2016 was a good year for Charlie Brooker – up to a point. It saw the launch, to critical acclaim, of the third series of his dystopian anthology Black Mirror as well as the commission of a fourth season – but then Donald Trump became US president.
Speaking on stage at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival, Brooker said Trump’s election success almost stalled his Review of the Year 2016 show: “When we were doing that show I remember going in the day after he won and I was so depressed – really. I thought I might not be able to do the show,” he explained. “I felt frightened and alarmed. I felt sick.”
Trump’s victory meant Brooker and the Review of the Year team had to sift through “hundreds of hours” of news footage featuring the president-to-be, unsurprisingly leaving him “genuinely very depressed by the end”.
But there was reason to finish the huge task of taking down Trump: “The one thing that kept me going is that if I was watching I’d want to feel a bit more sane about the world,” Brooker told a packed audience at the BFI IMAX.
“I think maybe that satire – although I don’t like the word – makes you feel a bit more sane. When I watched Spitting Image or Not the Nine O’clock News – anything that pointed out the world was demented – it made me feel a little more hopeful and a little less alone. Now it’s weird to be on the other end of that and feel completely terrified.”
Nevertheless, Brooker is dubious about the positive impact of satire as a whole:
“I do think that satire is probably counter-productive. Clearly satire and mockery have changed nothing. The hopelessness that I was expressing about [Donald Trump in the 2016 Wipe – see above] was real. I think that feeling of ‘there are other people in the world feeling as alone as me’ scratches an itch that probably shouldn’t be scratched. The only thing that changes anything is mass peaceful civil disobedience, which is probably what should happen.”
However he soon followed that with: “but I’ve got no idea how the world should work. And to be a true idealist you need to have a plan – which would probably be wrong anyway. Nobody should ever bother doing anything!”
In summary: we’re doomed with or without satire, and idealism inevitably leads to failure.