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Russell Brand: Can he avoid being coopted?

A fine essay from Media Lens on the treacherous ground that Russell Brand is treading in airing his revolutionary message on corporate media like the BBC. There is much to mull over in the points they raise about Brand’s aversion during his Jeremy Paxman interview to pointing the finger at one set of corporations – media like the BBC – and how this risks allowing his message to be coopted.

I’m not sure, however, I am as pessimistic as ML in thinking that Brand is unlikely to represent a potential threat to corporate power. The comparison made here with the British Greens of the 1980s, people like Jonathan Porritt, does not seem quite right to me. However unfairly, Porritt and the Greens were seen at that time largely as sanctimonious and / or middle-class twits. Admittedly my memory of that period is not great, but I don’t remember Porritt talking publicly during his BBC appearances of revolution and overthrowing the rich.

What makes Brand different from such forerunners is that he adds an aura of cool and comedy to his message. That’s not entirely a good thing, of course – distracting us, as it inevitably does, with the world of celebrity and MTV. But at the same time his outspokenness does make it easier for the rest of us to speak up, without immediately being dismissed as killjoys or teenage class warriors. That intellectual liberation could have unintended consequences. Once we come out of the closet, we may be surprised at quite how many like-minded people there are out there.

Also, I’m not sure to what extent I agree with the following:

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.

Noam Chomsky has a cautionary note on high-profile exposure in the corporate media:

‘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.’

Yes, I think that has been historically true. But, as I have mentioned before, we are witnessing the media in a moment of profound crisis and they have no choice but to adopt new strategies to deal with that crisis, including ones that may prove clumsy in terms of their own interests.

As public discontent mounts, especially as expressed through new media, the traditional corporate media have to respond. Certainly, they would prefer to coopt the message of popular revolutionaries like Brand, both to strengthen their own brand (sic) image and to dilute revolutionary fervour. But in doing so, they are being forced to play with fire. They want to coopt the message of the Brands but they may end up opening Pandora’s box.

It is difficult to overestimate the power of the media. But here we just may be doing so.

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