The New Left: Achieving Lily White Status

Media Lens gets a lot of things right, and so, it is disappointing when they succumb to what is, increasingly, a tendency on the left to punish lack of purity.

Russell Brand is a comedian. I have no real opinion on his value as such because I’ve not really seen enough. But I did see his interview on the BBC with Jeremy Paxman. What he said was clear, honest, and, yes, obvious. That is a germane point in all this; what he said is what almost everyone should be saying. The system in place is anti-democratic, and institutionalizes inequality. Electoral politics is pointless in a system this rigged. There is nothing earth shattering about these obvious facts.

Brand is not a theoretician. He is not even an activist. He is a well paid millionaire comic. But Media Lens takes him to task for not including a critique of the BBC, on which he was appearing. Well, um, if he were to do that, he WOULDN’T be appearing on the BBC. And Media Lens knows this because, in a sense, they conclude the whole assault on Brand by quoting Chomsky:

“‘If I started getting public media exposure,” he once said, “I’d think I were doing something wrong. Why should any system of power offer opportunities to people who are trying to undermine it? That would be crazy.”

Now, Chomsky has, on rare occasions, been allowed on corporate-state media. Not often. Glenn Greenwald recently appeared on the odious Bill Maher show, and managed to make a number of cogent points before being cut off (and not asked back). Still, Greenwald is getting a platform. Gore Vidal once said, don’t pass up any chance to appear and speak in a platform that reaches huge numbers of people (I paraphrase). But the point is correct. In an era of increasing hegemonic control of information, and mediation of daily life by a vast system of electronic entertainment, and disinformation, people should applaud the few places where truths are spoken.

Do I think Brand is going to foment revolution? Of course not. But given the vast array of deserving fascist targets, it strikes me as pointless, and worse, counterproductive, to attack a comedian and guest editor (for New Statesman) for telling the truth. Now, did the BBC know what was going to be said? Well, they certainly were perfectly capable of editing out what they didn’t like so I’m guessing they saw nothing threatening in what Brand said. That however does not mean it wasn’t, on one level, threatening all the same. The arrogance of power being what it is, I suspect deeply that Paxman probably believes he exposed Brand as a silly egotistical and politically immature clown. And he would be wrong. My point is, critique the likes of Rachel Maddow or Maher, or Jon Stewart, for their endless soft critique of the ruling state, or critique and attack the idiotic posturing of George Clooney or Angelina Jolie for their photo ops with smiling African children, and asylum seekers, with statements crafted by the U.S. state department. Those celebrity appearances are directly damaging propaganda. They are pro Imperialist propaganda. But Russell Brand should be congratulated for waking up politically, and using his airtime to say things that need saying. John Cusak has recently done some excellent work on behalf of independent journalists, and one might never have suspected that was coming. Do we want to attack for Cusak for a number of bad movies he’s made? One has to know, that of course, anything of substantive radical content is going to be censored. That is what corporate and government controlled media does. But on occasion, circumstances allow someone to speak the truth.

To attack Brand for what he DIDNT say is just a tedious tendency on the left to demand purity. Did Brand say anything that was wrong? No, and Media Lens admits this. It’s what he didn’t say , and what THEY think he should have said, that gives them motivation to attack him.

Here is Media Lens again:

It is understandable that there was much praise for Russell Brand’s Newsnight interview and New Statesman essay. To a large extent, this signifies the desperation of people to hear any challenge to the power-protecting propaganda that we are force-fed every day. But two crucial factors here are that Brand was selected to appear by media gatekeepers; and that media institutions, notably the BBC, escaped serious scrutiny. If Brand was a serious threat to the broadcaster’s projected image as a beacon of impartiality, he would not have been chosen.

Well, define serious threat. And secondly, it is irrelevant if Brand was ‘selected’ by the BBC. He is a celebrity, that is reason enough to be selected. But if more celebrities said things as righteous as Brand did, I wonder what might happen. So he was selected, and if he was a serious threat in their opinion, he would not have had this airtime and not been selected. See where this is going? But he was invited, and he used his interview opportunity wonderfully. Would Media Lens be happier had he not appeared? Brand is a celebrity in a celebrity addicted culture. People, many people, will listen to him. He said obvious things, but things that I rarely hear in mainstream media. He was amusing and articulate and unafraid. He also didn’t even mention his upcoming tour. So, what was his crime exactly? He didn’t openly attack the BBC, I guess. Which, had he so done, the interview would have been dropped. Gee, that would have been much better.

John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwrighting. He's had plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. He has taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. Plays include The Shaper, Dream Coast, Standard of the Breed, The Thrill, Wheel of Fortune, Dogmouth, and Phantom Luck, which won the 2010 LA Award for best play. Film credits include 52 Pick-up (directed by John Frankenheimer, 1985) and Animal Factory (directed by Steve Buscemi, 1999). A collection of his plays was published in 1999 by Sun & Moon Press as Sea of Cortez and Other Plays. He lives with wife Gunnhild Skrodal Steppling; they divide their time between Norway and the high desert of southern California. He is artistic director of the theatre collective Gunfighter Nation. Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

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  1. par4 said on November 1st, 2013 at 12:46pm #

    Good post.