Although it’s entirely subjective, I think the funniest event in human history happened on February 3rd, 1969, when Allen Funt boarded a plane.
Funt – whose name is already objectively funny – was the host of Candid Camera, the hidden camera show that played pranks on the public. Unbeknownst to him or anyone else, two other passengers on the plane were about to attempt a hijacking.
There was something of a fashion for hijacking planes during this period, but it still must have caused a commotion when two men armed men jumped up and demanded to be flown to Cuba. This was until several of the passengers noticed Allen Funt.
Rapidly, the entire plane became convinced that there was no real danger and that this was all some sort of elaborate stunt. There were probably secret cameras everywhere. The only person who couldn’t relax was Allen Funt, who knew full well that this wasn’t a prank and that the plane was really being hijacked. Eventually, Funt had to stand up and try to convince the passengers that this was a real hijacking and that they were all in danger.
Everyone else chuckled and said “Yeah, suuuuuuure we are!” and then continued helping themselves to the drinks trolleys and wondering when they were going to be on TV. Funt, meanwhile, became increasingly desperate, terrified for his safety and pleading that he was travelling with his family and that this was all too real. He was easily the most frightened man on the plane for several hours until it landed in Cuba and everyone realised, belatedly, that this was a real hijacking.
I bring all this up because it’s a story that never ceases to make me laugh, and right now is a difficult period in which to smile. The news in the UK, in particular, feels bleak.
Theresa May, the embattled, incompetent and unloveable Prime Minister, has resigned, her truncated, pointless term in office dominated by the ongoing Brexit fiasco. If nothing else, it’s impressive that David Cameron was not only superseded as Britain’s worst prime minister, but that it was his immediate successor who took the title; it’s the bad politics equivalent of running the hundred meters in nine seconds flat and then finding out a guy in the next race managed to do it in eight.
Americans who thought “at least George W. will be the worst Republican president in my lifetime” will probably understand how that feels.
I’m not sure if the public outpouring of sympathy towards May shows that the British public are charitable at heart or horribly misinformed. Possibly both. The idea that the fates conspired against May and gave her an impossible task in Brexit is easily torpedoed by pointing out that she lobbied for the job of PM after the Brexit vote. You can’t volunteer to carry a bucket of shit and then complain that your linens are soiled.
That metaphor might not be a winner; she didn’t volunteer. She fought tooth and nail for that shit bucket.
She seems almost certain to be replaced with Boris Johnson, a spiteful and self-obsessed racist who masquerades as a loveable buffoon. The echoes of Trump are frightening – Johnson is a wild haired, wildly over-confident conman who rose to initial fame through TV appearances. He’s the sort of outdated British politician who was instilled with unshakeable self confidence by an expensive boarding school, and cannot be disavowed of the notion that Britain still has an Empire and that knowing some Latin makes him qualified to lead.
None of which matters, as just after May announced her resignation date, the UK went to the polls for the European elections, and all hell broke loose.
The Conservative party took an absolute beating, but so did the left-wing Labour Party. Both parties are attempting to make Brexit happen, both are doing a terrible job (albeit for very different reasons) and both of them took heavy losses. Instead, the real winners of the 2019 European elections were parties who had sworn to stop Brexit, and the far right.
The Far Right, embodied by the slimy, braying figurehead of Nigel Farage, took the largest share of the vote. The irony of people who are so anti-Europe that they’ve made this position clear by participating in European elections must go unexamined, as over the next few days, other European nations held their respective elections for members of the EU parliament and once again, across the board, the winners were the far left or the far right.
European politics appears to be fracturing. The centre is not holding. And, in an age old story, the number of votes for the combined anti-Brexit, anti-fascist parties in the UK was greater than the number of votes for Farage and his hardliners. Unfortunately, the left can’t get its act together to form a coherent, solid front because we’re too busy arguing over semantics (or, in Labour’s case, semitics) and so the Right wins with simple narratives and big lies. It was ever thus.
What does any of this have to do with Allen Funt’s plane ride?
Karma, that’s what. As Allen Funt sat, sweaty and panicking, in a plane seat that was being redirected to Cuba, he was the only man on board who knew that this wasn’t a game. In a strange way, Nigel Farage now finds himself in a similarly deserved position.
Farage has never had the courage to act on his innate racism – he’s always been a two-bit fraudster. His financial backers are almost certainly the Russians (he won’t discuss the issue) and he has made a living off of anti-European, anti-immigrant rhetoric despite being married to a German woman and ensuring that his kids have EU citizenship as a result. He claims to be a man of the people, despite actually being a former investment banker and independently wealthy.
Farage probably admires Hitler (there are stories from Farage’s teachers that he used to sing Nazi songs as a student in an attempt to troll others) but he certainly doesn’t have Hitler’s commitment or work ethic. Farage doesn’t have what it takes to lead a fascist state, because he’s ultimately just out to line his own pockets. Unfortunately, like his good friend Donald Trump, Farage continues to fail upwards. Just as Donald didn’t really want to win the White House, so Farage has no real plan for what to do with Brexit.
Unfortunately for Farage, he’s running out of road. If his success continues, he might actually end up attaining some of the power he has to pretend to want, and then he’s in real trouble.
Because fascism and the far right in general are sometimes considered by psychologists to be a death cult. There is never an endgame that doesn’t involve self-immolation. Even if the far right get everything they want – they attain complete autonomy over women’s bodies, they deport (or worse) every single person of colour or with an even vaguely foreign sounding name, they establish a corporate super-state with 24-hour propaganda… none of it works. None of these measures solve any of the problems that always crop up in society. These grand plans always fail, and the fascists always implode.
Right now, Farage is heading for the point where Trump was after the 2016 election. Many of his far right brethren are in a similar position. They’re all Allen Funt, trying to keep calm in the middle of a carnival atmosphere, as everyone around them celebrates success and they, deep down, realise that they don’t have a plan and that this situation is much more serious than anyone else has realised. Everything could come crashing down at any moment. And nothing they can say will change the course that they’re on, because they sold their snake oil too well to begin with.
It can be incredibly frustrating to watch people fall for the same old lies and easy answers that they’ve always fallen for. Sometimes it can be extremely damaging – women’s health experts in Alabama will tell you that electing right wing con artists has all too real consequences – but when things seem bleak, it’s always important to remember that the people will eventually see through the lies. They’ll realise that the problems in society aren’t caused by Mexicans, or Europe, or Gay Marriage.
And when the Trumps and Farages of the world haven’t managed to fix anything, and all they can do is keep impotently pointing at these same unrelated boogeymen, the tide will turn on them. It can’t come soon enough.