Lately, I’ve been having a run of appalling luck. Particularly with regard to my health. Even before the recent agonising kidney stone incident, I had an infected tooth (since extracted), and had to take a course of antibiotics. Whilst the antibiotics cleared up the infection very quickly, they had some unfortunate side-effects. The worst of these was an extremely upset stomach, which left my ring piece extremely sore for several days afterwards. Indeed, the most painful incident came several days after I’d finished the course of antibiotics, when I took a humungous dump which felt as if it was going to tear my arsehole apart. Talk about ring of fire – the pain was so excruciating that I had to and lie down for half an hour afterwards to recover. It confirmed to my suspicions that I’d never make it as a homosexual as it would make my eyes water too much. If it can be that bloody painful pushing something out, then God alone knows how agonising it is going in. The attractions of anal sex – if you are on the receiving end – elude me completely. I also now feel that I can empathise totally with women’s experience of child birth – there were times when I felt like taking an epidural and breaking out the forceps. Perhaps a caesarean would have been in order. Thankfully, everything seems to be back to normal now, and I can take a dump without screaming – a relief for my neighbours, who will no longer suspect that I’m murdering people in my bathroom. Still, this horrendous experience did set me thinking – I could make a fortune marketing a small refrigerator for bathrooms for cooling toilet paper, and which dispenses ice packs for application to burning bum holes. Now, it is about this time that you are starting to wonder ‘why the hell is he telling us this?’. Well, apart from my perverse desire to share my intimate bowel movements with a wider audience, there is, sort of, a reason for my detailed descriptions of my aching arse antics. The fact is, that whilst this incident represented probably the biggest literal pain in the arse I’ve ever endured, I have lately also had to deal with a figurative pain in the arse, who caused me almost as much hassle.
Now, this particular pain in the arse was challenging both my right to publish what I like on my own site, and exactly which individuals and situations it is legitimate to satirise. This is a fundamental issue. I’ve always adhered to the principle that nothing should be exempt from satire. I don’t believe that there is any subject which should not or could not be satirised, regardless of questions of taste. That’s what we should be doing as satirists: exploring the boundaries of what is considered acceptable through the medium of humour. If we aren’t risking offending somebody out there, then we aren’t writing satire. Getting back to the point, the pain in the arse in question was ostensibly objecting to something I’d posted over on Sleaze Diary, which had pointed out some startling similarities between the activities of one ‘Bishop’ Sean Manchester, self-styled vampire hunter, the activities of ‘Bishop’ John Salford, an entirely fictional vampire hunter who has appeared in a couple of stories published here at The Sleaze. This individual – who was not Sean Manchester, despite having an e-mail address associated with Gothic Press, which publishes Mr Manchester’s books – seemed to think that I had published “libellous and malicious attacks – call it satire, whatever you want – and identified Seán Manchester by name in the process”. Well actually, I haven’t. I’ve published stories about a purely fictional character, who, whilst inspired by Sean Manchester’s self-confessed antics, I’ve actually made clear isn’t meant to represent Manchester. Indeed, it was in the blog post in question, that I actually stated this. Besides, to be libellous, the stories would have had to make false claims about an individual which a reasonable person might think to be true. Now, Manchester himself, in his various books, has claimed to have hunted vampires and taken on Satanists – both activities which John Salford also indulges in – so what isn’t true? Moreover, despite Manchester’s claims to the contrary, what reasonable person would actually think any of these things to be true? Not only that, but by the very act of publishing these books and actively seeking publicity for his activities via press, TV and radio interviews and appearances, Manchester has actually made them – and himself – fair game for satire. Under UK libel law, this is known as ‘fair comment’. But of course, all of this is academic, as John Salford and Sean Manchester are not the same person.
But now we’re getting to the crux of the matter – what gives any of us on-line satirists the right to satirise someone or something? It is, of course, the publicity angle. If someone or something puts themselves into the public arena, they effectively become public property. If, on the other hand, we were to lampoon private individuals who had never sought publicity, then this would simply be bullying. Not to mention a gross invasion of privacy. However, if we attributed views and actions to public figures which were entirely false and likely to damage their reputations, livelihood or professional standing, then that might be considered libellous. In the US (as I understand it), the test is whether there was an ‘absence of malice’ in what was written. If it was a mistake, or obviously satirical, then it probably isn’t libellous. In the UK, it is less clear. Nevertheless, something which is presented as satire in an obviously satirical publication, is unlikely to be viewed as libellous. Particularly if the story itself is so ludicrous or surreal it couldn’t possibly be taken for truth. So, there you are – by focusing on public figures and their public activities, I think we steer clear of the risk of libel. But there is still the question of what is acceptable in the content of the humour we publish. The recent death of ‘comedian’ Bernard Manning set me thinking about this question again. Manning was well-known for his repertoire of race-based ‘jokes’. Now, apologists for Manning and his ilk always say that his jokes weren’t racist and that it is ‘political correctness gone mad’ that they were characterised as such. This doesn’t actually address the issue of whether it is ever right to use race as the basis of humour. For what it is worth, I believe that race can be a legitimate basis for humour, provided it isn’t used simply to try and show one racial group as inferior to another and thereby justify racial discrimination and hatred. On the other hand, humour which uses race as a basis for examining cultural differences or challenging stereotypes, is OK. Unfortunately for Bernard Manning, his jokes were based purely upon bigotry. By extension, humour about such diverse topics as disability, mental illness and gender (to name but a few) is perfectly legitimate, provided it meets those same criteria – challenging stereotypes and, hopefully, forcing us to confront our own inherent prejudices and assumptions. Mind you, publishing humour of this type comes with its own risks. In the past I’ve published a few stories on racial themes aimed at satirising racists and the extreme right in the UK. Unfortunately, I found that many from the extreme right simply took the stories at face value and assumed I was endorsing their views rather than condemning them. Whilst this won’t necessarily deter me from writing material on similar themes in future, it will make me think very carefully about the approach I take. So, there you have it – my guide to satire! All instigated by a pain in the arse! ‘Til next time – keep it sleazy!