Pros: Satire at it’s most vicious and necessary.
Cons: Certainly not for everyone. But if you can forgive it’s occasional clumsiness and handle it’s close-to-the-bone and bad-taste humor, there is not much wrong really on its own terms.
“There’s a child there- no more than a blue speck. But the fact is, if you showed this picture to a Paedophile, he’d actually try and attack it, in an attempt to reach the child. That’s the sort of warped mindset we’re dealing with.” – Gary Lineker
“Genetically, paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me. Now that is scientific fact. There’s no real evidence for it, but it is scientific fact.” – Dr Fox, DJ
“We believe that paedophiles are using an area of the internet the size of Ireland, and, through this, they can control keyboards” . . . Syd Rapson, MP
“Online paedophiles can actually make your keyboard release toxic vapours that make you suggestible.” Richard Blackwood, Comedian
“So come on experts. Why is no one telling us about this stuff? There’s a kid in Canada who has gone almost completely 2D and no one is doing anything about it” . . . Kate Thornton, Broadcaster
It is extremely rare for TV to venture into the really strange and radically bizarre territory. As a rule of thumb, the closer you get to the mainstream, the less you can let your hair down and really let your imagination run wild – and it is possible to imagine NOTHING that is the essence of the mainstream more than TV, either in the US, the UK or elsewhere. This is a world where a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ that lead to some presenter accidentally flashing a breast on live tv gets the same coverage in the shocked media as a small war and where a few four-letter words in the wrong place can cause as much panic as a gang rape. However, very very occasionally something occurs on TV that is a little different to the normal. That reveals that, just sometimes, TV isn’t the tame beast people assume. When that happens, the BBC news shakes at its foundations and streight-faced announcers are overworked, the tabloids scream and thousands of calls come in to whoever has the LUCKY job of taking them, all from the good citizens of the UK, who cant wait to express their outrage that a media that should be tame, suddenly goosed them. And when that happens, you know that a blue moon has struck and that something interesting has happened on our most enslaved of media. And such happened in 2001 when one of TVs few real renegades and bad boys, comedian Chris Morris, struck and struck hard – hitting the island nation where it hurt the most and doing so in beautiful and savage style.
Chris Morris’s Brass Eye is a series of spoof documentaries – deliberately provocative and aggressive in its mockery – and with a characteristic and unpopular twist of getting celebrities and public figures to record the most unbelievable nonsense for TV and to back blindingly obvious spoof ‘causes’. Eg: the fake drug called Cake, of which Bernard Manning told the world that “One kiddie on Cake cried all the water out of his body. Just imagine how his mother felt” and “… you can puke yourself to death on this stuff – one girl threw up her own pelvis-bone… What a fucking disgrace”. Apparently this drug works by affecting the part of the brain called “Shatner’s Bassoon” and was known on the streets as “Hattie Jacques pretentious cheese wog”. Another such incident was the time he played a talk-show host with an admirable discriminatory attitude in favour of those with “Good AIDS” (from blood transfusions) compared to those with “Bad AIDS” (from sex or drug taking) – taking familiar modern prejudices and dragging them to gloriously lit centre stage and leaving them there squirming. Morris is merciless and an absolute terror, always ready to lampoon the stupidity of people’s morals and values. As a further illustration of who we are dealing with here, when the panicked chief executive of Channel 4 Michael Grade insisted on editing the series to protect the fragile British public, the result was a single-frame subliminal message slipped in and broadcast to the nation reading “Grade is a cunt”.
Brass Eye was short – just six episodes in the original series. And it can’t be repeated because his trickery is now exposed for all to see. But it serves beautifully to illustrate the general thoughtlessness that rules the world of the media and politics, the crass hypocrisy and brain-dead drooling of tabloid culture and the pomposity and prejudice that still rules the minds of far too many people. All in all, with Morris around, heaven help you if you are not willing to think for yourselves.
In 2000, a grim event occurred that shocked the nation – the murder of 7 year old Sara Payne. A nasty and sad enough incident – but saddest of all is that her name is perhaps remembered most as the instigator of one of the most despicable moral panics and witch hunts in recent years, mostly lead by the News of the World, one of the worst and most drooling of the British tabloids. The british have always had a kind of obsession with children – a subconscious mind that wants to keep children locked away behind a nice comfortable white picket fence and wrapped in cotton wool so no stimulus from the real world, natural or artificial, can possibly invade. At least until they reach 18, shed their skin one last time, immerge into the light and become an ADULT. And, nasty though child abuse is, the british obsession with paedophiles can seem alarmingly like the way we are said to have treated witches. Ie. regardless of whether you were an actual witch or no, if you have a funny-shaped mole – you die horribly! News of the World played on that like a master musician, yelling Sara Payne far and wide, both wallowing in and fueling the outrage of the whole nation. That paper simply howled. It even demanded public access to the sex-offenders register in a name and shame campaign – and poor Sara even had her name given to that part of the campaign: Sara’s Law. What an unhappy legacy that would be to have attached to your name, if it ever happened*. In the end, News of the World et all whipped up such a frenzy that, in incidents that sound like ancient history rather than the modern world, there were cases of angry mobs terrorising suspected paedophiles, with the inevitable cases of mistaken identity and misguided suspision. Most ludicrous (and frightening) of all was the case where a paediatrician had her house vandalised – the word was obviously close enough to set someone off and their ignorance is now British legend.
*Of course, similar events happened in America. Unfortunately that crazy law was somehow passed – known as Megan’s Law (another really truly depressing legacy to have attached to your name). And of course, the predictable results came to pass. Vigilantes, mistaken identities, people killed, increased stereotyping etc – and, with the depressing state of the US sex offender list where people convicted of urinating in a public place have ended up on it, classified alongside the rapists and murderers, that is actually genuinely terrifying.
In the face of craziness like that and the News of the World’s despicable howling, it is no surprise that Morris was compelled to act, producing this last ‘special’ episode of Brass Eye, turning his aim on britain’s greatest chew-bone of all. No one – certainly not Morris – is trying to say that paedophilia is not a bad thing. No – it is the hysterical and obsessive attitudes to it that Morris is aiming at. Aiming with savage mockery, gleefully attacking the immense hypocrisy and thoughtlessness of the media and in the way Britain handles it’s younger generation, producing what may be one of the most rapier-sharp pieces of satire ever made, and certainly the most effective and controversial Brass Eye episode of all.
The wonderfully straight-faced Morris brings you the news from the studio as the UK begins the fight against ‘Paedogeddon’ by gathering the children of the UK together into all the major stadiums of the country where they can be safe (though Morris himself is keeping his kids comfortably in a filing cabinet in the studio). Other news covers a paedophile just released from prison, who immediately falls into the hands of the waiting vigilantes and is burned inside a 25 foot phallus. In between the news and current events, the familiar Brass Eye public figures present interesting and relevant science and analysis, with Dr Fox’s statement that paedophiles have more genes in common with a crab than with ‘you or me’ and the bizarre interview on art with Michael Hames, former head of the Obscene Publications Branch, being among the most interesting.
It fair makes you quail!!
If all this unhappy British history that surrounds Brass Eye is depressing (as it should be), then one can take some comfort from the legacy of this program. It’s original broadcast generated 2000 complaints, but also approximately 3000 calls of support and over 9000 ‘notices of consideration’. Some people who hadn’t seen it condemned it roundly and demanded that the rules be changed. And of course, those baying tabloids roasted both it and Chris Morris over a slow fire. But at the same time, the show also developed a certain legendary status and was even broadcast again several times. It even won a Broadcast magazine award in 2002. All of which proves that the world is not entirely without sense and not entirely enslaved in the tabloid mentality, however it seems when you read the news. But in a world where tabloids have the power that they have and where too many people seem incapable of thinking beyond their flimsy sensation-dripping covers, you need things like this, so long live Chris Morris and the few other real bad boys who work in that most enslaved of media, the TV.