About the Iannucci vs Mandel comparison: you’ve said Iannucci has a darker world view, but also that Mandel writes the characters as meaner? Does that mean that despite the darkness Iannucci is the more humane writer? I can think of other writers who are dark but humane, but they’re generally not satirists. That feels almost like an impossible balance. BTW good luck with your real world writing endeavors.
Dear anon, this may be nothing more than a mater of taste.
But, I think Hanlon’s razor sums it up neatly – never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
That really seems, to me, to be the biggest distinction between how Mandel and Iannucci approach politics.
Because, Dan’s tendency to torture Jonah aside, very little of the incompetence of the first four seasons can be explained by malice. As in, Selina was forced to compromise on just about every one of her personal and political values, because of her own weakness, ambition and self-interest – but the crucial point was that she HAD those values, and they meant something to her. Even characters like Ben and Dan had lines they wouldn’t cross – Ben finds the homophobia of the town where the girl with AIDS lived repulsive, and Dan is explicit, on multiple occasions, about finding sexual assault repellant (admittedly, part of that is driven by the need to keep him an acceptable love interest for Amy, but it is nonetheless a moral standard).
But Mandel’s politicians pretty explicitly don’t have ANY moral lines. Selina refusing to condemn FGM is a case in point – compare it to her behaviour in The Choice. I can believe that she could, in the right circumstances, compromise even on such an obvious moral question. But I find it very hard to believe that she wouldn’t be upset about it. She had to practically take to her bed when she gave up the Families First bill, but she’s totally fine and chilled out about FGM?
But especially in season 6, the writing seems to go out of its way to make Selina a terrible person for no reason – she votes against lowering prescription charges for elderly patients, because… well, apparently just because she can. It certainly doesn’t get her anything.
Here’s the thing, Iannucci creates these rather complicated weaves of self-interest and desire for power and desire for change and honest to god political idealism and sort of lets them spool out. This is why the Thick of It ultimately became a kind of tragedy – Malcolm and Nicola and even Peter Mannion all did have, deep down, a sincere desire to do good, it was just smothered by the ever present need to fight over every inch of ground. It’s a pretty harsh criticism of the political press that they are, through their short-termism and obsession with interpersonal drama, a serious obstacle to creating lasting change.
I’d argue that Amy is (or was) a similar kind of character, but other than that… Mandel’s not written anyone with any sincere moral beliefs of any kind.
Which I find incredibly simplistic. Like, it might be comforting to think that the problem with politics is that every single politician is just a terrible person, but it’s also incredibly naive. It’s the same kind of thinking that underpins every idiot who thinks that if we just get the right, messianic figure as President or Prime Minister all our problems will be solved.
That’s just not how it works.
I don’t mean to say that there aren’t mendacious and self-interested politicians out there, because of course there are – but creating a political world that is ONLY populated by weasels ultimately becomes a way of letting the really bad ones off the hook.
Put it another way. To me, Iannucci’s politicians have the capacity for goodness – which makes their failure to live up to it absolutely damning – but Mandel’s don’t appear to have any. And if it is simply their nature to be heartless and corrupt, then ever expecting more from them is foolish. And I think a depiction where people can be good but choose not to be, is fundamentally darker than one when they are simply incapable of it.
I don’t think satire can exist without a moral framework that the satirist is attempting, somehow, to defend. As in, they show us what is wrong so that we have a greater understanding of what is right. As a result, while most satirists are far from being cuddly people, you’ll generally find a sincere belief in the human capacity for goodness somewhere in their work.
I don’t know if Mandel has that – I don’t know if Mandel is INTERESTED in that. Looking at how he writes Selina, and to a lesser extent Amy and Dan, he seems far more interested in her as a fucked up human being than as a moral agent. I can’t picture Iannucci writing an episode like Mother or Chicklet, at all (and I thought both those episodes were great, btw). Jonah’s a partial exception this but part of that is…it’s impossible to imagine Jonah having an in any way deep relationship with anyone. As messed up as Dan and Amy’s courtship has been (and boy has it), it clearly means something to both of them – there is something at stake in their relationship – whereas Jonah appeared to get over Shawnee in the space of a week. Is there anyone Jonah could lose that he would properly mourn? Not his mother, almost certainly not Richard…maybe Dan? (Just writing that makes me feel more affection for Jonah, even though he’s been a kicked puppy when it comes to Dan more than once – he has far more illusions about him than Amy ford).