Since time immemorial, the world has been overwhelmed by politics, and the perceived inability of the masses to effectively change anything. Voting, of course, is the ultimate weapon in our collective arsenal, but democracy is a flawed system that cannot solve every issue we have with government. So we look for other means of feeling empowered in times of political crisis – and what could be a better way of achieving this than through satire?
The artist Roger Law has an exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre, on until next April, which I would thoroughly encourage you to visit. Not one to take anybody seriously – including himself – Law has parodied public figures from important political leaders (Thatcher, Nixon) to pop-culture celebrities (Michael Jackson, Kermit the Frog) over his long and varied career. His work, often controversial (see, for example, the Osama Bin Laden model) is as relevant today as it was when he began his career in the 1960s, that glorious new era of protest and change. Law masterfully employs satire to attack the power of authority, focusing specifically on the political climates of Britain and North America. There’s also a nod, however, to 1940s-50s Sicily’s Robin Hood, Salvatore Giuliano.
‘…From the start he was interested in humour as a tool to communicate and comment on the world,’ the introductory text to the exhibition proclaims. This is plain as day in all of Law’s work; his pieces appear in books, adverts, newspapers and magazines (including the political publication Private Eye), as well as the well-known comedy puppet series Spitting Image (1983-1996), a program which, with the presidency of Donald Trump, is set to be revived. Reaching audiences of 15 million people, the show’s popularity gave Law and his professional partner Peter Fluck plenty of opportunities to create comedic consumer goods, including dog chews (“throw a politician to your dog,” the accompanying text reads) Law attracted a range of humorous and talented people, leading to creative collaborations with the likes of Peter Cook, William Sargent and Peter Fluck. In 1975, Law and Fluck created the partnership Luck and Flaw (try saying that sentence really fast!) and as a result, Law’s career went from strength to strength.
No politician was immune from Law and Fluck’s unique brand of sharply-observed, metatextual wit, their principal target being Margaret Thatcher, wonderfully depicted in one particular portrait as ‘an iron maiden in the style of Don Quixote’. Of course, Thatcher’s reign as longest serving Prime Minister (1979-1990) would have provided plenty of material for a satirist at the height of his career, however Law is still going strong today; the most recent American Presidential election of Trump is, it seems, too enticing an opportunity to pass up, as Law’s collaboration with Chris Watson and Nick Newman, called ‘The Trump Atlas of the World’, reveals. This was perhaps my favourite piece in the whole exhibition; being a child of the late 1990s, I cannot connect personally with the other pieces, though they are highly comedic and well-crafted.
But politics has moved on, (despite it often feeling like it’s going backwards), and I feel like we need Roger Law’s political parodies today more than ever, along with and the next generation’s perspective. Politicians will always be there, making us feel small and powerless, therefore it’s crucial that there’s always someone to mock them back, whether that takes the form of a satirical puppet show, comic strip, or ceramic jug, à la Law. Sometimes, you just have to laugh.