The Five Most Egregiously Awful Attempts at Satirical Social Commentary in 2022
Satire has long been a tool for artists to express pointed, poignant and deeply reflective views on society’s troubles — however, as every socially conscious comedian and writer attempts emulate the court jesters of yore and speak truth to power about the conditions of our civilization as only an artist can, so many of them end up looking like simple clowns. With each passing year, these wannabe satirists become more emboldened in their quest to put themselves at the dead-center of ever-expanding conversations about the hot-button political and social issues of our time.
And 2022 brought us some of the most pandering, ponderous and perplexing attempts at social commentary yet. As we bring the year to a close, it’s high time to highlight the most cringey, heavy-handed and horrendous attempts at satire that we’ve seen from every end of the political spectrum. Here are the five worst attempts at social commentary in 2022…
Fairview – Like South Park If Trey Parker and Matt Stone Had No Ideas
It’s a familiar setup — Fairview is a small town filled with poorly animated simpletons who have little common sense and a suspicious proclivity for getting caught in the middle of whatever political issue is currently getting the most media attention. Despite the straightforward (if not wholly unoriginal) premise, the creative team for Fairview spectacularly mishandled the Stephen Colbert-produced South Park rip-off and ended up making one of the worst shows of 2022, satire or otherwise. From the ham-fisted, juvenile and boorishly unfunny writing to the insultingly ugly animation that makes the Comedy Central show look like some sort of Funko Pop mobile game, Fairview was a crude, unimaginative and unwatchable attempt to satirize the small-mindedness of everyone who holds political opinions that are opposite to those of the show’s writing staff.
Fairview swung for the fences with the topics it tackled — the episodes have titles like “COVID Party,” “Critical Race Theory” and “Climate Catastrophe” — but it handled the nuances of these complicated issues with all the tact and intelligence of a misspelled gas station bumper sticker. The “humor” was almost exclusively shit, piss, penis and violence-themed as Fairview farted through eight episodes to a universally negative reaction among its small handful of viewers. Few of Fairview’s Rotten Tomatoes audience reviews are remotely appropriate to publish, but they are worth reading, if only because the reviews are the only funny part of the show.
Jeff Dunham’s New Character Is Just A Beanie With A Smartphone
This is your semi-annual reminder that Jeff Dunham is a massively successful, obscenely wealthy and still-popular world record-breaking comedian. In 2022, the politically charged ventriloquist introduced a new character that shows us exactly how Dunham has managed to remain your Bible Belt uncle’s favorite funnyman for 15 consecutive years with a “kids these days”-type caricature of a beanie-wearing, smartphone-obsessed zoomer named “Url” (get it? Like the internet?). Url is an amalgam of every awful Boomer Humor webcomic wherein kids just can’t get off those gosh darn devices and read a book/ride a bike/dial a rotary phone.
Url’s small-screen debut was in Dunham’s most recent special, Me the People. The show featured a familiar face, Dunham’s longtime puppet partner Walter, as he played the part of President Joe Biden on a set staged to resemble the Oval Office. We the People continued Dunham’s long history of aiming his act directly at the political sensibilities of his mostly conservative, mostly white and mostly middle-aged and above base. As such, Url is the perfect pandering puppet for an audience who still can’t connect their phones to the Bluetooth headphones their daughters bought for them in 2017 but find it furiously funny how youngsters like Url send cellular text messages instead of having good old-fashioned conversations.
Credit where credit is due, though — Url and Dunham had a solid bit about how water used to be free and porn used to cost money, but now the opposite is true. “Fair trade,” they agreed.
SNL Skewers the Russian Invasion of Ukraine With A Cringey TikTok Cold Open
Topicality has always been a double-edged sword for Saturday Night Live. When they get current events right, it’s the talk of the internet for ages — who doesn’t think of Tina Fey anytime Sarah Palin briefly squeezes her way back into the headlines? The downside to Lorne Michaels’ decision that his fabled sketch series should be the definitive voice for comedic political commentary is that, anytime anything notable happens in the world, we’re all forced to hold our breaths to see if SNL will nail it like they did with Palin, or if their pants will fall down at the talent show, as was the case with one incredibly ill-advised cold open at the beginning of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The satirists of SNL had three consecutive Ukraine-focused cold opens following the launch of Russia’s attack, including an incisive and pointed takedown of Fox News figures who had been blatantly supporting Putin. However, the defense forces of Ukraine surprised both Putin and SNL by surviving the first few weeks of the war (and well beyond), so a scrambling writing staff struggled to find more fresh takes on the subject. The cold open for the episode on March 12th showed a discussion between President Joe Biden and a group of TikTok stars on possible ways for the U.S. to aid Ukraine. Fifteen seconds into the sketch, it becomes clear that the elder millennial writers of SNL had absolutely nothing new to say about Ukraine and simply wanted to prove to younger viewers that they (sorta) understood TikTok culture. The message of the sketch seemed to be “People on the internet get famous for dumb stuff nowadays — oh, also, Russia is still killing Ukrainians.”
They/Them Shows Us That The Real Monster Is Bigotry — And Kevin Bacon
“(The) real monster in They/Them is bigotry and intolerance,” Richard Roeper not-so-insightfully noted in one of the few positive reviews of John Logan’s LGBTQ slasher film, as if we couldn’t have guessed that message simply by the title of the film. They/Them is the only non-comedy on this list as Logan, a decorated and talented screenwriter, playwright and showrunner behind films such as Gladiator, The Aviator and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street attempted to create a gender-focused slasher/social commentary that would slice through the cruelty and ignorance of those who blindly adhere to archaic constructions of gender and sexuality while denying LGBTQ youths their right to define their own identity. They/Them — pronounced “They Slash Them,” you know, because it’s a slasher — set out with the best of intentions as Logan assembled a cast of gay, trans and non-binary actors to tell a gut-wrenching story of a group of LGBTQ teens who are forced to attend a conversion camp run by Kevin Bacon while a mysterious killer lurks in the shadows.
The Blumhouse Productions film struggled to straddle both its theme of gender affirmation and the practical expectations of a slasher (i.e., slashing), and They/Them ended up as an unscary, unsubtle exercise in unremarkable storytelling while Logan failed to create tension or delve into his weighty subject matter on anything beyond a superficial level — in one sequence, camp counselor Bacon reinforces traditional gender roles by having all the campers deemed “boys” go out and play with rifles while the campers labeled “girls” stay home and bake pies. Brian Lowry of CNN called They/Them “a story that at various times feels creepy, exploitative and preachy, without becoming particularly tense or scary.”
Russian Propagandists Think There’s No Meat In America
If anyone needed further convincing that online alt-right discourse has been heavily influenced by Russian propagandists, this anti-emigration advertisement that actually aired on Russian television should be proof enough, since it’s basically just a 4chan greentext put to video. As Russians — specifically, Russian comedians — flee the bellicose nation in order to escape conscription and pursue a better life in the West, the Russian state-controlled media has resorted to airing satirical advertisements showing the horrific customs of “Woke America,” which include a strict no-meat policy, the requirement that white people kneel in apology in the presence of Black people and the existence of gay marriage.
This video went viral back in October as Americans and non-Americans alike marveled at the similarities between satirical Russian disinformation and the actual beliefs of those on the internet who think that the “woke mindvirus” will make the ridiculous conditions in this video a reality. Frankly, this Russian propaganda ad seems like something that Elon Musk would retweet in earnest, which adds unintentional layers to this terrible attempt at satire. We Americans probably don’t have to worry about one day being shoved into what looks like the wheel well of a commercial airliner for committing the crime of having a family, but the fact that messaging like this has already worked on some of our fellow citizens is haunting.
That said, it’s not a uniquely American impulse to want to throw someone else’s annoying kid out of a moving plane.