Panel of speakers including Umberto Ansaldo, Adeola Fayehun and Julian Morrow

Why we're turning to satire for news

14 November 2018

How satire is shifting audience expectations, worldviews and society-at-large.

Hear from "Nigeria's favourite satirist" Adeola FayehunThe Chaser’s Julian Morrow and Professor Umberto Ansaldo about why political satire is a powerful way of speaking your mind and engaging with your audiences. 

Producer: Anna Burns

Podcast edited by: Ira Ferris, Andy Huang

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Playing with politeness

When Adeola Fayehun was 19 she moved to the US to study. There she saw proper roads, running water and stable electricity. It dawned on her that what she was used to as "normal" growing up in Nigeria was in fact not. Something wasn’t right with the political system in her home country and she wanted to call out the “scammers” – the corrupt officials – who had lied to and stole from the people. But Adeola wasn’t in a position to freely speak the truth.

In Nigeria, it’s important to respect elders. You kneel to greet them, you don’t say they’re wrong, nor do you call them liars and thieves. So when there’s the dynamics of established traditions and social and cultural expectations, as well as a corrupt political system at work, how do you circumnavigate all that?

For Adeola, the answer is satire. “I try to make people laugh in the show – they find it entertaining. My goal is to reach them ... I don’t want them to be turned off before listening to what I have to say.

“As a sign of respect, I would kneel for them on the show, make them laugh and call them thieves. You can’t say I disrespected you when I just kneeled for you.

“You want respect, I’ll give it to you, but I’ll also speak my mind."

"There is actually something about moving away from the frame of objectivity and speaking indirectly, which audiences recognise as authentic," adds Julian Morrow.

Remarking on the subtle power of satire, Professor Umberto Ansaldo, Head of the University’s School of Literature, Art and Media, says, "All human cultures have humour even if they choose to focus on different areas and express it in different ways.

I think one of the things it does is give us relief when things don’t make sense or when things are plainly wrong."

Breaking news, tradition, and mindsets

Adeola points out the only times we see Africans in the news are either when they’ve done something exceptional or when they’ve committed a crime.

“We need to change the narrators,” Adeola says. “That’s why I think it’s very important for us Africans to tell our stories, because no-one can tell them as adequately as we would. That’s why I do what I do ... it’s to open people’s eyes.”

True to the spirit of her show, Keeping It RealAdeola strives to reflect as much of the African experience and diaspora – in all its political glory and tragedy. She celebrates achievements of people who deserve the recognition, so in one show you can laugh, cry and be inspired. She also calls out leaders who’ve abused their power – and this isn’t limited to politicians.

“So many of our men of God have become God of men.

“A lot of people will write to me that ‘it’s okay for you to talk about politicians but don’t talk about men of God, just leave them for God to judge’, which really bothers me because the Church has really failed.”

Adeola seeks to use her platform to break that idea and mentality of “worshipping our leaders”, be they political or spiritual.

Daring to tell African stories differently

An episode of Keeping It Real with Adeola Fayehun from 12 June 2017.

Are we too polarised for satire to be effective?

One criticism of satire is that while it reaches audiences it’s not reaching across the divide. Julian Morrow agrees with this idea to an extent. “Most of the time, most people are preaching to the converted.

I think it is possible for [satire], whether it’s particular clips or particular shows, to get bigger than that and sometimes it makes a bubble that’s going to burst.”

He says satire might not be a “paradigm of political effectiveness but its existence is a symptom of some things society is getting right”. Say, if you’re in a position where you can be arrested for commenting or laughing about a political movement, then that’s a problem.

“Good satire has an advantage in such a polarised world,” adds Professor Ansaldo.

“Fake news can tell you something is white or black, and all you’re left with is whether you’re going to believe it or not.”

But the strength of good satire, like the work of Adeola, says Professor Ansaldo, is that it gives agency to the audience.

“It’s your responsibility, whether you’re buying this story or not. I have given you the facts and I have revealed the absurdity, now it’s up to you.

“So in a sense, you’re empowered now to make your own decision.”

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Lead image: Professor Umberto Ansaldo, Adeola Fayehun and Julian Morrow at 'Satire is new global saviour for news, seriously'. Photo by Bill Green.