[This is an edited extract from “‘Only This Can Make it a News’: The Language of News Media”, in James Leggott & Jamie Sexton (eds.) No Known Cure: The Comedy of Chris Morris. London: BFI/Palgrave, 2013. In this essay I analyse the use of graphics, idents, and title sequences in the news parodies of satirist Chris Morris. In this section, I discuss the title sequences that begin The Day Today and Brass Eye.]
Station logos and programme insignia serve connotative as well as nominative functions; they iconically refer to the names of things, but their designs also activate meaningful associations for viewers. The graphic design template of each show is firmly established in their title sequences. John Ellis has analysed the Day Today title sequence, noting that it is characterised by ‘a sense of excess of meaning, of heady overstatement within familiar forms’; it exaggerates the tropes and clichés of the opening of a news show.[i]
A montage of library footage filtered through digital surface simulations show the multiple foci of the programme (politics, war, celebrities, sport) in a mixed arena of metallic, granite and liquid structures that fluctuate between solidity and fluidity: the design connotes encyclopedic versatility, the image speaks of confusion. Continue reading →
Chris Morris was one of my cultural heroes. I pored over recordings of On the Hour and his shows for Radio 1; The Day Today and Brass Eye were watertight satires of the language of news media. Blue Jam (plus its televisual progeny Jam) proved that comedy could be beyond edgy – it could be terrifying if you listened to it in the dark with headphones on, a truly groundbreaking, nightmarish hybrid of horror, ambient music and sketch comedy that might have been known as his crowning achievement if it hadn’t been deliberately hidden away in a late-night slot so that it could squat menacingly on the border between dreams and waking. Morris can, without exaggeration, lay claim to having helped change the way the makers of news media regard themselves and speak to us. His mockery of the self-important gigantism of newsy rhetoric was so precise, so powerful that it became difficult to deal in such bombast without irony, and his refusal to give interviews or answer to his critics even during the most frenzied moments of his censorship wrangles only added to the mystique and bolstered the credibility of a man who had opted out of second-tier commentary on his work: if there was almost no studies of Morris’ work, it wasn’t because it wasn’t important – it was such a lucid, categorical body of satirical essayis, that it needed nobody to step in to explain it. Did I mention that it was all really funny? Because that usually helps. I didn’t think so much of Nathan Barley, his collaboration with Charlie Brooker, not because it didn’t have some great jokes, but because it made fun of a certain kind of vacuous media twat that was so self-evidently objectionable as to require no further comment. It was fun to mock Nathan and his idiot ilk, but the show had none of the necessity of his earlier shows that slipped inside the news format and bent it out of shape from within.
Here endeth the hagiography. I just wanted to say that I really wanted to like Four Lions. I wanted it to be the next stage in the glittering career of an artist I had long admired. And I did enjoy it. And it does mark a new Morrisian age. But I have a few reservations.