is re-edited in such a way that he says the following: "Aren't we a bunch of f***wits? An elephant could no more get its trunk stuck up its arse than we could lick our balls." Says it all really.
But Brass Eye is a lot more than just a rant against celebrity. It's also a merciless spoof of television news broadcasting. And the accuracy in which the programme apes the news, what with its pointless graphics, dramatic music and sensationalism, is undoubtedly what got it into trouble with the gutter press it was too near the bone. Take the paedophile episode. If you read the Daily Mail you probably think it's 'evil'. But instead it's just showing how the news trivialises important issues for the sake of a few lurid headlines. And it also depicts the media's relentless fear mongering. At one point we're told that a paedophile has been getting away with attacking children by dressing as a school. And there's a hilarious segment about a pervert called Jez North. The skit features a reconstruction Crime Watch would be proud of and then even though the paedophile gets a nonce bashing, and is therefore "quadra-spazzed on a life-glug", we're asked whether we can be sure that "pervert mechanics" can't build him a "rooboplaegic wrong-cock." The news loves fear.
However, as great as the paedophile episode is, 'Sex' probably makes me laugh the most. It opens with lurid music and a couple of naked figures. We then see that it's Christopher Morris taking a woman from behind. For a moment he stops, saying "If this were really happening, what you would think?" but when we cut to the studio, and a now suited Morris starts talking, we can see the other Morris on a television screen resuming his banging with gusto. It's a cheap laugh but they all count.
Another fantastic piece in that episode is during a The Time the Place/Kilroy-style debate. Morris talks to a girl who saw her parents killed by a frozen dog falling on them while they were "making sex". He asks the kid whether it will give her psychosexual problems later in life. It just beautifully captures the heartless way those programmes use their guests.
But the best bit in the episode, and one of the most famous sketches in the series, is the "Good AIDS, Bad AIDS" piece. It starts off with Morris patronising his guest ("Who says AIDS guys can't do tough stuff? This guy's got AIDS and he's about to beat me in an arm wrestling match") and then it ends with him berating the AIDS guy for having 'bad' variety of the syndrome ("What if someone shoots you with a machine gun? Anyone yawning will get your infected blood in their mouth"). Again, it's a perfect copy of those simplistic, moralising, rightwing debate shows that used to infest daytime television.
But I really can't adequately express how great the programme is. And there's so much other funny stuff that I haven't got room to mention the American news pieces are priceless. Foaming nut-brown ale for everyone involved.
Chris Morris' brilliant 'Brass Eye', a satire on tabloid television, the ascendancy of the celebrity class and, more generally, the culture of stupidity, is arguably the most subversive television comedy ever made, and one the funniest. In an age where programs abound in which the rich and famous are invited to gently send themselves up, on the grounds that all publicity is good, Morris triumphantly shatters the myth, as a rich stream of unwitting victims emerge exposed as the idiots they are. Some tried to get the program banned, but undeterred, Morris retorted by making a special episode on the taboo issue of paedophilia. The wholly staged segments are good as well, and though 'Brass Eye' occasionally makes for uncomfortable viewing, this is to the credit of a program designed to force one to think about one's beliefs. Personal favourite scenes include MP Rhodes Boyson gormlessly endorsing the deployment of Batman as a way of fighting crime, and the jam-making company which encourages the use of illegal drugs to enhance performance. A program to watch and enjoy, but also to remember the next time you're asked to take something for granted.
Any show which brasses off the editor of 'The News Of The World' is OK by me. The furore that surrounded the notorious 'paedophilia' special has ensured that 'Brass Eye' will not easily be forgotten. What was amusing was the way Rebekah Wade missed the point; it was not 'sending up' paedophilia', you can't do that, but rather the lynch-mob mentality of publicity-seeking tabloid rags. The rest of 'Brass Eye' was great too; particularly 'Drugs'. When Noel Edmonds uttered the phrase 'Shatner's Bassoom', I nearly died laughing. Top marks to Chris Morris for managing to trap so many D-list celebrities and charlatan politicians into making utter fools of themselves. As with 'The Day Today', the use of graphics and music is both clever and imaginative; an image of Peter Stringfellow was mocked in the 'Sex' episode. If 'Brass Eye' still shocks nearly a decade later, it is a testament to the genius of its creator. And it proved that the success of 'The Day Today' was not all down to Steve Coogan.
chris morris is an inventive, talented and very funny bloke. though not to everyones' taste; his humour is definitely stylish. this series is without doubt one of the best programmes to come out of the u.k. since 'monty python'. an absolute hoot and highly recommended. as for the easily offended; don't watch?
With such modern stuff as Phoenix nights and The Office this is often
overlooked nowadays but there's no doubting the power this had when
made. Its a lot more controversial, perhaps the most controversial
piece of satire seen on British television. Especially the Paedogedden
episode which is on the DVD along with the original series. It caused a
media uproar when the point was missed entirely, specifically the
medias obsession with the topic of paedophilia and a victim obsessed
society, True though it isn't the funniest, i would give that to the
Drugs and animals episodes though all have a very strong angry message,
People like Chris Morris are vital and he deserves praise for the
vision and the bravery to make the show. (The celebrities tricked into
appearing on the show are also a highlight throughout) The over the top
graphics and deadpan style of it also adds to the show greatly.
Absolutely recommended though not for the easily offended or shallow minded.
I've just become a fan of Brass Eye after seeing the DVD at a friends house, I have to say it is brilliant and there is no doubt in my mind as to why so many people were against the show. Brass eye shows how the media manipulates and exploits situations to tell you the viewer just what to think about everything. It is a satire on Panarama type shows where all the facts are laid out straight for everyone to see, that way everyone can agree that something is wrong, let's say "drugs" for example. The most controversial, maybe the funniest episode is the episode on Paedophelia. If only people realised that not only do the media promote and fuel paedophelia (just look through the papers, counting down the days that Mary Kate and Ashley became legal, Britney Spears first video, definite exploitation of Paedophelia). The media also speaks out against it, in around 2001 they used the subject spread hatred and fear, everyone was a suspected Paedophile. This is where I believe the humour lies in the show, it is not making fun of the serious issues but it is making fun of the way the Media uses these issues and will exploit them to their own advantage. A very clever and a very funny satire.
All episodes are brilliant.
The best one isn't the over-hyped paedophilia one. Nor is it the excellent one one drugs. The brilliant animals episode comes close.
The one that made me almost wet myself was the one on science. The level of stupidity shown by 'celebs' on this one breaks new ground. There is a line regarding strong winds that reduced me to tears. You couldn't get way with this show anymore. A real shame.
More convincing than Paxman. More ruthless than Sasha Baron Cohen. More intelligent than Stephen Hawkins.
Absolute genius. Thank you Mr Morris!
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