Sunday, October 26, 2014

Branded! Anatomy of the Media Smear

“A Halloween-haired, Sachsgate-enacting, estuary-whining, glitter-lacquered, priapic berk… How dare I, from my velvet chaise longue, in my Hollywood home like Kubla Khan, drag my limbs from my harem to moan about the system? A system that has posited me on a lilo made of thighs in an ocean filled with honey and foie gras’d my Essex arse with undue praise and money.” - Russell Brand on himself

“I shook George Osborne’s hand once by accident. It was like sliding my hand into a dilated cow.” - Russell Brand

The media backlash that struck Russell Brand's call for a revolution last year is back in full swing as he promotes his new book, 'Revolution'. The commentariat - those fifth-estate warriors who serve as civil society's last line of defence against the depredations of unchecked political and corporate power - are quite literally lining up to ridicule, sneer and smear.

Journalist Jonathon Cook draws attention to (Liberal Conspiracy writer) Sunny Hundal's take:

But (Evan) Davis has a more profound question that Brand clearly doesn’t want to answer. My version of that question goes like this: If you want to replace the current system of capitalism with something else, who is going to make your jeans, iPhones and run Twitter?

Cook responds to this:

Here, in a nutshell, is what the liberal’s concern amounts to: I am doing fine in the current system. I like my privileges. How can you promise me that in a fairer society I will not lose any of those privileges?

One has to credit Hundal for his honesty. When I speak of gatekeepers, this is exactly what I mean. If Brand wants to get a fair hearing in the media, he needs first to reassure people like Hundal that they will not lose their iPhones. If Brand doesn’t think such reassurances are a priority as we try to address climate meltdown and social collapse, he will be dismissed as a simpleton or court jester.

I have no doubt Brand can answer this question, as can I. But not in a way Hundal or anyone in his blinkered generation of coopted liberals could understand. That is why Brand is talking about a revolution: not in the facile sense of cutting off our rulers’ heads, but in consciousness – consciousness about who we are and where we live. In short, to drop our God-complexes and learn a little humility and humanity before it is too late. That revolution is coming whether we like it or not because our consciousnesses are going to be forced to understand the answers by far superior forces – those of the natural world. Mankind in a fist-fight with the planet is going to lose.


Hadley Freeman writing at the Pulitzer Prize-winning bastion of the 'liberal left' implores: 'Britain, don't put your faith in Russell Brand's revolution' with the following criticism:

Anyway, Brand returned this week to the seat of his great triumph by granting an interview to Davis to promote his political treatise, Revolution. Whereas last time Brand had the laconic ease of a man who knew he was starting from a place of low expectations, this time around he displayed the kind of ecstatic hypomania you’d expect of a celebrity who long ago exceeded the outer limits of his knowledge on this particular subject and is now coasting on the adrenaline of his own messiah complex. Watching this interview reminded me not of a firebrand in his full pomp but of the 1971 Woody Allen film Bananas, when the president of San Marcos has been overthrown and replaced with a hirsute revolutionary leader. This leader promptly goes mad with power, which in this case is expressed by changing the official language of San Marcos to Swedish, and ordering all citizens to change their underwear every half hour.

Not to be outdone, Simon Walters, the UK Mail On Sunday's political editor wrote a remarkable smear piece based on unconfirmed reports that Brand is considering running for Mayor of London.

A year ago this blog analysed the initial Brand backlash, noting the common themes running through the criticisms:

Here we have it all. Ad hominem attacks, smears, misrepresentation, and a patronizing tone suggesting that Mr Brand - who has on numerous occasions demonstrated his impressive intelligence and awareness - is an embarrassment for using 'big terms'. We are also informed that there is a 'vague sense' of global injustice, implying that we are mistaken about the millions of furious people in Spain, Italy, Greece and multiple other nations around the world and that in fact they just like joining protests for a laugh. We learn that capitalism has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty; sadly with no mention of the billions now suffering inequality, poverty and exploitation in almost every corner of the globe while a tiny group of already insanely wealthy people take almost all the pie. We discover that it is 'sad' that Russell is 'right about a lot of things too' because of the 'way' he 'went at it', meaning presumably that citizens who make jokes and have unruly hair really don't have any business demanding change to how their society is run.

Readers' comments below articles broadly reflect these criticisms, along with allegations of sexism, narcissism, and even Brand being 'controlled opposition', with dark hints regarding his relationship with heiress Jemima Khan, daughter of financier Sir James Goldsmith.

In other words: mission accomplished! A prime objective of commercial media is to protect the establishment that needs/allows it to thrive. The concerted media backlash against Brand has succeeded in getting vast numbers of people complaining about his perceived personality flaws instead of discussing how to tackle the deadly reality of rampant crony capitalism. THAT is what must be averted at all costs, and that is precisely what has occurred.

While the hundreds of 'obscure bloggers' from the 'dark net' (like me) who call for radical change can be easily and safely dismissed as 'crackpots', dissidents with enormous popular reach like Brand are a far bigger problem and so they must be ridiculed and smeared. Simultaneously, their views must be marginalized as 'unrealistic' by more sober commentators.

The standard tactic for demonstrating that Brand is unrealistic is the oft-repeated demand made to him for an alternative to the system. First, even if Brand actually did come up with a detailed system for a new kind of society, it would be torn apart by proponents of capitalism. Indeed, one can almost hear the howls of derision. Any 'weakness' (in other words, any suggestion that challenges the idea of relentless, unsustainable economic 'growth') would be seized upon and sneeringly dismissed as 'naive' and any other negative adjective you can think of. Second, this challenge is unreasonable in that successful societies do not simply wink into existence: they require time, effort, development, trial and error, as well as neutral media and strong education systems. The question is loaded, a rhetorical tool designed to serve an agenda, setting the target up to fail whatever he says.

Media observers will note that this treatment of Brand is not unique: one other clear example of a serious threat to the corrupt status quo is Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks organization has shone a light with the help of whistleblowers on the crimes and corruption of state governments and their corporate paymasters, providing millions of citizens around the world with a rare glimpse of truth.

Like Brand, Assange can cause (and has caused) serious damage to the reputations of the entities shamelessly portraying themselves as forces for democracy and freedom. For Assange, this means it is open season for lies, baseless accusations, misrepresentation and personal smears against him.

People like Brand and Assange speak in detail and with eloquence on complex topics and refuse to restrict themselves to the soundbites that modern news consumers have become accustomed to. This stark contrast makes it all too easy for propagandists to portray them as eccentric and outlandish weirdoes. In a fine (and recommended) piece related to this topic, Media Lens illustrated this soundbite culture by quoting the astute comedian Frankie Boyle:

I've never been surprised by low voter turnouts. In fact, I'm surprised anybody ever votes at all. Politicians seem so alien to us, their insincerity taken as a given, behaving inhumanely while they pretend to be human in some symbolic way. If, instead of a nation, we were 500 people living as a tribe, or a bunch of survivors in a lifeboat, would anyone elect Miliband or Cameron as a leader, with their choppy hand gestures, lack of conviction and bizarrely automated range of emotions? In a normal social gathering, most of our leaders would seem to suffer from a hysterical personality disorder.

Yet the likes of Brand and Assange, by speaking naturally, are the ones portrayed as hysterical, while the catchphrases and platitudes produced by establishment representatives are taken unerringly as unquestionable evidence of gravitas.

One may dislike or criticise Brand as much as one likes based on a belief that he is a sexist or narcissist, but such allegations are utterly unrelated to the issue of revolution and radical change. Brand is a comedian, not a revolutionary leader. In his own words, he has stated that he is merely using his celebrity to draw attention to the idea of revolution. The intellectually honest approach, therefore, is to ignore the media-imposed cult of celebrity and consider Brand's words on their merit alone. Time spent decrying him for personal flaws is time lost for positive discussion about his valid contentions. Further, it plays right into the hands of the enemies of democracy - corporate power and its gatekeepers in the media - by dragging other people into irrelevant debate and pointless flame wars.

Brand has brought the idea of revolution of consciousness to millions of people who would never otherwise have been exposed to it. This rare and unexpected boon should be seized upon by activists who actually are working on serious models for fair, just and humane societies.

Written by Simon Wood

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