The attacks on Russell Brand show that we are paranoid about our politics

We’ve all seen it. Russell Brand’s interview with Jeremy Paxman this week has caused a stirring of the pants and a stirring of the bowels among social media patrons. And we’ve all seen the whinging.

Very few informed people – and those who did are deserving of praise – commented approvingly on Brand’s interview and essay in this week’s New Statesman, which the comedian also edited. That is, very few applauded on the argument’s own merits or its value in the context of global inequality and political disenfranchisement.

The first line of attack was accusing Brand of being too reductionist, simplifying vastly complicated processes of capital and social relations, as if in a 10-minute interview in which Paxman asked him two questions with discernably different content and a 5,000-word essay he is expected to coherently address the inadequacies of international capitalism. Paxman was not there to listen.

The second attack was that Brand was not an economist/philosopher/social scientist, etc, and so should not be making such arguments. Instead, it goes, he should not be getting involved unless he is an expert. Staggeringly undemocratic, this argument also claims it contrary to progress to have the unqualified talking on things they know nothing about. (This argument also took the form of poking fun at Brand’s ‘bad’ writing.)

This neatly leads to the third line of attack. Brand is an actor and therefore his opinion either has no value for the reasons above, or that he must guard against propagating any political thoughts of his own because people who listen – that is, idiots – will just gleefully and dumbly hoover up his words like they are greedily devouring truffles. As such, this argument goes, celebrities operate in a different sphere of influence to us mere lumpenproletariat and a different one again to the intellectuals, so Brand should butt out. Leave it to Chomsky and Žižek to duke it out. It is startling how often this argument is made by ‘liberals’ or ‘democrats’.

What do these arguments tell us about social media users, and thus about our political climate? It shows us that educated, mostly left-wing people are paranoid. They are paranoid that their cynicism is being undercut by a bubbling of optimism about the future, whether that be a revolutionary one or not. They are paranoid that they aren’t the only Marxist in the village. They trip over themselves to post about how Brand is a moron in order to trump up their own revolutionary vanguard status. Being well-read is a game. For many of those moans I noticed on my various timelines are from people who call themselves progressive and are quick to disassociate from Westminster but slow to support anything that looks like popular approval of the very ideas they profess to hold.

Moreover, this pattern of behaviour is linked to far wider social and cultural causes. This is the self-denial of an aborted search for meaning among my generation. We don’t know what we like so we say what we don’t like (usually whatever is popular) and get horribly sensitive when someone offers us an opportunity to find some truth, a bit of power, a gram of creativity. Hipster Marxism. For what Brand said is to be lauded in almost all possible contexts. Anyone who seriously considers themselves left-wing, progressive, socialist, Marxist, and so on, should do nought but delight in our arguments being shouted louder and louder. It is almost always a good thing. When was the last time anti-capitalist revolution was discussed on Newsnight?

The revolution is/is not coming. (Delete as applicable according to your cynicism.) But we certainly can’t pretend we aren’t heard when we try our hardest to stop people like Brand talking about it. Everyone agrees that politics is a dangerously exclusive discourse. Truly radical ideas are, at best, sneered at. By kicking Brand, you’re only making it worse.

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Stop blaming lads-mag sexism on the working classes

Now, as someone who rather enjoys the benefits of employment (eating, a roof, non-death), I know that it is not often wise to criticise one’s employer.

Nevertheless, The Times ran an interview this morning with Seren Haf Gibson, a former glamour model who appeared on the front cover of Nuts, as part of a feature on lads’ mags and the growing disapproval thereof, which I enjoyed enormously, but is full of the fruits of bourgeois exceptionalism.

The article is an attack on the self-objectification of my generation, particularly by its female members. Women have, says Gibson, started to objectify themselves on a “on a day to day basis, via Facebook, via Instagram.”

“Social media is full of girls pouting in shots they have taken themselves — perpetuating the male gaze themselves. It’s that ingrained in us now. If you get rid of lads’ mags – what will it do? Objectifying yourself has become synonymous with our generation.”

Not only does Gibson assume that many women even own enough of their own personal identity to themselves objectify it – they don’t, rich men do – she also reckons that the case for female empowerment has been sold off:

“I was 18 in 2006 – the message was, ‘You are girls and you can do what you want.’ We were the power generation: you can be whoever you want to be, whether that’s a politician or a librarian or a sex worker and it doesn’t matter because at least you’re choosing. Everything you did was ‘empowering’. And now people are saying that was all a masquerade, that that wasn’t an empowering thing to do at all and you’re anti-women and, actually, you’re a victim. This is why it’s jarring. Our generation has a lot of responsibility on its shoulders. We’ve made these choices, they might not be the best choices but now people are going to take those choices away from us.”

But the case for empowerment was always a lie, a panel agenda optimised, sanitised and published by white, straight, middle-class men who wanted to see big tits in magazines but also wanted the option to blame it all on the working class man when someone inevitably noticed that it was all a bit exploitative. Empowerment needs power – and the wealthy aren’t giving it up, especially not to women.

Worringly, Stefanie Marsh, the author, is being utterly complicit in a convenient abortion of responsibility by the well-off: “The culture they [lads’ mags] helped to create can still be seen in towns and cities all around the UK — from the Saturday-night porny perspex heels to the casual DIY sex tapes and still-held hopes for fast fame,” she says. No middle-class activity here. Blame the poor, they don’t know any better. The same game, we ought to remember, sees the working classes blamed by politicians and the press for the welfare bill, or immigrants attacked for the temerity to seeks the means to enjoy life.

After all, Marsh writes, Gibson “has a normal job with normal friends who have normal jobs too: in media, in medicine, in law.” In other words: she is proper. Bourgeois is the norm – and sexism is ‘other’, something for the proletariat, something not ours. Not us in our affluence but those Tesco shoppers in their shit. Do only women who are desperately poor agree to model in the nude for money? It’s hopelessly reductive.

Marsh and Gibson are both right that banning lads’ mags would not solve the problem. Gibson is also right to say that lads’ mags are part of the “old media”, that “the elite have taken it upon themselves to ‘look after’ these poor young boys who are reading it and the poor young girls who are posing in them”. But the privileged, like Gibson (she has a “normal job”, remember?) and Marsh, are using a more than justified feeling of discrimination to discriminate against another group.

And while the treatment of women in capitalist societies is heinous and objectionable (as are the comments of Martin Daubney, the former Loaded editor who said in that article that men – poor, poor (lucky) men – “just don’t know what to do… men are being made to feel ashamed that they find women attractive because they are branded misogynists, perverts, morons or sex pests… it’s a campaign against masculinity”), so too is the treatment, often by the media, of the working classes. And we cannot hope to eradicate the sick way in which we, as a society, treat women until we recognise that all discrimination, by sex, race, class, and so on, comes from the same place.

But of course, if you read The Times, or have a “normal job”, you probably won’t know where that is.