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What do Margaret Thatcher, George Bush and Donald Trump have in common? Multiple things, actually. But notably – and recently – all have been held responsible for respective sales spikes of UK-based, satire-heavy current affairs mag Private Eye. Because apparently over the past 30 years, one particularly British attitude hasn’t changed a bit; when times are tough, it’s better to laugh than cry. We explore why satire sells in times of uncertainty – even outside of politics.

“More people buy Private Eye than attended Trump’s inauguration,” says editor Ian Hislop. “Fact. Possibly. Can I have a knighthood, please?” Fact or not, one thing’s for sure – print-only Private Eye is enjoying an uptick in sales – the best in its 55-year history – and has overtaken the Economist as Britain’s favourite current affairs publication. And similar spikes during previous eras of political or economic turmoil are testament to the trust that it’s harnessed over time. “Our readers trust us and we find sales always increase in times of uncertainty,” confirms managing director Sheila Molnar.

Times of turmoil call for more lols Times of turmoil call for more lols
Private Eye (2001) ©

But there’s also something to be said for its tone – a welcome departure from the miserable headlines that have seen sales of dystopian fiction similarly spike. ““It’s obviously to do with Brexit and Trump and people thinking where can I find something that might be true and something that might be funny,” says Hislop. It’s potentially this desire for a release from the seriousness and fear of reality that caused the American Dialect Society to select ‘dumpster fire’ to define the collective mindset of the US during 2016 – after a GIF of a dumpster fire used as a metaphor for the presidential election was viewed over ten million times.

It’s not just the political world that’s been given a slick coat of satire in an attempt to take the edge off, either. While the 40% of teens who feel pressured to post content online that makes them look good no doubt get a kick out of nihilist memes, the 62% of people aged between 18 and 34 that say using social media increases their feelings of inadequacy will probably laugh long and hard at Deliciously Stella – an Instagram account that parodies clean eating. “This world is such a terrible place,” says the anonymous admin of Real Alcoholic Memes. “It’s so frightening and overwhelming to exist in it. If we can laugh at the absurdity of it all, then maybe we feel less alone.” And it looks like those that don’t turn to memes are turning to Private Eye.

Lore Oxford is Canvas8's deputy editor. She previously ran her own science and technology publication and was a columnist for Dazed and Confused. When she’s not busy analysing human behaviour, she can be found defending anything from selfie culture to the Kardashians from contemporary culture snobs.


22 Feb 17
3 min read

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