Nick Ahad: Why sometimes satire backfires

If television was an level playing field, there would be more hit shows like Call The Midwife written by women.
If television was an level playing field, there would be more hit shows like Call The Midwife written by women.
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A mea culpa and reminder of the speed of retribution delivered on the wings of the internet this week.

In my last Arts View for the Yorkshire Post I tried to do something a little different.

I wanted to write something satirical that would hammer home a point. Turns out satire might be best left to its arch practitioners. In the hands of Stewart Lee and Mark Steel it’s a powerful weapon. In mine it became a blunt instrument that missed its mark and ricocheted back into my own slightly bemused face.

My last Arts View for the Yorkshire Post was published in the same week that 76 women signed a letter which lambasted British drama for failing to give them the same opportunities that male writers seemed to enjoy. It was an important and necessary letter and something I wanted to write about in my column.

The publicly published letter was prompted by an announcement by ITV about the dramas it was going to produce in the coming year - one out of ten written by a woman. The letter quoted similarly lamentable figures of female representation across the industry.

As an ethnic minority TV and theatre writer working in the UK, the desultory figures made for familiar reading. The representation of non-white writers is just as disgraceful as it is for women.

In my column, the one in which I attempted satire, I suggested that perhaps us ethnics and the women folk were not good enough and that might explain the discrepancy between us and the Oxbridge-educated white men who appear to dominate the industry.

(Lesson One: I was writing for the Yorkshire Post audience who have read my work since 2004 and will be fairly clear where my opinions on such matters lie, particularly as I write constantly - and with no apology - about the appalling inequalities in the arts. The internet delivered it to many who have no such background knowledge).

The sarcasm was clear to me as I wrote it, but for clarity’s sake: the above is not true.

Chromosomes and melanin do not a writer forge or break.

I then went on, in my column, to list a number of brilliant women who have helmed their own series. The point was not, as some have misconstrued, to point out that some women have their own authored shows so there is not a problem and the others should pipe down, but simply to say that Look! Here are a bucketload of examples of the great shows that are created by women when they are given the opportunity.

Who knows, even the playing field and you might have more (women-created) Happy Valleys and Call the Midwifes. Surely that makes moral, financial and plain old common sense and might swell your awards cabinet in the process.

As well as learning that the internet is no place for nuance, the reaction to my column taught me something else. After being branded an anti-feminist (for someone with my personal politics an awful slight) and worse a ‘mansplainer’, I realised that I have in the past done the same: dismissed someone as a swivel-eyed loon for the way they voted in the EU referendum or simply thought someone a right wing nut because of their stance on a particular subject. Having been on the receiving end of moral outrage, maybe I’ll temper my own interactions with those who don’t, on the face of it, share my opinions.

Well, except for Trump voters (and that bit isn’t satire).