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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Desperately seeking...Satire

I’ve talked before about the power of satire. Fortuitously, this morning, I found a good example of its use. Contrast today’s report from the OECD about the “wealth gap” and the failure of the “trickle-down” theory of change with this satirical diatribe on the Daily Show  (which I found as a link on the discussion thread)
Until now, I wasn’t a fan of John Oliver – he just didn’t seem to be able to hold a candle to Jon Stewart on the show but what I’ve seen in the clips I’ve viewed so far today has changed my mind. The combination of biting comment with irreverent (and irrelevant) photoshots and sound bites is a powerful mix – as you will see in his treatment of the issue of “net neutrality” which he effectively parses and deconstructs, in Orwellian fashion, as actually “f***in corporate takeover”  

Satire has long been a powerful weapon against the pretensions of power – Voltaire’s Candide and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels are well-known literary examples. Ralph Steadman and Gerard Scarfe are modern caricaturists in the tradition of Hogarth; and the Liverpool poets (Roger McGough, Adrian Henry) sustained the protestors of the 1960s. British people are not so familiar with the Bert Brecht’s City poems or the savage anti-bourgeois paintings of Georg Grosz in the 1920s and 1930s.

A powerful satirical essay “Democracy, Bernard? It must be stopped!” was penned by the author of the Yes Minister TV series and exposes the emptiness behind the rhetoric about democracy and government. It is available only on my website at -
In 1987 Management Professor Rosabeth Kanter produced “Ten Rules for Stifling Initiative” which I have often used to great effect in Central Asian training sessions.

1999 saw the appearance of The Lugano Report; on preserving capitalism in the twenty-first Century which purported to be a leaked report from shady big business but was in fact written by Susan George.
Management guru Russell Ackoff’s great collection of tongue-in-cheek laws of management – Management F-Laws – how organisations really work ( 2007)  As the blurb put it –“They're truths about organizations that we might wish to deny or ignore - simple and more reliable guides to managers' everyday behaviour than the complex truths proposed by scientists, economists and philosophers”.  An added bonus is that British author, Sally Bibb, was asked to respond in the light of current organizational thinking. Hers is a voice from another generation, another gender and another continent. On every lefthand page is printed Ackoff and Addison's f-Law with their commentary. Opposite, you'll find Sally Bibb's reply. A short version (13 Sins of management). A typical rule is – “The more important the problem a manager asks consultants for help on, the less useful and more costly their solutions are likely to be”.

Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power may not be satire but it is a very salutary counter to the thousands of unctuous managment  texts which attribute benign motives to senior management. 

A spoof on the British Constitution produced a few years ago is another good example of the power of satire. A Guardian article just a couple of days ago drew our attention to the apparent decline in Britain of the genre and linked to an older piece in the LRB

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