14 Sep 2008

This is exactly what I was saying on a few forums/blogs the day after the MTV awards...

India Knight, a columnist for the London Times, wrote the following about English comedian Russell Brand's hosting of the recent MTV Music awards and the ensuing broohaha...

(Reprinted in full from The Sunday Times. original article
here)


From The Sunday Times

September 14, 2008

The funny thing is Brand let America off lightly

India Knight

The comedian Russell Brand, who is candid about the fact that his ambition is even bigger than his enormous nesty hair, presented the MTV video music awards last week. The show goes out live and is a very big deal in America, where Brand is, or was, largely unknown; it was watched this year by 8.4m people.

During his opening speech, he urged viewers to vote for Barack Obama, adding that though Americans were clearly open-minded people, since they’d let “that retarded cowboy fella” do his thing for eight years (“in Britain, we wouldn’t trust him with a pair of scissors”), it might be time to “let someone else have a go”. He went on to make jokes about Sarah Palin and about the “purity rings” worn by the Jonas Brothers, a wholesome teenage band who like to advertise their virginity through the wearing of jewellery – jewel-assisted virginity being, presumably, superior to the ordinary kind. (It’s only a matter of time before some American pop star broadcasts her sexual innocence by means of a huge, clanking chastity belt.)

Brand is a stand-up comedian, so he stood up and made jokes. Since he is a comedian rather than a children’s entertainer, the jokes had some edge, though his humour is observational and absurd rather than vicious: he doesn’t do great bitchy tirades. The jokes were funny, and were made funnier still by the nonplussed reaction of parts of the audience. He’s making jokes about our president! He’s making jokes about sex! He’s teasing the little Christian singers! He’s a Brit!

Never mind that this material was Brand Lite, sanitised for America: swathes of the viewing public were instantly outraged and keen to express their revulsion by flooding internet forums and news sites. Their comments were startling in their toxicity, taking in everything from Brand’s appearance – he’s a plain-looking fellow, apparently – to his heroin habit (he’s been free of drugs since 2003) to how he isn’t funny to Christian people, ergo needs to be hunted and shot. There was also lots of chippiness about how the UK is a “Third World country” and nobody in the US cares about it or anybody it has ever produced (um . . . Mayflower? Plymouth Rock? Oh, never mind). Television news and entertainment channels talked of nothing else for days, editorials were written, the blogosphere went mad: you get the picture.

America is so odd. They’re not weird in New York, or in California, and I know vast swathes of the country are packed to the gills with charming, lovely, clever people. They produce brilliant stand-up comedians themselves, and make some of the world’s best television and cinema. They have writers and actors and musicians of genius; the cliché about America being culturally barren is untrue. But you do worry about the rest of the populace when they threaten to do physical harm to a comedian for daring to suggest that Dubya, the least popular president in modern American history, doesn’t perhaps come across as being quite the full shilling. The vociferous commentators on MTV’s website can’t all have been fiftysomething Republicans whose sensibilities had been offended; they must have included a proportion of MTV’s viewers, broadly aged 16-24. How is it possible for young people to be so reactionary?

The issue seemed to be a) that non-Americans have no right to express any kind of opinion about the world’s only remaining superpower; b) that it’s not nice to say “retarded” (which it isn’t, especially, but– and I say this as the mother of a child with special needs – it is surely a matter of context. Besides, Americans like nothing better than the word “spaz”, so frankly we’re splitting hairs); c) that there’s nothing funny or odd about chastity rings (except there is: they’re completely absurd). This third point is especially peculiar given America’s vast, bottomless appetite for pornography, to say nothing of its fondness for sexualising female children: see the country’s tradition of toddler beauty queens in 3in heels and pancake. Britney Spears, the other star of this year’s VMAs, became America’s sweetheart at 17 by grinding and pouting while wearing a micro school uniform and her hair in bunches. Then she went a bit mad – gee, I wonder why – and America hated her for being fallible and human. The bile directed at Brand is nothing compared with the venom poor Spears endured for years. Then she looked hot again, so everything was fine.

I interviewed Brand last month; he was about to go back to LA for these awards. He was charming and bright, cerebral as well as motor-mouthed. He felt a certain trepidation about the VMAs, being fully aware that presenting them would catapult him into the American consciousness overnight. The awards haven’t done his US profile any harm: viewing figures were up 19% this year and MTV has asked him to host again next year. But his friend David Baddiel told me on Friday: “I think he was maybe a little surprised by the level of rage. He said he could imagine feeling that angry only if someone said something about his mum. What’s bizarre is that his remarks would be considered tepid in this country – it’s a massively disproportionate response to someone saying something very mildly out of turn.” Baddiel added that the script would have been checked by MTV, “which means you got maybe 10% of what he’d have liked to have said – he was operating at a fraction of his taboo-busting capabilities”.

The whole episode is like a parable about the differences between the US and the UK: so much common ground and yet such oceans between us. It isn’t about whether you find Brand funny or not: there’s always the “off” switch. It’s about the peculiar contradictions that seem to define modern America: the love of free speech and pride in democracy, coupled with bottomless abuse for anyone who has the temerity to voice dissent. The devotion to the flag, in people who strike some of us as trying their hardest to make the world dislike America. The sanctification of sexual purity versus the insatiable appetite for porn. And, above all, the sanctimony.

The only way of dealing with that kind of mindset is to joke about it, which is what Brand did. I’m glad of it: his performance was a useful reminder that sometimes jokes aren’t only funny, but necessary.

7 comments:

Cam said...

Personally, I just didn't care for Brand's style of humor. See, as a conservative, I can laugh at jabs made at the Republican party on shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and The Onion because, well, let's face it, they're pointing out the obvious and the satirical. Brand didn't seem like he was trying to be funny, he looked like he was trying to be persuasive. Never have I felt like The Daily Show has encouraged me to vote one way or another despite their writers being all liberal. It's not their place as a comedy news show and as Americans. Yet, a Brit who is frankly unheard of in this country tells us who to vote for? He said "I don’t want to come across a little bit biased," but how is he not?

And, I'm not one to protect the Jonas Brothers, but I think it's very encouraging for young teens, especially girls, to wear purity rings. Once again, his style of comedy didn't come off as making fun of something that Christians do, but rather just being an ass. Him apologizing for it later just proves that he knew it was wrong and not funny. Oh, and let's not forget how he was fired after coming to work dressed as Osama bin Laden the day after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Real classy guy you Brits brewed up there.

RE: "It isn’t about whether you find Brand funny or not: there’s always the “off” switch."
No, it is about whether I find him funny or not because changing the channel is exactly what I did. If it was for political reasons, I would have listened to everything he had to say and respond to it. But, why should I be thinking about that when I just want to watch some music awards given out?

I think the community reaction is expected. People on both the left and right didn't care for Brand much. In fact, I think he hurt the Democratic party a little and find it funny that most leftists defend the man. Just goes to show how desperate they are in this upcoming election.

In the end, not only was Brand ineffective in his endorsement of Obama, but he wasn't even a good host. He will be forgotten in a year.

Carlos said...

OK, you knew I had to respond.

First, you've not done your research on a couple of things...

"Him apologizing for it later just proves that he knew it was wrong and not funny." - actually, that's incorrect. MTV made him apologize. In subsequent interviews with the British press and on his BBC Radio 2 show (which you can download as a free podcast on iTunes), he explains how the producers forced him to apologize during one of the commercial breaks.

"Oh, and let's not forget how he was fired after coming to work dressed as Osama bin Laden the day after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Real classy guy you Brits brewed up there." - Brand's former addictions to crack, heroin and alcohol have been well-documented both in the UK press and in his subsequent autobiography. He is now clean, but has repeatedly apologized for the foolish things he did while he was an addict, especially dressing up as OBL. Recent interviews in Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone confirm this.

"People on both the left and right didn't care for Brand much." - do you have one example of a left-wing commentator who didn't find him funny? Check out The Huffington Post for lefties who did.

"but he wasn't even a good host. He will be forgotten in a year." - actually, mon ami, I think you'll find that the very day after the awards he was invited back to host next year...which he accepted. Also, he has the leading role in one of Judd Apatow's upcoming projects - "Get Him to the Greek," which is a sqeuel/spinoff of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I don't think the AMerican public will be "forgetting" him any time soon.

Now that that's all out of the way, I can understand if you didn't like him as a host. To each their own, as they say.

"I think it's very encouraging for young teens, especially girls, to wear purity rings." "especially girls"? Wow. Sexism AND puritanical thinking, all in one sentence! Purity rings? A load of shit. He was right to make fun of them. Kids are going to be kids. They will have sex. The only thing we can do as parents is try to educate them on the reasons why it's good to wait but also, more importantly, on contraception - the pill, condoms, etc. Sex isn't a bad or dirty thing, though it should be between consenting adults (which incidentally is the age of 16 in most of Europe for both hetero- and homo-sexuals, as it should be). Had Sarah Palin educated her daughter a little bit better, for example, on birth control methods, her pregnancy might not have happened. Jesus fucking Christ, Americans are so fucking hung up on sex, yet guns and violence - for example showing Lethal Weapon and Predator at 10 am in the morning - are fine.

"In the end, not only was Brand ineffective in his endorsement of Obama" - I think you'll find that the MAJORITY of the audience cheered when he endorsed Obama.

Cam said...

"He explains how the producers forced him to apologize during one of the commercial breaks." Forced him? How? Like, the producer withheld his cocaine or something? It's an awards show that's filmed live. He doesn't have to do everything the producers say. Him blaming the producers is a common excuse from anyone who is scared to say what's truly on their mind. If he's worried about something he says ending his career, then he's more fake than I already think he is.

"Check out The Huffington Post for lefties who did." No. HuffPo is not a site I visit or trust... ever. "Do you have one example of a left-wing commentator who didn't find him funny?" No, but I didn't really look and I was talking about some liberals in general. Most of them were worried that Brand's endorsement would hurt Obama's rating in the polls, which it did. They are also worried because the last time some uneducated prick told us who to vote for, they got GW. Read lots of comments on how they think he did more damage than good. Of course the commentators will take any opportunity to show how most celebrities lean a certain way.

"I think you'll find that the very day after the awards he was invited back to host next year...which he accepted." No, no, no, no. A producer told him that he should sign up to host again next year, which he has NOT accepted. Hardly an official statement from MTV that he will be hosting the 2009 VMAs.

"Purity rings? A load of shit." You didn't prove to me that purity rings are dumb in your paragraph. You just complained about them. I'm not saying that they're going to protect every single person who wears them from having sex. To believe such a thing would be absurd. And I only said especially girls because girls are more likely to wear rings. Don't put words in my mouth, Carlos. He also said right after apologizing that "a bit of sex occasionally never hurt anybody." This coming from a man who you say was a sex addict? I will encourage my daughter and any future children not to have sex until they are married. I'm sure there are plenty of other families out there that feel the same way. It's not that I think sex is dirty and should never be talked about. I do see how you are appalled at the fact that violent movies can play on TV during the morning and afternoon. I'm not going to try and defend that. But to think that my morals aren't worthy of anything is offensive. Sex is a great thing and it's an even better thing when you have saved yourself for the one that you love. I did it and I don't regret it for a single second. "He was right to make fun of them." But that's my point exactly, he didn't make fun of them. He just attacked them. Not funny. Remember, we are talking about comedy here.

And of course you had to bring Palin's daughter into this. Any excuse to bring her up. You know, there's a very big difference between attacking a candidate and attacking her daughter. I'm sure Governor Palin and her husband educated their children very well. It's not completely uncommon for a son or daughter in any family to get pregnant... democrats and republicans alike. Now, if Governor Palin were guilty of sexual misbehavior of course she would be fair game -- and I'm sure the media would show none of the restraint they displayed when it came to pursuing the very credible stories about John Edwards. But Governor Palin (who celebrated her 20th anniversary this year) appears to enjoy a romantic and satisfying marriage. The libs attacking Bristol, her daughter, would be like conservatives attacking Chelsea's dating life. We never stooped that low.

"I think you'll find that the MAJORITY of the audience cheered when he endorsed Obama." Of course they did. All this does is prove conservative's points when it comes to Hollywood/media and the the left. These celebrities, while creative and imaginative, are some of the most unintelligent people in the world. To be thinking on the same level as them is downright confusing to me. My point was that I don't think he brought in any new voters with his endorsement.

Carlos said...

OK. This is the last I'll comment on this. I'll even let you have the last word if you want.

OK. Facetiousness is a strong trait of yours, yes? And semantics. You're right. Nobody can force anybody to do anything. They ASKED him to apologize. Better? But let me ask, what's more likely? Your assumption that he "realized it wasn't funny" and then apologized (for which you have absolutely no evidence, as usual), or that they made him apologize (which at least has the evidence of him saying they did in the UK press and on his radio show, as I stated)?

I wrote "Do you have one example of a left-wing commentator who didn't find him funny?" to which you responded "No, but I didn't really look and I was talking about some liberals in general." Hmmm. "No but I didn't really look." Then you wrote "Most of them were worried that Brand's endorsement would hurt Obama's rating in the polls" and "They are also worried." You say "them" and "they." Once again, you don't have a single name of a liberal commentator who didn't find him funny, yet you continue to make these silly statements anyway, EVEN AFTER I CALLED YOU OUT ABOUT IT!! And I'm not surprised in the slightest you don't read HuffPo. Why would you? The site doesn't conform to your opinions. I'm sorry, but that is TYPICAL right-wing behavior. I, on the other hand, visit the Fox News website and The Drudge Report at least once a week just to see what the other side are saying. I also tune to Fox News for the same reason. Certainly, I watch MSNBC (because I agree with them more, obviously), CNN, HuffPo and NPR (perhaps the most balanced of all media outlets) most of the time, but I do pay attention to the other side regularly. You should try it. Your opinions/views would mean more.

"No, no, no, no. A producer told him that he should sign up to host again next year, which he has NOT accepted. Hardly an official statement from MTV that he will be hosting the 2009 VMAs." Again, you obviously haven't listened to his radio show or read the UK press where he said he was offered the job and would like to host again, but then, I didn't expect you to. Also, "official" announcements about hosting duties aren't GENERALLY released until at least a few months before the show.

"You didn't prove to me that purity rings are dumb in your paragraph." *Sigh* I didn't try to "prove" or convince you of anything. I long ago stopped trying to do this when I discovered that it's not in your nature to admit when you're wrong about something (and you certainly never would to me). I just try to point out when your facts are incorrect and give you MY opinion about something. Believe me, you're a lost cause when it comes to trying to make you see something that doesn't conform to your world view. The fact is I (as in Me!) think purity rings are stupid because the whole idea of saving yourself until marriage is stupid (again, IMO). I agree that sex is more special when it's with someone you love. That doesn't mean it isn't highly enjoyable when it's with someone you just want to shag, though! You said "I will encourage my daughter and any future children not to have sex until they are married. I'm sure there are plenty of other families out there that feel the same way." Cam, that's your right. I think you're wrong, but I think also that of all the things you're wrong about (and boy, there are many!!) that this isn't something to get worked up about and is quite mild. It's one of those issues that I disagree with, but can see/understand the other side.

"This coming from a man who you say was a sex addict?" Um, can you tell me where I said (or even implied) that he was a SEX addict? Who is putting words into whose mouth now, Cam?

"But that's my point exactly, he didn't make fun of them." Uh, that's EXACTLY what he did. He's a comedian, remember?

I'm not attacking Palin at all and despite the fact that you say "The libs attacking Bristol," I haven't seen one liberal commentator "attack" Palin OR her daughter over this (again, if you can give me one name...). In fact, as I'm sure you know, Obama has repeatedly said that it's a private matter and not subject for coverage or conjecture. My point in mentioning it was that a little sex EDUCATION (in the form of contraception) is quite obviously better than "just don't do it!!" The only people who have "attacked" teenage pregnancy (as in the case, for example, of Jamie-Lynn Spears) are right-wing blowhards like O'Reilly (as evidenced in the clip from The Daily Show I posted).

Please don't embarrass youself by saying "We (meaning Republicans/conservatives) never stooped that low" when even Karl fucking Rove (!) has denounced McCain's attack ads as "going too far."

"These celebrities, while creative and imaginative, are some of the most unintelligent people in the world." Hmmm. You love what they do and commend their creativity and imagination, but think they're dumb. Do you REALLY think they're dumb or is just because they have the temerity to disagree with you? For me, I think celebs like Kelsey Grammar and Kevin Costner are intelligent (and yes, I think even you are intelligent!), but are simply wrong (for whatever reason(s) that may be) on some of the social and economic issues in the U.S.

Finally, I found it interesting that you didn't comment fully on my retort. You had nothing to say about my informing you of his drug addiction and subsequent apologies about the OBL incident. You also had nothing to say about his upcming starring role in "Get Him to the Greek" despite your contention that he will be "forgotten in a year." It takes a big person (or just an adult) to admit when he/she is wrong. You must learn to do this yourself from time to time if you want your arguments/comments to be taken seriously.

Me? I'm wrong a lot. Just ask Courtney!

There. I'm done. If you want to comment again, I promise not to respond!

Cam said...

Alright. Thanks for the final word.

When I said "I was talking about some liberals in general" I meant people like you and others who comment on stories. Not commentators. When I'm saying "they" and "them", I'm talking about your average liberal. You're right, no commentator said they think Brand's comments were damaging. I looked. But on the other hand, I never claimed that only commentators specifically were complaining about him, I used liberals in a general sense. I'm only talking about public comments from liberals. I read Digg a lot which has a huge liberal community. Here's one example out of many similar ones I found from a Democrat: "I cringed every time Russell Brand spoke. He was so offensive and not funny. I'm a Democrat and I couldn't even stand his Republican-bashing!"

Just because I don't read HuffPo doesn't mean I only watch/read/visit right-wing material. First off, I work at Microsoft Studios, so what do you think we have playing in our building 24/7? MSNBC... your fave, right? My favorite online news site? CNN. Both are left-leaning, so to say that I don't see what the other side is saying is wrong. HuffPo, DailyKos, Drudge, and Townhall are all sites I don't visit because of how much they bend and twist facts to their liking.

If I didn't like his hosting, why would I listen to his radio show? The latest quote I can find on him hosting again is "It is the hardest thing I've ever done and I will think very carefully about accepting." If he's saying otherwise, no one is talking about it.

Thanks for understanding the whole wait for sex until marriage thing.

"Um, can you tell me where I said (or even implied) that he was a SEX addict? Who is putting words into whose mouth now, Cam?" You're absolutely right, Carlos. No where did you say that Brand was a sex addict. I read about it here on a UK news site and got my Brits confused. My point still stands.

"I haven't seen one liberal commentator "attack" Palin OR her daughter over this (again, if you can give me one name...)." It was all over Daily Kos the Friday after the VP announcement was made, but I'm sure your excuse would be that they are not official commentators. Obama's camp has bent over backwards to keep the subject of Bristol private, and I commend that. That doesn't stop the media from continuing to remind us every hour about it though.

"My point in mentioning it was that a little sex EDUCATION (in the form of contraception) is quite obviously better than 'just don't do it!!'" I don't think that's what Palin wants. She wants abstinence to be taught in conjunction with contraception. I see this argument a lot. The same goes for teaching creationism in school. She wants it IN CONJUNCTION WITH evolution.

Ah, the Jamie Lynn defense... another I've seen already. Here's the difference between the two. Jamie Lynn Spear = a role model that young impressionable girls were looking up to. Bristol Palin = daughter of a woman running for VP who no one even heard of until less than a month ago. I'm not defending Bill O'Reilly because I don't really care for him, but to compare JLS with Bristol is silly. We never stooped so low to attack a President's children's personal life. Find me an example of that.

Yes, people can be creative, and dumb. Ludacris. That is my example. Man I love that guys' rhymes, but I have more intelligence in my toe hair than he does in his entire brain. Same goes for most other celebs.

"You had nothing to say about my informing you of his drug addiction and subsequent apologies about the OBL incident." What would I have to say about that? It's expected of someone of his calibur. I forgive him, but that doesn't mean I think he's funny all of a sudden.

"You also had nothing to say about his [upcoming] starring role in "Get Him to the Greek" despite your contention that he will be "forgotten in a year." Alright, so maybe he'll be around longer for a year, but he'll be liked just as much as someone like Tom Green.

I so want to talk to you about other things now like Kitchen Nightmares and Ghost Town. E-mail me or something.

Courtney said...

Cam,
Hey, this is Courtney, Carlos's wife. I just wanted to commend you for representing yourself and your ideas in such a sophisticated manner. So often we come across people (on both sides of the political spectrum) who turn into 3 year olds when it comes to making their point. You need to spread some of what ever you've got around!

Cam said...

Heh, thanks Courtney. I come across those people quite often myself and typically don't respond, so it's nice to be able to talk to Carlos like this. I re-read our replies after I publish them and think to myself that if people didn't know who Carlos and I were, they'd think we're mortal enemies. But really, he's the longest Air Force friend I've had.

That, and who else can I talk to about Little Britain, Extras, and Gordon Ramsay? No one around here knows what/who any of those shows/people are.