TUMBY BAY - In 1729 the eminent Anglo-Irish writer, Jonathon Swift, suggested in an essay that the poor of Ireland should consider eating their own babies.
The dissertation was entitled ‘A Modest Proposal For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being A Burden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public’.
In support of the idea he wrote, ”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled....”
The Anglo-Irish Swift wrote the famous ‘Gulliver's Travels’. He also devoted much of his writing to the struggle in Ireland against English hegemony.
The essay on eating babies was, of course, satire. It was designed to draw attention to the plight of the poor in Ireland.
Unfortunately the English overlords were not moved at all and 100 years later over a million poor Irish died in the Great Famine.
Despite Swift’s lack of success, satire can be a potent weapon, particularly as it pertains to politics.
Certain people, such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison, are naturally prone to being lampooned because of their unfortunate character traits.
But as Swift showed, satire has a serious side. It is designed to spotlight and draw people’s attention to injustices in society and the flaws of the people in charge.
Well-aimed satire can be more potent than many other forms of criticism.
Making a fool out of Donald Trump, as was done with many other presidents before him, will probably prove to be more damaging than the recent formal impeachment of him.
While there is a strong tradition of public satire in Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA it’s difficult to find anything like it in Papua New Guinea.
This is strange because PNG has produced many individuals and politicians who seem purpose-designed for ridicule and satire.
Both of the major newspapers avoid satire, as do the television outlets. You don’t even see much satire on social media. Instead there it is raw and vindictive comment designed to hurt rather than influence people.
The nearest thing to satire on social media recently was the public joust between Martyn Namorong and electoral commissioner Patilias Gamato, aka Patilias Tomato, in 2017.
The foundations for satire were laid down prior to independence but don’t seem to have been taken root. An early version was the irreverent ‘Black and White’ magazine in the 1960s.
The Yokomo character who appeared in the ‘School Paper for Papua New Guinea’ had elements of satire and entertained many children.
Later still was Bob Browne’s ‘Grass Roots’ comic strip, which first appeared in ‘The Independent’ newspaper in 1984 and ran for about two years.
All these satirical attempts had expatriate authors and, when they left the country, the satire seemed to go with them. Maybe their readers were also mostly expatriates and disappeared with the authors.
This doesn’t mean that Papua New Guineans lack a sense of humour. Humour abounds and many writers are very good at it. Satire, on the other hand, just doesn’t seem to have found a niche.
Perhaps this has got something to do with Melanesian culture. People don’t like to publicly ridicule each other. They leave that for private occasions.
But is it respect that creates this situation, or fear of retribution? If anyone was a target for satire it had to be the egregious prime minister Peter O’Neill, but he had a fearsome reputation for revenge.
Perhaps it’s just that most Papua New Guineans ignore or do not know what is going on in the artificial bubble of Waigani and Port Moresby.
Or perhaps it’s because the country has not yet reached the pits of despair that people like Jonathon Swift experienced.
Whatever the case, PNG needs satire and satirists. It’s not too late to start, and it will make you feel a whole lot better.
There’s a good lesson on how it’s done on the Australian satirical website, thejuicemedia. Take a look by linking to it here.