Posts tagged ‘Newsnight’

October 12, 2010

Brand vs. Paxman

Last week I caught the Russell Brand interview on Newsnight (2nd Oct). It really struck me. I thought that Brand had some very astute observations on celebrity culture. So I wrote up a 700 word article and sent it to The Spectator; I thought it might interest them. I haven’t heard anything back. Slightly frustrating but not surprising; I’m sure they have bigger fish to fry – like sharks or something.

A few days later I sent it to The Week, but again, no reply. I suspect I will get it published in the student newspaper The Courier, but for those who can’t wait that long – and you will have to – here it is.

I have never been disposed to give much thought towards celebrity. I didn’t take a second look when Jade Goody fell from grace. I try and avoid registering Beckham’s new hair or Coleen’s latest fashion tips. Even when I was a teenager I never bunked off school to go to the newsagents at the bottom of the road to buy a red top so I could gawp at page 3 with my mates. I am an impenetrable fortress. Or so I thought.

Last week one celebrity donned an intellectual disguise and made an appearance on Newsnight. Russell Brand. A scowl cemented itself on my face when I read about it in the Radio Times. Paxman, what are you doing? Don’t sink to that level, and anyway the whole furore of– I’m going to say it –the Sachsgate scandal has surely passed I told myself. I wanted to find out more. I googled it – yes it’s a verb. Brand has a new book. I scowl at my computer screen. I scowl at the dog. ‘Paxman’, I say under my breath.

Brand is one of the most preposterous men you will ever see or hear. I do not know of any other person who rolls their r’s and glottal stops in the same sentence. At first, he seems like a raving lunatic. He uses similes constantly, he rants, he talks non-stop flinging limbs in the air to punctuate every word only taking a breath mid. Sentence and then he’s off again talking about something else: he makes up words like transmography and he talks about how he was ‘born to be famous’.

But then he stops.

And Paxman takes over. And Paxman is calm. And Paxman is sensible. And Paxman is – ah – intellectual. And Brand’s voice isn’t ringing in my ears anymore, and I feel the warmth of familiarity. Until I think for a minute and I realise that instead of subconsciously letting Brand’s words drift off into the waste paper basket of my memory they are permeating into my brain, slowly sinking down layer by layer, and in a great turn of events I begin to agree with him.

He calls fame for fame’s sake ‘a spectacle’ and ‘an illusion’. He recognises that the media conjugates a narrative within celebrity to boost sales. This is the point when I start to realise that behind the grand persona is intelligence and thought. Would you believe that he’s got opinions on art and politics and society? One wonders why he puts his act on. Is he like it at home? Or when he goes round his Mum’s for Sunday dinner? Surely if he took a step back from the media and dropped his over-excitable character he would be taken more seriously. Once you see through the layers of shiny hair and designer scarves you begin to respect his opinion. More than that, you begin to like him.

The interview builds and Brand gets more and more worked up to a point of disclosed confession, he talks of being famous, ‘It’s… [he stops himself from swearing] it’s tiresome.’ Tiresome? ‘A pain in the arse,’ he says. I’m sorry? I’m glued to the TV set. I’m gripping my arm chair. I’m mouthing words to myself. I don’t even know what I’m saying. I’m astonished.

That’s all I can do to explain it really. He’s right. He’s articulating my opinion on celebrity.  And I can’t stop him. As I watch, he is saying more and more, and Paxman is agreeing with him, and Brand is agreeing with Paxman, and all of a sudden this man has gone from dandy socialite to society’s conscience.

Brand seems to be stuck between two worlds. He wanted to be famous and now he is, but in becoming famous he has found that his cris de coeur is contentment with himself. He says that he is searching for god through transcendental meditation. He won’t find god there, however hard he tries, but in seeking fame Brand has tapped into the heart of contemporary society: public validation vs. internal contentment. The real problem for me though is that I know this interview will get completely forgotten. A Socrates-esc Brand doesn’t sell newspapers. Or books. Or pop records.