Planet of the Pig
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
The great British socialist standup comic, Stewart Lee, does a bit where he talks about the "iconic final scene" of the original Planet of the Apes movie, "one of the truly iconic scenes in cinema. Apparently, on their world, the apes have made an exact replica of the Statue of Liberty. And it's never explained why ... and Charlton Heston is angry, he goes, 'Dammit, why have you done this, you dirty apes, why? It's a society of apes, why would you make a statue of a human?' And the apes go, 'We don't know, we've just done it.' It's one of the most iconic scenes in cinema and it's completely meaningless and stupid."
He then goes on to explain that the author of the original novel the movie was based on, Pierre Boulle, was a socialist, thus the novel was clearly meant as satire, and he then helpfully defines satire this way: "If any ever asks you what satire is, and you want to appear clever, just say, 'Satire is where it's the same as it is now, except there's animals in it.'"
I haven't read the book, Durov's Pig: Clowns, Politics and Theatre, by Joel Schecter, in over twenty-five years, but it came to mind late this week. I'm not sure I ever owned a copy. I've had the chance to refer to a very difficult-to-navigate PDF copy I downloaded yesterday afternoon. In it, Schecter quotes US playwright George S. Kaufman's definition of satire: "Satire is what closes on Saturday night."
I now quote Schecter's description of Vladimir Durov's performance with his pig in Berlin in 1907:
"Durov placed a German officer's cap, or 'helm' as he called it, in the circus ring, and his trained pig ran to retrieve it. Using ventriloquism, Durov made the pig appear to be saying 'Ich will helm,' meaning 'I want the helmet.' But the phrase could also be translated 'I am Wilhelm,' thereby equating Germany’s Emperor, Wilhelm II, with a trained pig. 'The audience understood the pun at once and applauded it. The German police understood it too,' according to Russian critic Emanuel Dvinsky’s account of the event. Durov was arrested. The pig escaped without prosecution."
Schecter goes on to discuss politically satirical clowning in far greater depth than I can synopsize here. But he seems to conclude that theatrical satire as it was understood at this prewar moment, and between and during the wars as well, was not something that could happen... read more