A certain style of comedy video has become prominent on social media over the past year. A young actor plays a generic, bumbling or morally compromised (although usually affable-seeming) posh person with a connection to a topical event. The videos are described by the actors and their fans as ‘satirical’, although the target of the satire is often unclear, and the performers appear to punch down (or at least sideways) as often as up. The acting is deliberately hammy, derivative and reliant on stereotypes, and the humour seems to come primarily from the theatrical emphasis placed on the fact that a person is making a joke. I’ve come to think of them as ‘funny voice videos’.
In trying to make sense of the worst disturbances in Northern Ireland for years, there are two symmetrical pitfalls to be avoided. One is to present the recent violence as a simple reflex of Brexit, drawing a straight line between Boris Johnson’s campaign bus and a burning bus on the Shankill Road, while ignoring the local factors at work. The other is to overlook the many ways in which choices made at the highest levels of the British state have unsettled the region and added to the stock of combustible material.
The disappearance and murder of Sarah Everard last month sparked a conversation centred on women’s experiences of fear in public places, especially at night. Women have spoken of being afraid to walk alone and restricting their behaviour in case they come to harm.
Last year in Dakar, running an errand near Sandaga market in the centre of town, I came across an armoured personnel carrier belonging to the police, parked on avenue Emile Badiane. Street vendors were lounging against the flanks of the vehicle; their trinkets were spread on the charcoal grey metal. The police sat around, helmets off, eating peanuts and trading pleasantries with passers-by. For someone like me from Niamey in Niger, this resembled a scene from a fairy-tale.
Some songs are like sculptures; almost physical objects taking up space in a room. Gang of Four’s songs are like that: weighty things. They flaunt the materials (wood, wire, vocal chords) used in their making. They are caustic and smart and concerned with the questions a sculptor might ask: how many elements can be stripped away before the object (in this case, a rock song) stops being itself? The early work, by the original line-up of Dave Allen (bass), Hugo Burnham (drums), Andy Gill (guitar) and Jon King (vocals), has been rereleased in a Matador Records box set, Gang of Four 77-81.
The first demonstration against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill took place in Bristol on 21 March. It has been followed by demos in cities from Brighton to Manchester, and further protests in Bristol. Over the Easter weekend there was a carnival atmosphere, with dancing on College Green, festive drums, and flowers around an impromptu memorial for Sarah Everard.