Just as a well made whisky does not deteriorate with age, so also good satire holds its bite over many years and decades, never losing its potency. One such modern satire that has aged well is the TV show Yes Minister. Although released originally in the 1980s, it has just as much relevance today as when it was first released.
The show follows a newly elected official named Jim Hacker, and revolves around the various situations that he must maneuver through. He must constantly try to toe the party line, win over minorities to his cause, keep his constituents happy, and simultaneously maintain some sort of moral integrity. One of the major points of the show is the expansiveness and rigidity of government bureaucracy, and this is represented in Sir Humphrey Appleby, who is permanently stationed at his post within the government and is a career civil servant through and through. Appleby is the foil to Hacker, and the two see the world through very different lenses: Appleby sees the long term picture that gives the government the most stability—an interest he has since he is unelected and relies on the bureaucracy for his job; Hacker, conversely, flutters from one event to another trying to keep everyone happy with him so that he can be reelected, gain influence, etc. Through these two opposed characters, the show writers demonstrate, among other things, that nobody in government has the good of the citizenry in mind—there are only two sides: the politician and the bureaucrat, each seeking to simultaneously both win over the populace and keep them in the dark so that their own ends will be met. The show sees very little good in government, and as a result it can be very bleak and cynical at times—Hacker is often willing to back down on principles when he sees it will cost him politically, and Appleby is more than happy to manipulate to his own ends. Never is there a ray of hope or decent integrity put on display, and while this may make for difficult watching after a while, I do not think it is without merit.
The show deals with a very real ideology that is present today, and (possibly unintentionally) shows the futility of it. In the United States, as in many countries around the globe, government is seen as the primary vehicle for good and change—the sword to be wielded to solve all the world’s problems. However, when government is made supreme, there is no value structure left, but only the arbitrary one put in place by a bureaucrat: people become numbers, and the purpose of all of life becomes power and meeting the “bottom line.” Yes Minister may be bleak, but it accurately portrays what men always become when they have no principle beliefs or morally absolute value structure to rest upon.
Re-watching Yes Minister never gets old, principally because it contains a kernel of truth: without a moral baseline, everyone only looks out for themselves. Satire is not always done well, but when it is, it is timeless, and Yes Minister will be watched for many years to come as a brutal commentary on government without God.