The purpose of comedy, it is often said, is to speak truth to power. But comedy’s fatal flaw is that it needs to speak truths whilst also being funny, and once people are laughing they’re probably less inclined to overthrow the powerful. Those who argue that comedy is a conservative artform have a point – comedy may point out some truths about the powerful, but it also makes you feel a lot better about them existing (if only for a few minutes).
Comedy can still make the powerful quake in their boots, of course. Dictators aren’t big fans of dissident comedians and tend to imprison then for sedition, but censorship is a rather crude way of silencing comedy and one which will ultimately win you fewer friends. A much better tactic is to join in the fun – everyone will love you for having the gumption to take the piss out of yourself, and a surprising number of people won’t notice the difference between your officially-sanctioned comedy and a genuinely hard-hitting one by a satirist who hates your guts.
Which brings us to the various Gruen programs (no, really). Lots of people love them, yet ask those same people what they think of advertising executives and they’ll use phrases like “lying sleaze-bags” and “rip-off merchants”. Along with tabloid journalists, real estate agents, lawyers and anonymous bloggers, advertising executives are some of the most hated people out there. But present the public with a panel full of the cheery-faced fuckers, and make it look like they’re having a jolly wheeze of a time revealing a few trade secrets in between Wil Anderson’s gags, and it’s hello audience adoration, howdy-do ratings success!
The fact that large numbers of otherwise sane and rational people have come to love the advertising industry isn’t much of a surprise, perhaps – advertising executives don’t make it unless they know how to rebrand a turd – but the public’s four-year love affair with the show is quite something. Gruen may have undergone some format changes, but it’s still exactly the same show with the same host and the same panellists talking about the same sorts of subjects, often using the same observations and gags as part of some strikingly similar segments. Perhaps the show’s many fans have learnt nothing about the techniques of advertising – we refer you to our earlier point about how Gruen has merely made it look like it’s revealing trade secrets.
There was talk yesterday on a couple of websites, such as TV Tonight, that this evening’s episode of Gruen Planet could be the last Gruen ever. Don’t believe it – Gruen is not ending. It cannot be killed, and there’s no way in hell they’ve run out of slightly different versions of the original concept. Next year we’ll probably be invited to watch The Gruen Games live from London. Or there’ll be a Gruen look at reality TV, or gardening, or the rural economy. Too many people like it too much for this to be the end. This is merely adieu.