Controversy good for the Brand brand?

A perfect media storm has been building in London all week. The row over Russell Brand and Jonathon Ross’ stupid phone prank has claimed a number of BBC scalps already and more could follow. But, it seems that Brand’s brand could benefit from the fuss.

[Non-UK mediaphiles click here for some background on this story]

Interviewed in the Daily Telegraph today [Friday 31 Oct], several leading British PR executives indicated that Brand’s fame and fortune can only grow as a result of the stink:

Mike Mathieson, chief executive of media agency Cake, said: “In Russell Brand’s case, there is no such thing as being too controversial. Jonathan Ross is a different case, because his behaviour has to justify his enormous salary.

“But for Russell Brand, this whole episode has given him added credibility with young people who can’t understand what all the fuss is about.” [Anita Singh in the Telegraph]

There’s another telling point here – that Brand’s young audience don’t get the joke. Why is it that crass sexual humour, betrayal of friends and undergraduate antics seems so funny to Brand’s fans?

The most senior BBC person to resign so far is the Radio 2 ‘Controller’, Lesley Douglas. Douglas had been with the BBC for 23 years and according to many public responses to her resignation, she was a great manager. In her resignation letter Douglas takes a share of the blame for the debacle which seems to show that the chain of command inside the BBC has broken down:

Over the 23 years of my career at the BBC I have enjoyed a deep love and respect for both the audience and the BBC. The events of the last two weeks happened on my watch. I believe it is right that I take responsibility for what has happened. [Lesley Douglas resignation letter]

However, there are plenty of commentator who think that Douglas was sacrificed here. There’s a very interesting interview with another Radio 2 presenter, Paul Gambacinni that describes Russell Brand as a time bomb waiting to go off. To be honest, he sounds like a f*cking nightmare of a person [IMHO]:

PG: “There’s no question about it. You know, I can try and be evasive and clever and come up with euphemisms, but the fact is that [Brand] was [Douglas’] pet and she let him get away with so many outrageous things. And I have to say, you know that in this profession, we never disparage a colleague. It’s an unwritten rule. But when his hire was announced, I sent an email of protest to her, the only one I’ve ever sent in my entire career. I knew this would end in tears, because it could only end in tears. When you pick up a time bomb, one day it will explode because that’s what time bombs do.” [Source: The life of Wylie]

Gambacinni makes the point that there’s a lot more to this ‘iceberg’ story that has yet to be uncovered. It will be interesting to see if the hidden 90% surfaces at all (if it’s there).

I don’t know much about Russell Brand and I’ve never watched any of his comedy on TV, but I find his whole persona a bit creepy. I also find it appalling that he would allow (nay, encourage) his intimate relationship with another person to be fodder for his humour.

Apparently Brand had a sexual relationship with Georgina Ballie– at least he hasn’t denied it and she’s confirmed it – but what sort of shit then uses that fact as the basis for a comedy routine and what friend would blurt it out in such a crude fashion in public. It shows an utter lack of respect and extremely poor judgment.

This incident has opened a cultural can of worms in the UK. The BBC is under fire again for editorial lapses and there are loads of people, including the BBC Trust, calling for a tightening of standards.

The Prime Minister joined the furore yesterday, saying: “This is clearly inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour, as is now widely recognised. Ofcom have said they will investigate the matter and it is for the BBC, the BBC Trust and Ofcom to take any appropriate action.” [Source: Times Online]

It’s also fuelling a BBC- bash frenzy as well. It will be interesting to see how that part of the story develops over the next few days and weeks. However, I can’t help but agree with Vyvyan of the Young Ones, whatever I might think (or not think) of Russell Brand, there is an element of witch hunting going on here.

I don’t think of Russell Brand as edgy, I think he’s just really, really funny. Like most good comics he uses the shock of the unexpected to get laughs. This is different from trying to shock people. At the MTV Awards recently he described George Bush as “that retarded cowboy fella”. That’s funny, not because it’s actually shocking, (it’s obviously fairly accurate), but because it’s not the sort of thing you expect the usually anodyne presenter of such an event to say. He’s clever, sharp, surprising, and charming with it. If a little cocky… and that’s what this little “scandal” is really about. It’s a little witch hunt.

When it was broadcast the show in question apparently got two complaints. The media, tired of trying to find new angles on the current financial meltdown, have leapt at the opportunity to whip it up into something huge. And of course the BBC have taken it up bigger and better than anyone else, because there’s no other organisation that enjoys self-flagellation quite as much. The number of complaints grows by the minute. When I started writing this it was somewhere around the 30,000 mark. By the time I finish it may be around a quarter of a million. Most of those complaining didn’t listen to the original show. Soon the number of complaints will outstrip the number of people who were tuned in. [Adrian Edmondson in The Independent]

Yeah, I’d noticed that, nothing like a campaigning tabloid to get the blood racing. There’s always a danger when people start calling for more controls and tighter regulations of the media that such controls are used to silence important stuff, not trite, trivial bad taste jokes like Russell Brand.

Postscript: There’s something wierldy Orwellian about London – it’s not just the creepy female voiceovers at tube stations about not leaving luggage lying around, or the CCTV that blankets the city (including inside pubs and nightclubs). It’s even present in the language of the BBC – ‘Controller’ for example. Orwell worked at the BBC during the war years and it’s no secret that he drew some inspiration for 1984 from his time there.

One Response to Controversy good for the Brand brand?

  1. Lita says:

    I’ve followed this story with some interest. Aside from Brand and Ross being infantile in their humour (which isn’t news), and the prank call to Sachs being illegal, the Beeb are at fault for deciding to air the taped session. None of this could’ve been blown up by the papers if it had never aired. Saying that, I think Douglas was a sacrifice and the continued outrage is OTT.

    Brand and Baillie, meanwhile, have increased their ‘value’, and I won’t fall over if Sachs ends up on some awful-but-addictive reality show in the next year. Ross, though, may have to retire with his multi millions and wait for some future infantile comedian to call him as a prank in order to revive his career.

    Interesting to read the Orwellian vibes reeking from London. I wonder if that’s increased since 9/11 and 7/7, although the creepy tube announcers have been around forever.

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