Prepare for an onslaught of Che Guevara-style red and black logos, and photoshopped images of one of the UK’s premier nutcases, taking the place of Martin Luther King on a podium in front of thousands, making his own ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. Russell Brand has an educated sounding opinion on politics, that he reeled off during his appearance on BBC’s Newsnight on. He expresses it was a surprisingly wide vocabulary, and has gained Brand an incredible backing by the web.
It seems to rank alongside the opening scene of ‘The Newsroom’, where the lead character badmouths America (to the delight of international viewers) before reminiscing about changes and how the country can return to form (to the relief of US viewers) that ushered in thousands of comments about how it was time for things to change. It has become a viral sensation that has yet again provoked a political pseudo-revolution that excites the internet for a couple of weeks, until a clip of a celebrity covering “The Fox” on Saturday Night Live does the rounds on YouTube.
However, there is something about this situation that grinds my gears far more. It’s not the interview itself (more on that a little later). It isn’t necessarily Russell Brand, nor the support that he has been given. After all, he makes some very convincing (and obviously very popular) points with his answers. It isn’t even the constant references to the meeting as ‘epic’.
It is the backlash that has happened as a result of Brand rising above expectations when faced with a grilling from ‘Britain’s Toughest Journalist’ – the view that he supposedly ‘defeated’ Jeremy Paxman. For example, The Independent’s Simon Kelner stated that “On Newsnight, (Brand) made Paxman look ridiculous”. It’s a view shared by many amongst the thousands of comments left on an upload of the video, though in slightly stronger language.
Paxman is well known for squeezing whatever truth that he can from politicians, and in his methods, letting viewers see that there is more to the interviewee’s angle than they really want to voice. Look no further than his 1997 face-off with former leader of the Conservative Party, Michael Howard.
Having asked Howard the question several times, and it is clear that he will not be getting an answer. As the ‘victim’ was lobbying to become the leader of the Party, in the following few days, this was very much in the public’s interest. This was, no doubt, an all out political smackdown.
This was not Howard’s private life. Access to information on Howard’s actions in the political world has become what it needed to be – transparent. In that instance, as has been the case with many other Paxman political interviews, there was a clear sense of victory. Howard had lost the battle. There is no doubt that for a politician, to leave a Paxman interview unscathed would be a massive relief, and to leave with more respect from the public is a victory.
It was a far friendlier tustle that the internet might have you believe, at least for the first few minutes.
Aside from how Brand is a very popular, attention grabbing figure with a loud voice, speaking for the public as though he will personally make a difference, why did this even happen? Here are a few reasons, and why they shouldn’t be the case.
1. Apologies for beginning by stating the obvious, but Brand is significantly younger than Paxman. However, unlike how lots of comments say that Paxman is ‘behind the times’, I do not think that’s the case. I don’t expect him to be joining in on GTA V anytime soon, I think that as BBC’s premier face of politics, Paxman is well aware of everything that Brand lists, and in fact does not tell him that he is wrong, and may agree with him, something that quite a few people seem to be ignoring (at 3:20)…
“All of these things may be true… I wouldn’t argue with you.”
… but will happily acknowledge:
“Why do I feel so cross with you?”
2. Indeed, in the latter half of the interview, Brand gets very cross, and speaks with enough force to squish anyone against the wall behind them. No matter what he has to say, his ability to induce tinnitus. Did he really ‘silence’ Paxman? No. He was just bloody loud, and Paxman didn’t lose his cool.
3. Brand is apparently allowed to do this, being a celebrity, already known for his eccentricity. In my opinion, were a politician in Brand’s position, and stated what he did with equal fury, they would have been given far less sympathy. In being angry, even if saying what so many want to hear, he/she would appear out of control, something that a politician could do without showing off.
4. Paxman seems to make accusations that Brand does relatively well in protecting himself. This is just what Paxman does to everybody: finds flaws in the interviewee’s ideals for them to defend, for example…
- 0:20 “… You can’t even be arsed to vote”. Yes, this was harshly worded, but considering the context, this was not about Brand’s views on political schemes, but on his position at The New Statesman. Paxman points out that Brand’s objection to the current political system, which the magazine covers, that it may technically make him inappropriate. He wants Brand’s reasons, not for him to fall flat and not have any, whether they are decent reasons or not.
- 1:30 “Why should we listen to you?” He is deliberately provoking Brand to tell him what
- 2:10 The drug addiction bit. This is a continuation of asking why he should be listened to. Brand has just mentioned outright that he has been immoral in the past, so he’s asking what has changed.)
- 3:40 “You are a trivial man.” I’ll admit here that this was harsh, but definitely a deliberate (and successful attempt) to provoke Brand to defend himself.
- 7:10 Paxman asks whether Brand thinks that politicians may be overwhelmed by problems. This is an issue that has not be discussed and another relevant subject – seeing if Brand has more to say on whether the current system is flawed as it faces troubles, or whether the troubles are down to direct immorality. This again isn’t a straight accusation.
- Dotted about the interview, Brand receives the Michael Howard treatment and is asked about what his revolution would consist of. As Brand, more than once, seems not to answer this and continues to complain about the present day’s system without a solid vision of what he wants from the future. Paxman wants either an answer, or confession that Brand doesn’t have that vision, and gets the latter.
If these were straight accusations, seeking to destroy Brand, then Paxman would tell him that he was wrong – something that at no point happens, and on more than one occasion states that he agrees.
5. Sadly, it’s quite possible that (and hopefully I don’t sound like an elitist mourning death of intelligence on the internet – there are many others, probably including Paxman, who can do that) how Brand makes his points despite being goofy, can be seen as the ultimate insult. He flamboyantly addresses Paxman as ‘darling’ and calls his beard ‘gorgeous’. Later in the interview (6:40), he addresses this and makes a few very interesting points.
“I’m here just to draw attention to ideas. I just want to have a little bit of a laugh.”
A nutcase has just lived up to the interviewer, something that you might expect to be something that any journalist would resent.
It might have been a surprise, but if anything this was fantastic for both. Brand here begins to state his opinion in impressive language. As has been pointed out by many, his speech was laced with impressive words, but ultimately, Brand isn’t being a revolutionary, but more an ‘alarm’ – shouting a list of problems louder than any mere mortal member of the public has been able to (with or without the luxury of a microphone). For example:
“They shouldn’t destroy the planet, shouldn’t create massive economic disparity, shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people.” We know.
Fittingly, after using Michael Howard as an example, Paxman did ‘threaten to overrule’ Brand, but only if Brand could not face up to him with educated answers, something that Brand provided. Consider it not as an argument, but more as an interrogation – Brand passed the ‘Paxman test’. Both men got exactly what they wanted. This was a perfect ten-minutes-and-forty-six seconds from both men. Paxman brought out Brand’s true colours, and Brand was given a brilliant canvas to express his views in a way that no other interjecting interviewer (the O’Reillys and Beck’s of the world) ever has, and probably ever will allow.