Satire and Childishness seminar

Wednesday 8th February, 1.15pm – 2.30pm
Room 359, University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street

Morgan Daniels (Queen Mary, University of London)
‘Satire and Childishness’

This paper examines the effects of broadcast satire in Britain c.1939-73, and a curious yet clear theme to be found in correspondence to the BBC, namely the condemnation of satire, comedy and other irreverent programming as childish, juvenile, and so on.  What I want to ask is Why?  Why is it that, as the psychologist James Hillman observed, ‘[t]he worst insult is to be called “childish,” “infantile,” “immature”’? In order to obfuscate no less than to attempt to answer this question, this paper presents three short ‘test cases’ from BBC programming between 1951 and 1973: The Goon Show, Spike Milligan’s radio sitcom, of sorts, which revelled in the pantomimic; BBC-3, a televised revue programme made by the That Was The Week That Was team; and Yesterday’s Men, a fairly sober 1971 documentary about the recently-departed Labour government, often decried as ‘satirical’.  Each of these (hugely different) productions came to be attacked as childish.  To ask Why? is to question not just satire and its role in meaning-making, but childhood, too – which, after all, is but a fairly recent invention.

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