Last week, comedienne Susan Calman appeared on a satirical BBC radio show, The News Quiz. On it, she had to answer a question about the pending referendum on independence for Scotland. Being the consummate satirist that she is, she poked fun at politicians on both sides, but consistently refused to state which side of the debate she was on. With good reason: her job is not to tell us what we should think, but to bring the politicians down to earth and expose their little hypocrisies.
As she relates on her blog, things got out of hand, and she found herself on the receiving end of some particularly nasty abuse.
I’m not really a political satirist, although I have come close on occasion. I have certainly expressed political views in my time, but I rather imagine — hope, really — that those who don’t know me personally would have a hard time pinning me down to one particular political ideology or party. Basically, I try, in public, to be apolitical — not for exactly the same reasons as Susan Calman, but certainly because I want to maintain my image as the outsider looking in: the curious and slightly perplexed man with his nose pressed up against the glass trying to work out the rules of the game being played within. If I compromise that, I am no longer credible as an innocent bystander.
I say this because today I was asked by somebody I happen to know if I would appear, if his political career takes off, in a party political video with him.
There are some things I can’t really avoid. If his party wants to embed one of my videos on its website, then fine: it’s a legitimate party, I have not disabled embedding, if they think it will do them any good, okay. This is the internet, links happen.
Just not in any way that implies I endorse the party or any of their candidates. Or in a context that distorts the import of what I was actually saying in the video.
But actually appear in a video made for party political reasons? Never.
Similarly, if any party, as long as it is legal under the German Basic Law, wants me to make a party political video for them, then okay — but I won’t have my name or my face associated with it.
I believe that all political debate is important (until you get into the outer reaches of the fruitcake zone), and that even unpalatable or unpopular views should be heard, if only so that facts and arguments from the other side of the debate can be brought to the table. We live in a democracy, and this is what democracy means. If a party wants to ban women from voting, let them say so, so that other parties can remind us why women should be allowed to vote. And if celebrities want to endorse those views, that is their business. (Am I celebrity? I’ve just been asked to help somebody’s political career by endorsing it, so I feel like a celebrity.)
But to everyone out there who watches my videos, reads this blog and follows me on Twitter: I promise that you will not see me endorse anyone. Maybe a product, if it’s a product a genuinely like. But not a political party. I have built up a reputation as an outsider, and this extends beyond my de facto status as a foreign national. And that, at least in public, is how I intend to remain.