Fringe festival

John SafranReview by David Southwell


John Safran, who is perhaps best known as an idiosyncratic TV prankster and provocateur, is asked what he is doing at an anti-Muslim rally organised by the far-right United Patriots Front.

“I’m in charge of sarcasm,” he replies.

There is plenty of sarcasm and other wry commentary duly supplied in this self-consciously impressionistic account of monitoring and mixing with far-right nationalists, radical Muslims, fundamentalist Christians, left-wing activists and a gung-ho Jewish gym owner.

Safran particularly relishes pointing out paradoxes, or what he calls ‘tangles’.

For example, he repeatedly notes that anti-multiculturalism protesters are far more ethnically diverse than their left-wing opponents.

Safran’s commitment to making the unwelcome observation or asking the awkward question, including of his own or his presumed left-liberal audience’s preconceptions, is in stark contrast to his subject’s implacably cemented-in belief systems.

However, this can make the book unsure of what conclusions to draw or stances to take.

Indeed Safran recounts his own susceptibility to some of the paranoia and anger he is immersing in which, even though it is fairly fleeting, at one stage prompts him to buy a knife for self-protection.

The book initially conveys a somewhat comforting sense that its selection of motley extremists, such as far-right leader Blair Cottrell, inhabits a fervid closed-off ecosystem of alternative worldviews, which if anything revolve around and feed off each other while having little impact on wider society.

Such complacency is shaken by Donald Trump, with his alt-right and nationalist backers, taking the White House and the resurgence of One Nation, who use talking points previously only seen on far-right forums.

Safran admits the political developments take him by surprise and offers no real broader analysis other than reflecting it’s good for the book.

While Safran might be right that humour is useful to detect and deflate absurdities created by dogmatic certainty, against the grim backdrop of terror attacks and once extremist positions gaining mainstream credibly, the laughs seem increasingly harder to come by.

Available at RRP $34.99


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