Jim Zeeben: Tired politics in need of fresh satire

I can remember the first political platform that I actually took the time to think about. It was on page 8 of the April 26, 1979 edition of the Ottawa Citizen in a story written by staff writer Linda Drouin. (I know these details because the paper’s archives are now available online.)

I can remember the first political platform that I actually took the time to think about. It was on page 8 of the April 26, 1979 edition of the Ottawa Citizen in a story written by staff writer Linda Drouin. (I know these details because the paper’s archives are now available online.)

The article was about the unveiling of a local candidate in a federal political party. Their platform included a proposal to return to the British custom of driving on the left side of the road.

In order to give Canadians time to adjust, the change would be done over a five-year period. In the first year, only trucks and buses would use the left side. The next year, “big Amercian trucks” would make the switch, followed by small imported cars in the third year and, in the final year, two-wheeled vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles and wheelchairs.

On first read I crinkled my nose and looked around for someone to share my disbelief. Then I got it. The idea was meant to be ridiculous.

I was still in elementary school, but the Rhino Party had made such an impression on me that I spent the next day trying to explain their politics to befuddled classmates.

And while the image of cars caught up in a chaotic policy switch was silly enough to capture the imagination of an 11-year-old, the satire also helped shed some light on the very real issue of bureaucratic foolishness plaguing the government.

Other Rhino policies of the day included leaving the corner of the dollar bill blank so cashiers could pencil in the value at the time of transaction. This in an era when most commentary about our battered currency was either dire or abstruse or both.

The Rhinos made many issues facing Canadians accessible in ways that only good satire can.

The humour offended some – the Rhinos actually had 53 candidates, which shocked plenty of people who didn’t have any sense of hee-haw. The original Rhino party disbanded in 1993, after a dispute about a new rule that required parties to run candidates in at least 50 ridings, with each paying a fee of $1,000.

A new party bearing the Rhino flag was reborn in 2007 and fielded 14 candidates in the 2011 federal election. A dozen were in Quebec but B.C. and Alberta also had one candidate each.

So far they’ve failed to capture Canadians’ imaginations on the scale their forebears did.

Satire, as good as it is at shedding light on dense subjects, is very difficult to pull off well. Finding the right mix of irony and sarcasm is critical.

It can come across as angry, even hateful, if not done with care.

At one time, satirical columns were common in newspapers but these days most editors are wary of risking the trust of readers. That, and the fact readers are inundated with websites that miss the mark when they attempt satire, but really deal in mock news that’s more misinformation than clever commentary.

There are still great sources of satire, of course. Stephen Colbert remains hugely popular around the world and The Onion magazine’s website provides constant fodder for people to share through sites like Facebook. If you can relate to the Brits, the U.K. also continues to pump out comedians with that rare ability to skewer sacred institutions while tickling your funny bone.

In Canada, Rick Mercer started his new season this week. Mercer’s rants consistently find that sweet spot between comedy and crassness. And locally I suppose we’ve seen successful satire with the now-retired Mr. Floatie and his campaign for sewage treatment.

I’m curious what you think about the state of satire. I know many of our letter writers have a rapier-like wit and can take a poke at some of the issues affecting us on a regional, provincial or national level. Let’s see you try.

Jim Zeeben is the editor of the

Saanich News.

editor@saanichnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VicPD confirms wolf sighting in James Bay

Police ask that children and pets be taken inside

VIDEO: Furry, four-legged donors make their way to doggy blood drive in Langford

WAVES and Canadian Animal Blood Bank host blood drive for dogs

Annual Salmon Carcass Transplant draws Saanich residents to Douglas Creek

More than 100 frozen salmon tossed into the creek as part of ecological restoration

Colwood hosts open house on future of Royal Bay community

Event takes place on Jan. 22 at Royal Bay Secondary from 6 to 8 p.m.

WATCH: Police warn car break-ins are on the rise in Greater Victoria

Residents can ‘take precautions to make their vehicle undesirable,’ says VicPD spokesperson

‘Presumptive case’ of coronavirus in Canada confirmed by Ontario doctors

Man in his 50s felt ill on his return to Canada from Wuhan, China

VIDEO: Drone footage shows extent of damage in Highway 4 rockslide

Tofino, Ucluelet still cut off from rest of the island, as crews work to repair roadway

People knowingly take fentanyl so make policy changes to reduce harm: B.C. study

Dr. Jane Buxton, an epidemiologist at the centre, says drug users need more resources,

‘My heart is going to bleed’: Bodies brought back to Canada following Iran plane crash

Remains of Sahar Haghjoo, 37, and her eight-year-old daughter, Elsa Jadidi, were identified last weekend

UBC grad and sister killed in Iran plane crash had bright futures ahead, close friend says

Asadi-Lari siblings Mohammad Hussein and Zeynab were two of 57 Canadians aboard downed Flight PS752

BCLC opens novelty bet on Harry and Meghan moving to the west coast

Meanwhile, real estate agency points to four possible homes for the family

Canada slips in global corruption ranking in aftermath of SNC-Lavalin scandal

The country obtained a score of 77, which places it at the top in the Americas

Wuhan bans cars, Hong Kong closes schools as coronavirus spreads

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her government will raise its response level to emergency, highest one

Most Read