Question Time, Russell Brand and Fleet Street Fox


Oh! The irony.

I must admit, I never really liked Russell Brand much either in his phase as a comedian nor as a Don Juan fop. I’ve not read his books nor did I pay much attention to his soundbites. I’m really not interested in celebrity culture. Adults have no place reading a novel called My Booky Wook, let alone writing one.  Yet over the past few months my opinion on him has changed.

I find Brand the activist/commentator/revolutionary much more likable. He’s obviously a smart person who sees a number of huge contradictions in the world and himself –  he’s gone from lady-killing dandy quipster to earnest activist. Even more so, because really if he’s that rich he doesn’t have to get involved in social causes.

I felt compelled to write this because the media’s response to him is in some ways baffling and in some ways highly predictable. Take this article from Susie Boniface aka Fleet Street Fox, as a classic example of half-baked logic. I find it most surprising, because the Daily Mirror considers itself to be a newspaper with socialist leanings – the kind of publication that really should be sympathetic to Brand’s overall message.

Yet, rather than using her column to attack possibly the most frightening man in politics – Nigel Farage – she uses her platform to belittle Brand and his ideas. She sets out her stall from the outset: “Russell Brand, a man whose principal talent is being able to use a thesaurus and impress everyone under 20.” Is clearly a reference to what critics call his ‘sixth-form’ politics – yet Boniface conveniently forgets that UKIP’s core vote is among the older folk, – meaning that age really is no barrier to stupidity, particularly if you think a one-issue political party can rectify the ills of modern British society.

Boniface’s claim that Brand was like a fish out of water and didn’t handle himself very well – is clearly nonsense. He got cheers and warm applause on several points he made, and while there were UKIP jeers, to say he didn’t acquit himself well is stretching the truth really quite liberally. And even if he didn’t – Question Time is a vehicle for the public to put their views to politicians, it has absolutely no bearing on vindicating the view of an activist or comedian, which is why it urks Question Time puritans to have comedians – and journalists – on it.

While I agree with her assertion that Brand lacks self-awareness at times, she then claims that he bottled his big moment by not being able to respond to a critic who asked him why he isn’t running as an MP.  What is it about running as MP that makes people think it will validate their arguments?

When someone comes out and openly tells the world that the political sphere is rotten and corrupt to the core, what exactly is it they don’t understand? Boniface either has a logic fail or was being hugely myopic, claiming that Brand would  ‘be humiliated at the ballot box’. In reality he responded true to his morals: “I’d be scared that I’d become one of them.” She also handily forgets to mention that Brand’s interrogator is the brother of a UKIP MEP – rather a large oversight for a journalist.

Let me repeat myself again. Why is it so difficult for people to understand Brand’s point? Particularly a journalist writing for a national newspaper? The answer: because they don’t want to get it. Russell Brand does what newspapers and journalists do, but he does it better. He beats them at their own game. He has an enormous public platform – 8 million twitter followers and his Trews YouTube channel gets 100,000+ hits a day – he’s giving them a kicking on their own patch.

And here’s another idea – journalists really don’t want to rock the boat because they need this system, they need the status quo. They need the divisive two-party system because without these things that Brand rails against – corporate culture, a corrupt political system – they’d all be fucked. Journalism feeds off it. Journalism upholds the caricatures of the work-shy poor, the benefit tourist immigrant and the illusion that capitalism helps everyone – even if it’s not the journalism of Murdoch and Rothermere. They have to – it’s advertising revenue from multi-national corporations that keeps them in a job. Journalism works within a framework and a narrative – a narrative that the wealthy and the political class create, and that journalism needs to perpetuate. Media is, after all, every bit as ‘big business’ as banking and energy.

Political Economist Dallas Smythe, had a theory that non-working time for the working class was actually work in that audience members perform ‘work’ for advertisers to whom they have been sold. This is essentially how the media works – we’re units of potential or units of real sales –  and the column inches and reality game shows are merely finger food for the main course. Selling you shit you don’t need, so as to distract you from asking the real questions.

This is what Brand is telling people, and the media don’t like it one little bit. So to counteract the possibility of having their arses handed to them on a plate the media create yet another caricature even from supposedly liberal left-wing organs like The Daily Mirror and The Guardian. Despite his highlighting issues such as the New Era Estate housing scandal, food banks, and the financial crisis.

As Fleet Street Fox insinuates – Brand’s politics are a bit ‘sixth form’ , which while being incredibly patronising to younger voters, suggests perhaps that Brands does something that journalists like her can’t – that is to relate to, and reach out to younger voters who are disenfranchised from the political process –  who have seen decent jobs and prospects of decent wages disappear like cheap TVs at a Boxing Day sale.

Telling people not to vote, as Brand did, might be horrific in the eyes of some. Even that most plastic of anarchists, John Lydon was horrified. Yet there are a great many people who are sick and tired of a pendulum that swings every decade or two from Tory blue to Labour red and yet nothing ever changes. And now we have UKIP (a media creation if ever there was one) to add yet more ‘choice’. A political party made up of ex-Tories who think the Conservatives are not right-wing enough. Some choice that.

What the media want is for him to ‘play the game’. Like all other rich folk, they want him to ponce about in some exotic location with beautiful women, to sell expensive products and do whatever it is that rich folk do. It’s not becoming of a millionaire to have socialist leanings.

The idiot’s retort: ‘How can a millionaire talk about or even advocate socialism?’ is a formal fallacy, an argument with a gaping logical flaw. It’s the philosophical musings of a child. Obviously, most people make their wealth by exploiting the labour of others – Brand has made his money through a combination of his good looks and hard work on the comedy circuit – and a hunger for publicity. Yes, it is rare that the wealthy would advocate such a thing, but not unheard of – after all, some eminent Victorians did it.  

Over the past half-decade (or more), public dialogue has been frighteningly right-wing in this country – with the agenda always being pushed about the inconvenience of the poor on the country’s economic health, how immigrants are to blame for the poor state of the nation’s finances or that someone other than bankers caused the banking crisis. That Brand is, in his more sentient moments asking direct questions about how this country is run, and what elected officials are accountable for, should be applauded. Any effort or voice that has enough influence to drag discourse back towards the centre ground (it’s now gone too far to the right, to be dragged left) can only do good things in the current political climate. And when issues such as an evaluation of the future of the NHS, genuine job opportunities with career progression in deprived areas,  lowered costs of education, housing stock for low-income earners, help with childcare costs for low-income mothers and parents, come to the fore then we can perhaps take Russell aside and we can call him out on his shit and ask him to explain his more outlandish statements.

In the meantime, we need Russell Brand.  And we need him far more than we need journalists or even panel shows that talk a good game but do very little else.




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