Russell Brand is back, with another incredible performance – and that is what it has to be, given the paradigm of debate he is forced into. This 15-minute interview with Ch4’s Jon Snow starts slowly, focusing on Brand’s efforts to change Britain’s primitive drugs laws. But it rapidly widens out into a fascinating ideological clash between the old order and the new. Again, the old order wants to discredit his argument that we should not legitimise our corrupt political systems by voting for them.
The most interesting thing about these confrontations is watching Brand’s skilful manoeuvring as he refuses to allow himself to be intellectually sidetracked or cornered. It’s like watching an Olympic athlete. He has to use every skill in his considerable emotional and intellectual armoury: humour, matiness, intelligence, quick-wittedness, compassion, muted anger. So few of us have quite such a complete range of talents.
This looks like hard work even for Brand. The reason is not that Snow is intellectually superior or has the better arguments; it is simply an illustration of power. Snow is representing the elite consensus, the version of reality that we are presented with day in, day out by the corporate media. Snow does not have to make his case, because his case is assumed to be the rational, sensible one. He can simply concentrate on various lines of attack. Brand, on the other hand, has both to turn complex, rarely expressed, non-intuitive arguments into soundbites and to ward off Snow’s attempts to discredit him at the same time. That is hard, exhausting work – and one senses how difficult it is even for Brand.
Nonetheless he joins the ranks of the tiny number of people, like Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald, who can do this against these very experienced enforcers of consensus.
The treatment of Brand in this and other interviews by the corporate media is a useful reminder that the system is precisely designed to silence, intimidate and marginalise those who challenge the manufactured consensus. Those like Brand, Chomsky and Greenwald whom the corporate media cannot easily ignore but who can also stand their ground against the onslaught provide a rare chance for us to understand that media debate does not have to be this way.
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