Saturday 14 April 2012

"Skintland": Satire?

Let me make it clear from the outset that I do not accept that the scurrilous cover image which The Economist chose for its UK edition was ever meant to be a joke as has been claimed. I am firmly persuaded that it was always intended to be precisely what it appears - a crude, casual but quite deliberate insult. Intentional but not calculated, other than to the meagre extent that the target of the insult was only those "uppity Jocks" and so it could safely be assumed that nobody would question it. Everybody would go along with the slur.

Of course, as far as ultra-parochial, London-centric journalists are concerned, "everybody" is a very restricted audience indeed. Few outside their own clique, and then mostly the kind of people who think Alan Cochrane is a knowledgeable and erudite commentator on Scottish affairs.They knew they were publishing a nasty, gratuitous insult, but that didn't matter because the people they were insulting don't matter.

Such is their contempt for Scotland and its people, for anyone outside their conceptual village, that it didn't even occur to them that this facile, intellectually bankrupt vilification compromised their normal editorial standards. Had the object of abuse been almost any other nation - France, Germany, even Greece - alarm bells would have rung somewhere in the offices of The Economist. But no! It's only Scotland, so it's not even worth a thought. The mindset is all too familiar - not only to people in Scotland but to those in the "far-flung" regions of England as well.

Such is my take on it. But some have chosen to try and rationalise this puerile pap by passing it off as satire. So let's indulge the apologists for a moment and judge it in those terms.

What is satire? Satire is a form of social or political criticism characterised by the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, incompetence, corruption or abuse of power. Pretty much anything can be labelled satire. But saying it is doesn't make it so. And it certainly doesn't exempt it from judgement according to the criteria of good satire. If a thing is claimed to be satire we are entitled to ask if it succeeds as satire.

Good satire is witty. Good satire is artful. There is nothing witty or artful about vulgar and laboriously contrived name-calling.

Good satire is honest. Good satire is truthful. Good satire exposes lies and dispels false assumptions. It does not manufacture and reinforce them. Even parody by exaggeration must be built on a kernel of verity in order to be effective. There is no substance to any of The Economist's epithets.They are vacuous. They are asinine.

Perhaps most importantly of all, good satire is righteous. It has a worthy, even an honourable purpose. It is not cheap. It is not frivolous. It does not lash out at targets that are actually or supposedly easy. It challenges established authority and conventional power rather than pandering to it.

On all counts the "Skintland" smear fails as satire. So let's just call it what it is. Lazy, fatuous, gutter journalism of the kind that used to be the preserve of the more lurid and opprobrious "red-top" titles. And should have remained so.


  1. Spot on! Point well made - though I don't think it was ever intended as satire - that's a justification they (or their apologists) thought up after it backfired so badly.

    It was, as you say, lazy journalism, probably resulting form some lavish unionist lunching of the journalists involved.

  2. A copy of that front cover through every letterbox in Scotland the night before the referendum and it's a done deal. I like a laugh as much as anyone and think that up here we can sometimes be a wee bit over-sensitive. However, that is an absolute disgrace. Total silence from the Liebourites as well - tells you all you need to know.

    1. We should note that condemnation of the "Skintland" smear came from across the political spectrum. Patricia Ferguson may have been off-message, but she did speak out. Which doesn't alter the fact that numerous "Scottish" labour people were on Twitter applauding The Economist. We now know how they perceive Scotland.

  3. Punning neologisms based on place names - insulting?

    Come come. From the Economist's argument that Scotland could end up on the economic fringes of Europe, it is spot on as satire as defined by you.

    One man's righteousness being another man's heresy, for the sake of argument.

    If whoever wrote it - the custom of the Economist being anon bylines - truly believes Scotland could be worse off post-independence, then the cover highlights that belief in a humorous and satirical vein.

    So why get all uppity and upset about it? It only provides your 'opponents/enemies' with a second laugh.

    Boomerang humour perhaps?

    1. The Economist did not make the argument that you claim. The cover was intended to be insulting. Lucas, the editor, admitted as much on Twitter. So the people who were he target of a deliberate insult were insulted to varying degrees by that deliberate insult. All perfectly natural. Get over it!

  4. "The Economist did not make the argument that you claim"

    Hmm. Can you interpret this for me then please?

    "But if they vote for independence they should do so in the knowledge that their country could end up as one of Europe's vulnerable marginal economies."

    Seems like I hit the argument right on the nail.

    What did Lucas actually say? Seeing as you need an interpreter for arguments, I think I'll have to view it for myself.

    Do you have a link?