From Messiah To Monty Python
If Julian Assange was initially perceived by many as a controversial but respected, even heroic, figure challenging power, the corporate media worked hard to change that perception in the summer of 2012. After Assange requested political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, the faux-feminists and corporate leftists of the ‘quality’ liberal press waged war on his reputation.
This comment from the Guardian’s Deborah Orr summed up the press zeitgeist:
‘It’s hard to believe that, until fairly recently, Julian Assange was hailed not just as a radical thinker, but as a radical achiever, too.’
A sentiment echoed by Christina Patterson of the Independent:
‘Quite a feat to move from Messiah to Monty Python, but good old Julian Assange seems to have managed it.’
The Guardian’s Suzanne Moore expressed what many implied:
‘He really is the most massive turd.’
The attacks did more than just criticise Assange; they presented him as a ridiculous, shameful figure. Readers were to understand that he was now completely and permanently discredited.
We are all, to some extent, herd animals. When we witness an individual being subjected to relentless mockery of this kind from just about everyone across the media ‘spectrum’, it becomes a real challenge to continue taking that person seriously, let alone to continue supporting them. We know that doing so risks attracting the same abuse.
Below, we will see how many of the same corporate journalists are now directing a comparable campaign of abuse at Russell Brand in response to the publication of his book, ‘Revolution’. The impact is perhaps indicated by the mild trepidation one of us experienced in tweeting this very reasonable comment from the book:
‘Today humanity faces a stark choice: save the planet and ditch capitalism, or save capitalism and ditch the planet.’ (p.345)
Sure enough, we immediately received this tweet in response:
‘As a big supporter of your newsletters and books, I’m embarrassed by your promotion of Brand as some sort of visionary.’
In a rare defence of Brand, Mark Steel explained in the Independent:
‘This week, by law, I have to deride Russell Brand as a self-obsessed, annoying idiot. No article or comment on Twitter can legally be written now unless it does this…’
Or as Boris Johnson noted, gleefully, in the Telegraph:
‘Oh dear, what a fusillade of hatred against poor old Brandy Wandy. I have before me a slew of Sunday papers and in almost all there is a broadside against Russell Brand…’
Once again, the Guardian gatekeepers have poured scorn. Suzanne Moore lampooned ‘the winklepickered Jesus Clown who preaches revolution’, repeating ‘Jesus Clown’ four times. Moore mocked:
‘To see him being brought to heel by an ancient Sex Pistol definitely adds to the gaiety of the nation.’
After all: ‘A lot of what he says is sub-Chomskyian [sic] woo.’
An earlier version of Moore’s article was even more damning: ‘A lot of what he says is ghostwritten sub-Chomskyian woo.’
This was corrected by the Guardian after Moore received a letter from Brand’s lawyers.
The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman imperiously dismissed Brand’s highly rational analysis of corporate psychopathology:
‘I’m not entirely sure where he thinks he’s going to go with this revolution idea because [SPOILER!] revolution is not going to happen. But all credit to the man for making politics seem sexy to teenagers. What he lacks, though – aside from specifics and an ability to listen to people other than himself – is judgment.’
Tanya Gold commented in the Guardian:
‘His narcissism is not strange: he is a comic by trade, and is used to drooling rooms of strangers.’
In the Independent, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s patronising judgement was clear from the title:
‘Russell Brand might seem like a sexy revolutionary worth getting behind, but he will only fail his fans – Politics needs to be cleaned up, not thrown into disarray by irresponsible populists’
‘It is heartening to see him mobbed by teenagers and young people… Brand, I fear, will only fail them.’
Grace Dent of the Independent perceived little point in throwing yet more mud:
‘with the lack of a political colossus on the horizon like Tony Benn, we can make do with that guy from Get Him To The Greek who was once wed to Katy Perry. I shall resist pillorying Brand any further. He looks exhausted. I’m not entirely evil’.
Sarah Ditum sneered from the New Statesman:
‘Russell Brand, clown that he is, is taken seriously by an awful lot of young men who see any criticism of the cartoon messiah’s misogyny as a derail from “the real issues” (whatever they are).’
Brand fared little better among the male commentators of the liberal press. The title of David Runciman’s Guardian review read:
‘His manifesto is heavy going, light on politics and, in places, beyond parody. Has the leader of the rebellion missed his moment?’
‘This book is an uncomfortable mashup of the cosmic and the prosaic. Brand seems to believe they bolster each other. But really they just get in each other’s way. He borrows ideas from various radical or progressive thinkers like David Graeber and Thomas Piketty but undercuts them with talk about yogic meditation.’
As we saw in the first part of this alert, there is a strong case for arguing that mindfulness – awareness of how we actually feel, as opposed to how corporate advertising tells us we should feel – can help deliver us from the shiny cage of passive consumerism to progressive activism.
Alas, ‘too often he sounds like Gwyneth Paltrow without, er, the humour or the self-awareness. The worst of it is beyond parody… his revolution reads like soft-soap therapy where what’s needed is something with a harder edge’.
Also in the Guardian, Martin Kettle dismissed ‘the juvenile culture of Russell Brand’s narcissistic anti-politics’.
Hard-right ‘leftist’ warmonger Nick Cohen of the ‘left-of-centre’ hard-right Observer was appalled. Having accumulated 28,000 followers on Twitter (we have 18,000) after decades in the national press spotlight, Cohen mocked the communication skills of a writer with 8 million followers:
‘His writing is atrocious: long-winded, confused and smug; filled with references to books Brand has half read and thinkers he has half understood.’
This is completely false, as we saw; Brand has an extremely astute grasp of many of the key issues of our time.
As ever – think Assange, Greenwald, Snowden – dissidents are exposed as egoists by corporate media altruists:
‘Brand is a religious narcissist, and if the British left falls for him, it will show itself to be beyond saving.’
Cohen strained so hard to cover Brand in ordure he splashed some on himself, commenting:
‘Brand says that he is qualified to lead a global transformation…’
Not quite. Brand writes in his book:
‘We don’t want to replace Cameron with another leader: the position of leader elevates a particular set of behaviours.’ (p.216)
‘There is no heroic revolutionary figure in whom we can invest hope, except for ourselves as individuals together.’ (p.515)
Similarly, Cohen took the cheap shot of casually lampooning Brand’s ‘cranky’ focus on meditation:
‘Comrades, I am sure I do not need to tell you that no figure in the history of the left has seen Buddhism as a force for human emancipation.’
We tweeted in reply:
‘@NickCohen4 “no figure in the history of the left has seen Buddhism as a force for human emancipation”. Erich Fromm, for one.’
Cohen was so unimpressed by this response that he immediately blocked us on Twitter.
Writing from that other powerhouse of corporate dissent, the oligarch-owned Independent, Steve Richards praised Brand’s style and decried the right-wing conformity of journalism, before providing an example of his own. He lamented Brand’s ‘vague banalities’ and ‘witty banalities’:
‘He is part of a disturbing phenomenon – the worship of unaccountable comedians who are not especially funny and who are limited in their perceptions… We await a revolutionary who plots what should happen as well as what is wrong.’
In the same newspaper, Howard Jacobson effortlessly won the prize for intellectual snobbery:
‘When Russell Brand uses the word “hegemony” something dies in my soul.’
Oh dear, does he drop the ‘haitch’? For Jacobson, who studied English at Cambridge under the renowned literary critic F.R. Leavis, it was ‘a matter of regret’ that Brand didn’t ‘stick to clowning’. Why? Because it detracts from the enjoyment of a comedian’s efforts ‘to discover they are fools in earnest’. Brand, alas, has not ‘the first idea what serious thought is’. To read the book is to know just how utterly self-damning that last comment is.
James Bloodworth of the hard-right Left Foot Forward blog, commented in the Independent:
‘Russell Brand is one of those people who talks a lot without ever really saying much.’
Bloodworth clumsily sought to mock Brand’s clumsiness:
‘Well-intentioned, he can often come across like the precocious student we all know who talks in the way they think an educated person ought to talk – all clever-sounding adjectives and look-at-me vocabulary.’
Words like ‘hegemony’, perhaps. Or as Nick Cohen wrote in 2013: ‘He writes as if he is a precocious prepubescent rather than an adolescent…’
Bloodworth’s damning conclusion:
‘Millions of people may be fed up of the racket that is free market capitalism, but this really is Revolution as play, and in indulging it the left risks becoming a parody of itself.’
The Tory Press – ‘A Snort Of Derisive Laughter’
If we dare turn to the more overtly right-wing press, in the Sunday Times, Camilla Long lamented:
‘Brand’s mincing tintinnabulations, his squawking convulsions, his constant garbling of words such as “autodidact” and “hegemony”.’
That word again! Could the real problem be that a working class author has appropriated words reserved for his classically-educated betters? Wikipedia records of Long:
‘Descended from the aristocratic Clinton family (Henry Pelham-Clinton, 4th Duke of Newcastle… is an ancestor through her paternal grandmother), she was educated at Oxford High School and Corpus Christi College, Oxford.’
Again, any thought of discussion had to make way for mockery:
‘And what a mediocre, hypocritical, dancing, prancing and arrogant perm on a stick he is… I would be more comfortable with the former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell as a public intellectual.’
From the moral summit of Murdoch’s media Mount Doom, Perpetual Warmonger David Aaronovitch of The Times of course declared Brand’s book ‘uniquely worthless both as an exercise in writing and as a manifesto for social change – I feel able to dismiss Brand’s new self-ascriptions, both as self-taught man and revolutionary’. (Aaronovitch, ‘A unique Brand of dozy drivel,’ The Times, November 1, 2014)
Again, as we saw in Part 1, this is just false. There may be much to debate, but in identifying the fundamental disaster of a corporate system subordinating people and planet to profit, Brand is exactly right.
Aaronovitch heard only ‘a wall of sound and words designed to drown out the possibility of thought’. But the wall of sound was coming from Aaronovitch’s own head, from the psychological investments that prevent him perceiving words that would make it impossible for him to continue the role he is playing.
For Aaronovitch, like Cohen, it was all ‘sub-Yoko mysticana that [has] been the “it’s really all about me” staple of pop stars, actors and princesses since the days of the Maharishi’.
So Brand just produces ‘sub-Yoko mysticana’, ‘sub-Chomskyian woo’ and, as Robert Colvile noted in his review for the Daily Telegraph, ‘sub-undergraduate dross’.
Reviewing the book in the Sunday Times, Christopher Hart wrote:
‘There’s no doubt that Brand can sometimes articulate what a lot of people are feeling…’
As if panicked by the possibility that this might be thought to signify approval, Hart erupted:
‘But when the cry comes from someone who seems the epitome of a vapid, ill-informed, coke-frazzled, self-adoring and grossly hypocritical celeb, preaching to us from the back of his chauffeur-driven Merc, then the only response it deserves is a snort of derisive laughter.’
Parklife! The bottom line:
‘Some of this stuff does indeed need saying, but Russell Brand is not the man to say it.’
Again, less a review, more a Soviet-style ‘personality disorder’ smear.
The Daily Mail really loathes Brand. For the journalist who for some odd reason describes himself as ‘The Hated Peter Hitchens’, Brand is a ‘Pied piper who peddles poison’. It seems clear that some of the hatred directed at Brand by both male and female critics is rooted in something other than politics. In a telling passage that reads like an outtake from a Carry On film, Hitchens observed:
‘But there’s also no doubt he has a potent effect on women – I watched him, in less than a minute, charm two pretty young Olympic medal winners into taking off their medals and draping them over his scrawny, naked chest.
‘The sad thing was that they acted as if they were the ones being honoured by the encounter.’
We can imagine that Hitchens would have been only too ‘honoured’ to meet the ‘two pretty young’ women and to admire the medals on their chests where they belonged.
In the same paper, Stephen Glover also snorted derisively:
‘Why does anyone take this clown of a poseur seriously?… Russell Brand is a ludicrous charlatan.’
Glover, who had either not read, or not understood a word of the book, commented:
‘Revolution is one of the worst books I have ever read. It is repetitive, structureless, poorly argued (if it can be said to be argued at all) and boring… [from] our narcissistic hero… Why should we listen to this clown?’
Another Daily Mail altruist, Max Hastings, also perceived gross egotism at play:
‘Mr Brand is a strutting narcissist, who, despite having no idea what he is talking about…’
For the now thoroughly corporatised Piers Morgan in the Mail, Brand was a ‘bogus revolutionary… this whole “revolution” he’s trying to wage is a load of old sanctimonious hog-wash’. Morgan was happy to sign-off with a lazy dismissal:
‘Like most great revolutionaries, he’s quite happy wallowing in his own hypocrisy.’
The Mail quoted James Cleverly, Conservative London Assembly Member for Bexley and Bromley:
‘Why do the BBC give so much airtime to the vacuous, narcissistic drivel of Russell Brand?’
We tweeted Cleverly:
‘Exactly how often do you see a Brand-style, anti-corporate perspective on the BBC? Every day?’
Cleverly did not respond.
The Mail also noted that Conservative MP Philip Davies, a member of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, had demanded that the corporation look again at its public service remit:
‘Why on earth are BBC giving so much air time to such an idiot is beyond me. Especially on such supposedly serious programmes.
‘I just don’t think that’s what the BBC is there for. It is not there to give idiots like Russell Brand time to promote his book.’
Boris Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph:
‘Of course his manifesto is nonsense – as I am sure he would be only too happy, in private, to admit… Yes, it is bilge; but that is not the point. Who cares what he really means or what he really thinks?’
For this was ‘semi-religious pseudoeconomic mumbo-jumbo’.
Again, another busy individual who had surely not troubled to seriously read the book.
As with Assange, the intent and effect of all this is to portray Brand as so ridiculous, so pitiable, that the public will feel ashamed to be associated with him and his cause.
The corporate media system, with its fraudulent ‘spectrum’ of opinion, is a hammer that falls with a unified, resounding crash on anyone who dares to challenge elite interests. It works relentlessly to beat down human imagination, creativity and hope, to smash the awareness, love and compassion that might otherwise terminate the ‘nightmare of history’. Is resistance futile? Will they always win?
Well, for once, we will give the corporate press the last word. On November 7, the Daily Mail reported that Brand’s new book ‘has enjoyed monumental sales – earning the star and his publishers a staggering £230,000 in just 11 days’. The Mail, no doubt reluctantly, cited a publishing expert:
‘It’s an awful lot of money to turnaround in such a short period.’
Unmentioned by the Mail, Brand has said that profits from the book will go towards a non-hierarchical, not-for-profit café and production company managed by the workforce ‘where recovering addicts like me can run a business based on the ideas in this book’. (p.593)