The Mark Thomas Project

Tuesday, September 21, 1999 by

Mark Thomas has stated in the past that he is the reason C4 is able to put out so many American comedies.

Whenever critics complain that the station is losing its edge, they can point to him and say: “Here is all the indication you need of a channel still inhabiting the cutting edge of the social agenda.” What, then, when Mark Thomas appears to be losing his edge?

Something has happened since Mark’s been away. Ali G has cornered the spoof interviewer market, Michael Moore is the King of Doormen harassment, and Chris Morris has pushed the envelope of “acceptable offensive behaviour toward public figures” as far as it will currently go. So, what’s Mark’s schtick this time around? Last year’s coup with the Indonesian Government was always going to be hard to beat.

Tuesday night’s programme centred on the oppressive regime in Burma. “A regime so bad,” Mark tells us “that Britain does not sell arms to them.” With such an array of atrocities to select from, Thomas’ meeting with the Burmese ambassador did surprisingly little to further the debate. One felt that Thomas had broken into the Headmaster’s office without knowing what he was going to do when he got there (I say urinate in the drawers). Mark’s attempts at ridicule consisted of constructing amusingly over-the-top and inappropriate metaphors (rather like a bad episode of Blackadder) to describe a series of political situations. Eventually, the opportunity for debate gave way to cheap pranks reliant on the Burmese ambassador’s lack of British cultural knowledge.

The remainder of the episode picked up slightly. However, one was left with the nagging feeling that as soon as it fails to be funny, the whole of the programme’s raison d’être becomes rather questionable. Although not a specific concern in this particular episode, such spotlight politics shaken free of wit tend to appear a tad over simplistic. Like Michael Moore, Thomas’ victims are often the most approachable, yet most inappropriate of targets. If you have an issue with McDonald’s, what’s the mileage in hassling the kid whose only briefing on McDonald’s dubious politics is to ask you whether you want to “go large with that”? Maybe Mark would feel he is guilty by association, guilty for his ignorance. Maybe he’s right. But at the least I should like to see some debate on it. Guerilla Mark has nary a shade in his palette.

But fuck it! He’s a nice guy, he’s committed. We trust him, and we trust he picks his targets wisely. What’s more he lets you know that he thinks you’re on his side. So then, perhaps best not to think too much about it. Best just to sit and laugh at those suckers he winds up. Stick one on ‘em for me Marky!


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