Friday, 12 April 2013

History Corner: a satire special for the Daily Mail.

For what seems like (but can't be) the fifth week running, the Mail is criticising the breasts and/or employment of people who celebrated Margaret Thatcher's demise. Some of these headlines are hard to make up.

It's also running a campaign to force the BBC to censor the Pop Charts because some people are marking the event by purchasing Judy Garland's 'Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead'. I don't want to add to their mental stress, but it was written by a lefty!

Personally, I prefer the Klaus Nomi version:

Now, there's a certain irony in the Mail (and the Telegraph, amongst others) calling for censorship. Why? Because these are the newspapers leading the charge against any kind of statutory regulation of the press. The Mail also got very, very angry when the BBC edited out a couple of racial epithets from a (1970s) Fawlty Towers episode and from an old Elvis Costello song: "If we let the BBC wield censor’s scissors whenever they like they will get away with being as imperious, bossy & bullying as Sybil Fawlty" it said. 'Censorship that shames the BBC', it said. 'A grim day for all those who value freedom', it said. What else? 'For centuries men and women fought and died for freedom of expression. Who are Miliband and Clegg to throw it away?' It also gave space to Peter Hitchens to announce that 'David Cameron ... will be remembered mainly as the man who brought censorship back to Britain'. Melanie Phillips rounded on Hacked Off and its influence: 'unelected campaigners' trying to hijack the public sphere in piece titled, with absolutely no irony at all, 'The Press is the last bastion of free thinking that the Left has not managed to conquer. Until now'.

And now for a little perspective. Firstly, the British have a long tradition of apparently tasteless public celebrations of deaths. I'm not sure if you know, but every year on November 5th, British people burn effigies of Guy Fawkes, who was tortured and murdered by the state after his failed attempt to blow up Parliament. Similar street parties were held when Mary Queen of Scots died, and usually followed the demise of unpopular rulers and regimes. A large number of traitors celebrated the American victory in the War of Independence in 1783, which they saw as a blow against imperialism and oppression shortly to be imported to Britain: imagine the Mail's reaction if it had existed then. Also, when George VI toured the Blitzed East End during WW2, it was presented as a triumphant bonding moment: in actuality, large numbers of ungrateful Cockneys roundly booed the monarch. A generation or two before, Queen Victoria was so unpopular that her advisors genuinely feared revolution.

And that's just the common herd. If the Mail is so upset by a song from a musical, imagine their shock if they'd ever seen any eighteenth-century satirical cartoons, or read poetry, from Byron to Pope. Here, for example, is Hogarth's Sir Francis Dashwood At His Devotions: Dashwood was a notorious sexual libertine, member of the Hellfire Club, and Chancellor of the Exchequer. You may notice that his Bible has been replaced with a naked woman and an erotic volume:

Here's another Hogarth, from the Times of 7th September 1763, in which he attacks the recently fired prime minister William Pitt, the man on stilts trying to 'fan the flames' of war. The heroic fireman is meant to be either his successor Bute, or the King, desperately trying to prevent war from spreading throughout Europe, while those firing on him are Pitt's political and media supporters:

Here's Gillray's attack on the Prince Regent, whom he considered a greedy, dissolute scoundrel (later immortalised in Blackadder the Third. This one is A Voluptuary Under The Horrors of Digestion:

Here's another one of the Prince Regent, by arch-conservative George Cruikshank:

And then we move on to literary satire. How about Byron's lines on the hated and arch-reactionary PM Viscount Castlereagh, who killed himself?


So Castlereagh has cut his throat! - the worst
of this is, that his own was not the first.
So he has cut his throat at last! He? Who?
The man who cut his country's long ago.

Dedication to 'Don Juan'.

Cold-blooded, smooth-faced, placid miscreant
Dabbling its sleek young hands in Erin's gore,
And thus for wider carnage taught to pant,
Transferred to gorge upon a sister shore
The vulgarest tool that Tyranny could want,
With just enough of talent, and no more,
To lengthen fetters by another fixed,
And offer poison long already mixed.

Posterity will ne'er survey
a Nobler grave than this:
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss!

And of course Shelley's lines on Castlereagh in 'The Mask of Anarchy', about the Peterloo Massacre:

I met Murder on the way –
He had a mask like Castlereagh –
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him:
All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed the human hearts to chew…

There was also an outpouring of joy at the assassination of Villiers, Duke of Buckingham - lots more here.

'A Satire on the D of B'

For all thy quondam power, thy name shall bee
For ever hateful to posteritie.
Yet I could wish one thing for thee, belowe,
In those infernall shades where thou do'st goe,
Thou might'st a purgatorie finde, wherein
A thousand yeares mighte expiate thy sinne,
By purging those deepe staines, and vices fowle,
Which in thy life-time did infect thy soule,
That soe, at last, thou might'st enjoy that blisse,
Where our Creator and Redeemer is.


I that my countrey did betray,
Undid that king that let mee sway
His sceptre as I pleas'd; brought downe
The glorie of the English crowne
The courtiers' bane, the countries' hate,
An agent for the Spanish state;
The Romists' frend, the gospells' foe,
The Church and kingdomes overthrowe;
Heere a damned carcase dwell,
'Till my soule returne from hell.
With Judas then I shall inherit,
Such portion as all traytors meritt.
If heaven admitt of treason, pride, and lust,
Expect my spotted soule among the iust.

Here's a poem in praise of Mr Felton, the assassin:

Awake, sad Brittaine, and advance at last
Thy drooping head: let all thy sorrowes past
Bee drown'd, and sunke with their owne teares; and now
O're-looke thy foes with a triumphant brow.
Thy foe, Spaine's agent, Holland's bane, Rome's freind,
By one victorious hand receiv'd his end.
Live ever, Felton: thou hast turn'd to dust,
Treason, ambition, murther, pride and lust.

I could also point you in the direction of Alexander Pope, but I think instead I'll drop the nuclear bomb of satire: the Earl of Rochester's 1673 'Satyre on Charles II', which he supposedly accidentally handed to the king himself… before fleeing the country.

Warning: this contains words not normally seen in the Daily Mail.

I' th' isle of Britain, long since famous grown
For breeding the best cunts in Christendom,
There reigns, and oh! long may he reign and thrive,
The easiest King and best-bred man alive.
Him no ambition moves to get renown
Like the French fool, that wanders up and down
Starving his people, hazarding his crown.
Peace is his aim, his gentleness is such,
And love he loves, for he loves fucking much.
---Nor are his high desires above his strength:
His scepter and his prick are of a length;
And she may sway the one who plays with th' other,
And make him little wiser than his brother.
Poor prince! thy prick, like thy buffoons at Court,
Will govern thee because it makes thee sport.
'Tis sure the sauciest prick that e'er did swive,
The proudest, peremptoriest prick alive.
Though safety, law, religion, life lay on 't,
'Twould break through all to make its way to cunt.
Restless he rolls about from whore to whore,
A merry monarch, scandalous and poor.
---To Carwell, the most dear of all his dears,
The best relief of his declining years,
Oft he bewails his fortune, and her fate:
To love so well, and be beloved so late.
For though in her he settles well his tarse,
Yet his dull, graceless ballocks hang an arse.
This you'd believe, had I but time to tell ye
The pains it costs to poor, laborious Nelly,
Whilst she employs hands, fingers, mouth, and thighs,
Ere she can raise the member she enjoys.
---All monarchs I hate, and the thrones they sit on,
---From the hector of France to the cully of Britain.

So on balance, I think the right is rather over-reacting to some people spending 79p on a song from a musical.


Historian on the Edge said...

Here's the song that circulated after the demise of George II's son and George III's father, the inconsequential Frederick prince of Wales. It's always been a personal favourite.
"Here lies poor Fred who was alive and is dead,
Had it been his father I had much rather,
Had it been his sister nobody would have missed her,
Had it been his brother, still better than another,
Had it been the whole generation, so much better for the nation,
But since it is Fred who was alive and is dead,
There is no more to be said!"

Grumpy Bob said...

Seems as though Radio 1 has caved in and will only play 5 seconds of the song, replacing it with a news item about why the song has been selling.

The Plashing Vole said...

Historian - I'm really impressed. And I've just been told that there are hagiographic poems in Welsh about Frederick!

Grumpy: this is pathetic. The BBC doesn't make the charts, it broadcasts and reports them. It's not their business to decide what the people should and should not be buying.

As Ding Dong is a Wizard of Oz song, we should remake the musical with the Director General as the Cowardly Lion.