When Satire Met Social

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He’s been called the new pin-up boy for the liberal left, a living protest to the modern day media, and nearly anything else mildly controversial you could think of. But when he’s not Jonathan Pie, the “frustrated news reporter that satirises the world of politics and the media,” he’s just Tom Walker, and he’s equally surprised as you are for where he wound up.

During Advertising Week Europe, Walker, better known as fictitious, vivacious news man Jonathan Pie, sat down with Gravity Road’s Mark Eaves to discuss the intersection of satire and social, and how the unique space lays the perfect groundwork for the hailstorm that is global geo-politics today.

“I think the news today is being undermined, in America obviously, but it’s really in every news outlet. You look at the front page and you can read their agenda. You can see the agenda, and people are sick of it. You have to now sift through the facts and go elsewhere to contextualize it,” Walker said. “But satire makes you look at something without it going through this prism of agenda first.”

A longtime aspiring actor and drama school graduate, Walker credits social media for the rapid, fairly unexpected success of his career, though he never could have anticipated it would have the underpinnings of politics and media in the mix. Back in the days of radio and early television, Walker explained, satirical characters were successful because the unique media space allowed for satirists to experiment and play with ideas. Today, it’s YouTube and social media that allow for that leniency and affordability to fail and try again.

“I’m not sure this character would’ve been able to be developed on TV or on radio because people are so scared of offending. Language isn’t offensive,” Walker said. “That people equate language with physical hurt, I just don’t buy it.”

In his videos, first inspired by a video clip he saw of a news anchor speaking crudely off-air which revealed a contrast of public versus private persona, Walker’s Jonathan Pie speaks to what so many wish they could say, but don’t, about issues spanning anywhere from the NHS and police, to American politics and the economy.

“The reason Pie is successful is because social media is all about presenting yourself in the best way you can – you show yourself at your best, you choose the best holiday pictures to post,” Walker said. “So the reason people share Pie is because it speaks for their brand, like “this man represents my thoughts but articulates it in a way that I myself don’t have to be associated with.’”

While the character has an obvious tendency for left-leaning ideologies, Walker said he seeks to engage both the like-minded and the opposition with his videos, noting that in global economic and political events like Brexit and the US Presidential election, the majority of liberal elite failed to engage with the supposed ‘opposition’ – those who wanted to leave the EU or the people who would vote for Trump.

In one video in particular, Pie sought to poke at the liberal left over the election of Donald Trump, something Walker explained as a simple way of showing the need to “take responsibility for our losses.” In the video, Pie situates the US election not as a win for Trump, but as a loss for Clinton.

“It clearly hit a nerve because the video went ballistic,” Walker said.

Asked about the state of satire of today, Walker references Peter Serafinowicz’s “Sassy Trump,” in which he delivers Trump speeches word for word in bizarre voices, as the perfect example of satire at work.

“It’s word for word and bang on, and all it does is it makes you actually listen to what [Trump] is saying. And when you actually listen to what he’s saying, you realise he’s saying absolutely nothing at all,” Walker said. “That’s perfect satire. It’s always funny, but then you have a moment of despair at the end. It’s a perfect example of what satire can be. It’s funny, but it says so much. It’s brilliant.”

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