Ink Is Ammunition!



Humour magazines once proliferated throughout the western world, from Le Canard Enchaine to Punch, Lilliput and Spy, they scored points with erudition, wit and yes, cruelty. There has pretty much always been a ‘journal bête et méchant‘ in France, and the same in the UK.

I’ve written before about America’s National Lampoon, which had grown out of the Harvard Lampoon and was filled with writing that switchbacked from Pulitzer-level to low, hilarious cruelties. Highlighting an issue about the gap between the first and third worlds, the most outrageous cover passed uncommented; it featured a starving Congo baby made of Belgian chocolate. The joke was too historically clever for newsstands to stop stocking it.

The arrival of the Bush era sealed Lampoon’s fate; it turned hard right into nasty, then dumb, and collapsed. Punch similarly lost its way in the rush to find factors of common appeal. After hitting a fifty-year sweet spot between 1880 and 1930, it weakened under Alan ‘Unfunny’ Coren and leaked out one one lame after-dinner speaker’s article after another, finally expiring at the hands of Egyptian vulgarian Mohammed Al-Fayed.

Speaking of which, Spy magazine (who in 1988 described Donald Trump as ‘a short-fingered vulgarian’) launched extended attacks on Trump (see top), but finally folded for mysterious reasons. It is now being revived by Esquire in an online pop-up to deal with the Trumpocalypse this month.

‘I have no pen but I can spit’

We all know what happened to Charlie Hebdo, and this explains the problem with satirical material. In a connected world it’s hard making tellingly funny, cruel jokes without the outrage of less sophisticated people, who simply misunderstand, and the bleating of the over-entitled. Making a joke about Mohammed isn’t attacking a deity but questioning the wisdom of blind belief.

‘Spitting Image’ folded purely because it was expensive to make, but humour magazines can – and should – be started by two teenagers in a bedroom. My best schoolfriend and I ran one for years without the aid of computers because, yes, Youngs, they hadn’t been invented yet and we were having to survive through our poor ghastly lives without Pokemon searches.

So, hurrah for Spy being back – and if anyone knows of a really sharp online humour mag, please let me know below.


4 comments on “Ink Is Ammunition!”

  1. Brooke says:

    I think the satirists are hiding in plain site. Realizing that the majority of US citizens are illiterate,satirists now hang out in the literary magazines like the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and some of the on-line mags. One such mag recently published a hilarious letter from the current Mrs. Trump. And Ms. Clinton has taken her lumps too. Unfortunately, this cover comes at a price; i.e. you can’t be too overtly wicked because the editorial lawyers will stop you dead.
    And the Colbert show and its imitators have also taken over this space–there’s nothing quite like wicked humor live and in color.
    Finally, given the times we live in, what more is to be said?

  2. John Griffin says:

    One of the greatest satirists is living in plain sight and freelancing as the Prime Minister.

  3. I find Private Eye usually hits the spot although it’s not online.

  4. admin says:

    As a footnote to this, the brilliant Italian satirist Dario Fo just died. Real-life events in the topsy-turvy world of Italian corruption bore out the truth of his great success; ‘The Accidental Death of an Anarchist’.

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