Interviewed by: Luke Hickey
Political satire could be the most under-appreciated form of comedy when done right. We’re all probably familiar somewhat with the outcomes of when it is done wrong: whether it’s just a hacky cartoon (Oh wow, a caricature of Colin Barnett destroying a small business with a giant mallet except the mallet has ‘Mining Boom’ printed on it jeez how ’bout that finger on the pulse there), or simply when said commentary is received with disastrous results (Charlie Hebdo).
But occasionally a satirist emerges that ably walks the line between being complex while simple, being current while nostalgic, and most importantly, being uproariously hilarious while also providing sharp-witted political commentary. Today, we have a little chat (on the condition of anonymity) with one of the masterminds behind one such group – The Simpsons Against The Liberals.
For those unaware, describe TSATL and your history
Well, our page on Facebook started the day after the 2014 Budget was put through by Abbott and Hockey. How it happened was on my personal FB page, I had posted a photo from The Simpsons to make a joke about it. That post ended up getting noticed by a lot of people, and someone suggested to me to make a page that would use images from The Simpsons to make fun of our government. It ended up being somewhat of a perfect storm, because there was so much to make fun of regarding the Budget as well as the Abbott government in general, so we got pretty popular pretty quickly. I think after 24 hours of being a public FB page we had about 2,000 likes, so clearly an audience was already there.
So, why The Simpsons?
I just chose The Simpsons because I’m already a huge fan. I feel like there’s no episode I couldn’t quote heavily from, and I’m sure that’s the same for a lot people, so there’s a lot of familiarity. Because of how long The Simpsons as a TV show has been going for, there’s countless episodes we can mine from. We’ve also been pretty lucky in terms of how the page has resonated with people; audiences who love the classic episodes of The Simpsons (e.g., Seasons 3-9) are almost the exact same people who were embarrassed by the Abbott government and it’s actions. Plus, it was also a great way to simplify political actions. For example, some people might be unaware of the context and consequences of a leadership spill like the one we had recently, but when viewed through the lens of The Simpsons, it can become much easier to understand.
Did you find that the Abbott Government gave you a wealth of material?
Oh, god yes. I definitely think that’s crucial to how well we’ve done so far. I mean, the amount of image macros we’ve produced just playing off Tony taking a bite out of an onion that one time is ridiculous. There’s definitely some cartoon-y aspects that already exist in our government, sometimes I feel like they’re just gifting me with material. We had a lot of fun with Bronwyn Bishop resigning as House Speaker. That whole Barnaby Joyce saga with him threatening to kill Johnny Depp’s dogs was another great example. I mean, he’s a legitimate politician who calls a press conference to do this and then refers to Depp as “Jack Sparrow”. When you’ve got public servants who are almost cartoon characters themselves, the jokes basically write themselves. Actually when the page was just starting off, I remember thinking that you could insert almost any scene from The Simpsons, change-up the names and script so it reflects Aus politics, and it would be a seamless transition to a political cartoon.
Some people are saying that Abbott may have been the first PM ousted due to sheer social media pressure. Not saying that TSATL had anything to do with #libspill, but do you think maybe there is some credibility in what you guys do?
Possibly, it can be a hard thing to quantify. What I do know is that while we are not the most popular political satire group on social media, we do have a really high number of ‘shares’, which at least tells us that we are a common source for people expressing a shared disdain for something. In this case, the Liberal Party. You can undermine this absolutely by saying “oh, they’re just sharing memes” or calling it Slacktivism or whatever, but the point remains that our opinion, and our method of expressing it, coincided with the feelings of many others. The great thing about memes and image macros is that you can broadcast a message, an opinion, condensed in a few sentences which are then shared amongst thousands. It’s an incredibly efficient way of reaching people. In that way I think social media has some of the blame for Tony’s removal as PM because of how it allows people to express themselves.
You’re talking to me today on the condition you remain anonymous. Is that a reflection of how your page or other mediums of political satire are viewed nowadays?
To be honest, that’s more of a personal choice than anything else. I don’t think, in Australia at least, there’s any inherent danger in political satire or what we do specifically. Even then, I think TSATL is first and foremost an outlet for humour. If we get too political without bringing the funny as well people will let us know, and that is something we always strive to avoid. I always try to tell people, we don’t push an agenda of any political party, we just hate the Liberal Party particularly in its current form. I’m anonymous on the page because I work full-time in a professional capacity and I don’t want the two worlds to mix. Obviously, I don’t make any money off the page so there’s no real reward in not being anonymous, plus it’s not about me anyway. The page is about people being creative and submitting their own Simpsons Against The Liberals images to be shared and if they want to be credited for it they can, but it doesn’t make much difference to me to have my name up there too.
A final thing to end on, how is the page going now that Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister? Obviously he’s still a Liberal Party member so you guys can still create material but do you find there’s much of a change now that we have a less hardline PM?
There is a bit of a “what now?” factor in how we run the page with our new PM, part of it is playing the waiting game. Like Tony Abbott was such a character it was almost like each day we had a new headline regarding something absurd he said or did that we were able to make commentary on. Unfortunately for us Turnbull chooses his words a lot better so there’s probably going to be less gaffes and vocal slip-ups this time around. There may be less consistent big-humour moments with Turnbull in that way. With that being said, there’s still plenty of room for our page to be effective because as you said, he’s still a member of Liberal Party. We’re trying to work other ideas in our page that aren’t necessarily image macros but still provide political humour filtered through The Simpsons. Right now we’ve got a little campaign going where we have photos taken with prominent politicians posing with the Inanimate Carbon Rod from an episode of The Simpsons. Honestly though, if the #freekaren debacle is indicative of anything, I think we’ll have a wealth of material to go from as long as this government is power.