Monday, August 31, 2015

Isis karaoke: satire’s answer to hate preachers with microphones

NB - We should try this out on some of our motormouth fanatics..DS

The Twitter users behind @ISIS_karoake delight in putting song lyrics into jihadis’ mouths – and they aren’t the only comedians who have found the courage to openly mock Isis

Peter Cook summed up the power of satire pretty well when he claimed to have modelled his comedy club, The Establishment, on the Weimar cabarets of Berlin, “which did so much to stop the rise of Adolf Hitler and prevent the second world war”. Satire isn’t a way to change injustice, it’s a way to live with it.

If you’re satirising Isis, it can also be a difficult pursuit. Isis doesn’t do much that is immediately comic. Even your audience may not be prepared to see the funny side of a repressive, murderous terrorist state. While Isis is certainly a deserving target, it’s still an easy target to miss. Brutality is hard to make light of, and mockery of Isis sometimes comes bundled with generic anti-Islamic, ham-fisted, unfunny jokes out there.

In light of this, no small amount of credit is due to the Twitter account@ISIS_karoake, which has been up and running for the past few weeks. The premise is simple – pictures of hate preachers and Isis fighters, usually armed with microphones, are captioned with song lyrics – but the juxtapositions are pitch perfect, instantly turning something sinister into something very silly. Taken cumulatively, they reimagine the whole of the Islamic State as one big karaoke bar.

It’s by no means the first attempt to satirise Isis by appropriating its material. YouTube user speissi takes soundtracks from Isis recruitment videos and matches them with the kind of images one more readily associates with YouTube: cats, video games and haywire appliances. The one called Allahu Akbar Washing Machine is perhaps the most representative of the genre.

Taking the piss out of Isis also requires courage – they tend not to have a sense of humour about themselves – especially if you’re doing it rather closer to the front line. The comedy series Selfie, which launched on Saudi TV network MBC in June, featured an episode that mocked Isis openly, earning its star, comedian and actor Nasser al Qasabi, mixed reviews – a combination of plaudits and death threats. One tweet read, “I swear to Allah that you will regret everything you have said. The Jihadists will not calm down until your head has been chopped off.” Nasser was also declared an apostate by a Saudi imam, who later apologised.

Last year, Iraq state television aired a comedy series called State of Myths, set in a fictional town that has come under the control of Isis. The show was broadcast across the country, and therefore readily accessible inside Isis-controlled regions. Quite apart from the challenge of producing a family-friendly comedy about the caliphate, the programme faced serious security issues: the writer remained anonymous, and several cast members kept their names out of the credits.

We still tend to make grand claims for the power of satire, and Isis seems pretty immune to ridicule. But when you’re faced with an image of a jihadist holding a microphone and belting out a Bee Gees cover, you realise that satire only really has to be funny.