Reviewed by Norrie Sanders
The Shovel describes itself as “Australia’s satire news service”, before offering a confession of sorts: “Ok, let’s be really clear here – most of the stuff on this site is made up. So we’re a bit like The Daily Telegraph or The Daily Mail, just with slightly longer words.”
Meanwhile the Chaser aspires to a slightly higher calling: “The Chaser is a satirical media empire which rivals Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in all fields except power, influence, popularity and profitability”.
Common threads of these two global powerhouses seem to be the word satire and an innate desire to be like News Corp.
Clearly, the joint Annual springs from the loins of a marriage made in, well, Parliament House. Possibly a same sex marriage, but we won’t go there. This is the fourth joint Annual – if their decidedly misleading websites are to be believed.
The document is magazine size and, like some Aldi catalogues, has a cover on both ends and upside-down pages. Giving the impression of two for the price of one.
Both teams have put together respective products that look fairly similar and are entirely complementary in content – except to the extent that they shamelessly lampoon much the same list of usual suspects. Probably best read in small doses (lest you start to believe some of the fake news), there is so much material here that it is worth savouring every word – including fine print and phoney advertisements.
Chaser’s “Head of Cocaine Acquisitions” Charles Firth provides a brief and sometimes poignant introductory column, telling us that despite Chaser’s 2019 being “a stunning success” (even with two months of the year left to run), they are on the brink of collapse and the Daily Telegraph may soon inherit the title of “Australia’s least believable publication”.
Somewhere in the welter of fake might be a grain of truth. The challenges facing the Chaser are portrayed graphically on pages four and five, where countless (41 actually) “real” news headlines show that life in 2019 is stranger than fiction. A couple of favourites are the existential: “German City offers $1.1M to whoever proves it doesn’t exist” and the retributive: “Texas lawmakers consider the death penalty for abortion”. This sort of thing must keep satire writers awake at night wondering whether 2020 will be even stranger.
Much of the content is unashamedly political and all of the usual suspects are out in force. The government is the big winner, led by ScoMo, Joshy, Tones and someone who looks like a potato. The Shovel people must have particular affection for the man-who-would-be-Prime- Minister-again-if-only-he-hadn’t-lost-his-seat-at-the-last-election. Yes, the budgie smuggler gets a whopping 11 pages, including a semi-nude photograph, riveting diary extracts and three delicious recipes involving uncooked (and indeed, unpeeled) onions.
The Labor party receives some excellent coverage, headed by Shorto, Albo and Tanya Plibersek, who apparently withdrew from leadership contention because her name finishes with a consonant. The perennial stars of the Australian scene, as ever, are the fabulous Pauline (keen to confront a foreign bloke called Al Jazeera); Clive (who could have slashed his election budget and still won the same number of seats – er, zero) and Hawkey (commencing a deregulation program for Heaven’s economy).
Of course, there was some minor coverage of a couple of world leaders suffering from prolonged bad hair days, but how to lampoon people for whom fact and fiction have no meaning? According to the Annual, the Donald recently offered condolences to the grieving family of a young drone, cruelly shot down in Iran.
Fortunately, we also have appearances from the big four – God, Jesus, the Pope and Mt Everest – though in no particular order.
For those of us who think that politicians have become a separate species, very little in the satire is beyond the realms of probability. The idea that Scott Morrison could write a 5 word think piece (“How Good is Climate Change”) will please the eternally optimistic for whom the current fires and drought are merely a green conspiracy. In fact, some of the headlines are barely distinguishable from actual events: “2GB gives Alan Jones 38th final warning.”
One of my favourites was the “Ask Izzy- Getting to know the bible with Israel Folau” column in which a certain former Wallaby is asked cutting-edged questions about contemporary theological interpretations: “Leviticus 18:20 says you can’t have sex with your neighbour’s wife. I live in Collingwood and Johnno and his missus are in Richmond. That should be OK shouldn’t it?”
The great service offered by the Chaser and Shovel teams is that they are prepared to scan all of the media for us, bin the lot and make up their own. The bonus is that their fake news is genuinely funny. Who could ask for a better Christmas present than that?