WARNING: Contains Profanity. Good, eh?
Nearly everyone can remember in their youth being told by some self-righteous authority figure that “swearing is neither big nor clever”. While that may be true, the combination of age, experience and a healthy dose of liberal open-mindedness does bring the happy realisation that swearing is generally fucking funny and whomever told you otherwise was more than likely a humourless cunt (unless it was either of your parents, in which case, they’re lovely!). To prove this point, there are two humour books out this month – both published by Faber & Faber – which will find great favour with those of us who have an appreciation of creative profanity.
Now best known as The Guardian’s amusingly-scathing TV columnist and as host of the similarly TV culture-mocking Screenwipe for the BBC, TVGoHome (Faber, £12.99) captures the earliest days of Charlie Brooker’s venom-fuelled tirades against the mind-bending banality of modern TV. Originally a website which ran from 1999 to 2001, TVGoHome was a bi-weekly parody of Radio Times TV lisitings that was marked with an utterly brutal and very cruel streak of black humour. This, of course, made it all the more hilarious. Free of the various uncompromising content filters that come with working in very high-profile media outlets – as Brooker notes in his introduction to this new edition, “Back in 1999, things were different: it was just me and the internet.” – TVGoHome is an opportunity to see what is essentially pure and undiluted Charlie Brooker as, frankly, there’s no way in Hell that he’d ever be able to put out this kind of material now.
I was an avid reader of TVGoHome in its original online incarnation and revisiting it in print, you’re struck by just how impressively fearless it was (although, on the other hand, it does give a good indicator of how much Brooker had to subsequently water himself down to achieve a mainstream audience). Yes, it’s puerile and yes, it’s frequently disgusting – notably on the Ralph Fiennes-starring film series “Widdleplop Farm” where Fiennes’ beleaguered farmer Harold Walsh habitually finds himself embroiled in a shit-related disasters of apocalyptic proportions – but that doesn’t lessen the razor-sharp satire on display.
On that front, a particular highlight was “Daily Mail Island”, in which 100 men and women are placed on a deserted island with access to no media except The Daily Mail and where Brooker expertly lampoons the barely-concealed racism, sexism, elitism, overwhelming prudishness and sneering “Little Englander” attitudes that defines the paper. The books’ ten pages of the islander’s self-published newspaper is masterful stuff, replete with such headline gems as “Dark-skinned islanders “refuse to turn white”” (“Their respect for authority is non-existent.”) and, reporting on a 15 year-old girl caught masturbating, “DEPRAVED BEYOND BELIEF!”, followed one page later with the more abstract “Filth: awful, nefarious.”
Far and away my favourite element of was his utterly-merciless attack on Soho media types thriving amidst the dot-com boom of the late 90’s. With the hilariously-direct title of “Cunt”, Brooker skewered the rampantly-narcissistic, tech-obssessed culture of prescribed cool – via the odious, empty-headed Trustafarian Nathan Barley, a classic comedy creation – with extreme precision and it’s where Brooker’s signature anger is white-hot. What made Cuntsuch a particularly-hilarious read for me was that I started working in Media right in the middle of Soho in late-1999, so I knew that Brooker wasn’t exaggerating: these eminently-punchable fuckers really did exist… and they were everywhere, trundling along on their scooters clad in disgustingly-expensive “engineered” jeans. Unlike Daily Mail Island, time has dimmed Cunt somewhat and that was a problem that afflicted Nathan Barley, the 2005 TV series in which Brooker collaborated with Chris Morris: aside from the fact that it didn’t quite convey Brooker’s volcanic contempt and violent hatred of these “self-facilitating media nodes”, it was simply five years too late. Even so, it still possesses tremendous bite and is one of Brooker’s finest moments.
As much as I enjoy Brooker’s current output – he’s an incredibly astute commentator and a fine writer – I’ve always hoped that he’d produce more satire of this intensity. He was absolutely right to endTVGoHome when he did – when TV started producing startlingly-dumb shit like Touch The Truck, as he notes, “I realised that reality had trumped satire for good.” However, TVGoHome‘s online content is preserved and easily available and this book gives a highly enjoyable dose of Brooker the young gun ‘off the leash’, as it were.
More recently, a new gold-standard of swearing has come courtesy of Armando Iannucci’s wonderful and alarmingly-plausible political satire, The Thick of It. (There remains something startling about a BBC series that actually used the word “cunt”.) While we impatiently wait for the fourth series, currently in development and doubtless being reconfigured following the departure of Labour at the last election, The Missing DoSAC Files (Faber, £12.99) serves as a supremely-amusing interlude as well as a primer for the forthcoming episodes. The Thick of It script book, published a few years back and which covered the first two series and the pair of specials, featured a hilarious addendum in the form of various e-mails from Malcolm Tucker’s inbox, providing an added taste of “Platoon Daddy’s” almost-poetic form of vitriolic abuse and manipulation. The Missing DoSAC Files essentially expands on that, the conceit being that the file is mostly Malcolm’s personal collection of accumulated dirt on his colleagues and enemies, along with some odd miscellany, like a magazine profile on Malcolm, titled “Bad Motherfucker”.
Crafted by the series writing team of Iannucci, Peep Show co-creator Jesse Armstrong, “swearing consultant” Ian Martin, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche, the book offers up a glorious array of quotable lines and laugh-out-loud material. I especially liked Press Officer Jamie’s observation of the prescription drug-addicted PM: “he’s necked so many fucking pills, it’s like someone let fucking Mama Cass loose in the back of Boots and shouted “Supermarket Sweep!””; and Lord Julius Nicholson’s assertion to a potential post-election employer that “I know where the bodies are buried, I know who buried them, what they used, how they cleared up after, where they buried those implements in turn and what are the long-term consequences for the soil in that area…”
Of course, the prime attraction here is Malcolm’s rhetoric and the book delivers some crackers from the man known variously as The Gorbals Goebbels, Malkiavelli, The Lying Scotsman, The Sassenach Assassin, The Great White Motherfucker, The Destroyer of Dreams, The Widow Maker and, er, Davina (?). There’s some knowing plausibility in Malcolm’s guide to Focus Groups (“The purpose of a focus group is TO GIVE THE ILLUSION THAT WE ARE LISTENING. It is NOT TO FORM POLICY”) and some suitably blunt advice on Public/Private Behaviour (“There appears to be only limited acceptability in the South West for Felching”). Above all, aficionados of the c-bomb will find generous usage here (indeed, they’ve probably taken advantage of the book format for just that cause, as British TV is not yet at the point where you can have it in abundance…).
Intriguingly, a BBC proposal for a talk show hosted by Malcolm – rejected outright by Tucker in a letter strewn with “cunts” and a sign off I am definitely going to appropriate: “Enormous retards” – perhaps offers a glimpse of what Iannucci and co are planning to do with Malcolm now that he’s out of a job and the centre of power. Malc’s diary entry for April 4th shows him fully anticipating electoral defeat (“All we can do now is hope for a hung Parliament. And shit on the furniture…”). Would Malcolm stay around in Opposition? It’ll be interesting to see how they forge Malc’s future – in the meantime, The Missing DoSAC Files shows a man who can still handle a Fuckastrophe…