Fox hunting is no longer legal in Britain. But there’s a new blood sport this autumn – Russell Brand hunting.
Members of the ‘hegemonic consensus’ supporting Elite Journos Club have been competing with one another to see who can write the most condescending and ‘eviscerating’ reviews/articles on Brand and his new book ‘Revolution’.
Brand was acceptable when he was doing stand-up comedy and keeping off the politics, but now that he’s dissing the British system of parliamentary democracy and calling for radical change it’s open season on him. It’s a case of “Set the hounds on that bearded ‘semi-literate’ hippy! Tally ho!”
Brand has crossed several red lines. He opposes the elite’s policy of endless war – in which other people’s children, but not theirs, are put at risk.
He’s addressed anti-austerity rallies. He’s appeared on RT with Max Keiser. He paid a call to Julian Assange at the Ecuador Embassy.He cites Noam Chomsky. And on top of all that there is the fact that he’s from the wrong side of the tracks. While it’s true that Brand isn‘t everyone’s cup of tea- and that some of his ideas on revolution need further development – there’s a nasty snobbishness about many of the attacks he’s been subjected to.
The subtext to these attacks by establishment commentators has been:
“Brand, go back to stand-up comedy and leave the serious stuff to us. Unlike you, we’re from solidly middle-class backgrounds, unlike you we went to top universities, unlike you we can write properly and unlike you we don’t use words like ‘geezer’. You’re not a member of our cozy mutually back-slapping club, so please go away.”
Brand’s big problem is that he’s got ideas above his station. He‘s finding out that working class people in public life are meant to entertain us – whether as footballers, or comics, or pop singers, but not offer solutions to pressing political problems.That’s the exclusive preserve of the predominantly middle/upper-middle class political and media elite, and woe betide any non-university educated pleb who dares to muscle in on their territory.
As working-class blogger Mick Hall puts it, “As is the way with most middle class liberals, they… attempt to make much of Brand’s lack of a formal education, believing this will play well with their class prejudiced readers.”
Brand’s background is in stark contrast with those who are now attacking him for being “half-educated” and for writing “garbage.”
His mum was a former secretary, his dad, a photographer. His granddad was a lorry driver, his great grand-dad a boot repairer. Brand’s childhood was harsh: his parents separated when he was just six months old, his mum faced battles with cancer. Brand neither attended public school, nor university. It’s all rather different to the background of Craig Brown, the Old Etonian Private Eye columnist, who trashed Brand and his book in the Daily Mail.
Brown signed off his scathing review with the words: “And now it’s over to Tinky Winky of Teletubbies for his thoughts on global warming.” His piece had other members of the Political/Media elite falling over themselves to tweet their approval. “Legendary Craig Brown destroys the vacuous garbage which passes for Russell Brand’s latest literary offering,” enthused Conservative MP Stewart Jackson.
Not to be outdone, the Observer’s Oxford University-educated columnist and serial warmonger, Nick Cohen, weighed in with his hatchet piece on Brand. “His writing is atrocious: long-winded, confused and smug; filled with references to books Brand has half read and thinkers he has half understood,” Cohen sniffed.
In an earlier tweet Cohen referred to Brand as a “half-educated pontificator.” Yet when Cohen wrote in his review that “no figure in the history of the left has seen Buddhism as a force for human emancipation,” he showed his own ignorance, as Media Lens pointed out, of the works of Dr Erich Fromm.
Not long afterwards Cohen ‘blocked’ Media Lens.
In the Guardian, columnist Hadley Freeman, in full condescension mode, wrote that Brand had been “an amusing chap who confused a thesaurus with eloquence,” and accused him of showing, in a recent television interview, “the kind of ecstatic hypomania you’d expect of a celebrity who long ago exceeded the outer limits of his knowledge on this particular subject.” Not surprisingly Freeman – who was educated at St Anne’s College, Oxford where she edited the student newspaper Cherwell, didn’t like the way Brand dismissed “genuine objections” to his ideas from the BBC’s Evan Davis (who also edited Cherwell) as “an Oxford-educated man being rude to me.”
In the Sunday Times, Camilla Long – described on wikipedia as “a scion of the aristocratic Clinton Family” and educated at Oxford High School for Girls and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, penned a piece on Brand and his book entitled: “Hush Russell. I won’t be told what to think by a prancing perm on a stick.”
When Twitterer @Smithypool replied “Regardless, it’s good to hear an alternative view that isn’t from a privileged middle class right-wing media/Westminster,” Long retorted: “Saying Brand has a ‘view’ is a bit generous, don’t you think? I’d more describe it as a collection of chaotic broken-minded farts.”
It’s great to know that a good education doesn’t go to waste, isn’t it?
Of course, members of the bourgeoisie sneering at people from working-class backgrounds who have the temerity to write books, and be popular, isn’t a new development.
My new biography of Edgar Wallace, the illegitimate son of an impecunious travelling actress, who rose from great poverty in Victoria England to become the most popular author in the world is published this week by The History Press.
There are parallels between Wallace and Brand and the criticism both were subject to. Both men came from the wrong side of the tracks. Both had difficult upbringings.Wallace was given to foster parents when he only a few days old and left school without qualifications at the age of 12. Yet despite the handicaps he faced, Wallace became a hugely popular writer, whose fast-paced crime novels and thrillers were eagerly devoured by millions of people in Britain and across the world. Like Brand, Wallace had to face condescension from those who regarded themselves as his social superior and who resented his infringement on their territory.
When he got his first job as a war reporter for Reuters during the Boer War in South Africa, he found the ‘elephants of the newspaper world’ were none too friendly towards him. While reporting from Madrid in 1906, he was the first to break the news of the attempted assassination attempt of the King and Queen of Spain by a bomb-throwing anarchist. After he’d filed his cables and cleverly got round the Spanish government’s media blackout, he went round to the house of “a most important person,” who “was writing for a most important newspaper.” The man in question was wearing court dress and slippers. He was writing his own account of the wedding. He looked up at Wallace’s intrusion “with no friendly eye.” Wallace tried to tell him about the assassination attempt but his social ‘superior’ wasn’t interested. The eminent journalist “closed his eyes wearily” and his hand gesticulated towards the door. “My dear fellow,” he said, “I am in the middle of the wedding. Please don’t bother me now.”
Interestingly, as I note in the book, Wallace found less snobbery towards him from socially secure upper-class types than he did from the middle/upper-middle class. Dorothy L. Sayers, an Oxford University educated crime writing rival, divided thrillers into “the purely sensational and the purely intellectual,” and of course put Wallace’s work in the former category. The waspish critic Q.D. Leavis bemoaned Wallace’s enormous popularity with the reading public, noting that if a librarian “were to put two hundred more copies of Edgar Wallace’s detective stories on the shelves, they would all be gone in the same day.”
Probably the most snobbish attack on Wallace came from an American critic called George Nathan. “True enough, he (Wallace) was popular, which is to say that thousands of inferior people admired what he wrote.” Today, I’m sure Nathan would be taking pot shots at Russell Brand, telling us that only “inferior people” were buying his book or taking his ideas seriously.
The sad thing is – that things are actually worse now than they were in Edgar Wallace’s day- and certainly much worse than they were thirty of forty years ago. Back in the more egalitarian 1970s, working class voices were heard in public life and they were not ridiculed as much as they are today. One of the most popular television comedies of the era was the brilliantly written “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”. One of the funniest parts of the series, which told of the adventures of an army concert party in India and Burma during World War Two,was seeing the working-class Sergeant-Major mimicking “Mr La-dee-da University-educated Gunner Graham,” an Oxford graduate who complains that he‘s “stagnating” in the army. The program is never repeated today.
The Sergeant-Major’s mimicry may have been a bit cruel, but today the boot is very much on the other foot. Now, it’s superior “Mr La-dee- Da Gunner Graham” types who are laughing at the working class, pouring scorn on them from their newspaper columns, which they land not so much on account of what they know, but because of who they know. We saw a classic example of this scorn in a recent column by the former Conservative MP and Cambridge graduate Matthew Parris in The Times, in which he contemptuously wrote of people in “tracksuit and trainers” Clacton-On-Sea, who have “hostility to a Britain that has forgotten the joys of Ken Dodd (a Liverpool comedian), meat pies, smoking in pubs and the Bee Gees.”
Since the 1970s, the upper echelons of journalism have become a real closed shop, an all-graduate profession and one heavily dominated by people from the “right” social classes who went to the “right” schools and universities and who of course hold the “right” establishment-friendly views on economic and foreign policy issues.
Talent and the ability to write interesting, thought-provoking articles is less important than having the “right” connections and being from the “right” social strata.
A staggering 72 percent of British journalists come from a professional/managerial background- just 2 percent had parents who worked in caring, leisure or other service industries. Is it any wonder that members of this elite ‘Club’, drawn from such a narrow social pool, are lining up to launch attacks on Russell Brand?
Working class voices haven’t just been removed from journalism but from much of public life.
The leaders of the big three parties are all from middle/upper middle class backgrounds, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband all attended either Oxford or Cambridge University. The dad of Old Etonian Cameron was a wealthy stockbroker, Clegg’s a wealthy banker.
The 2014 report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission ‘Elitist Britain’ shows thevice-life grip that a few schools and elite universities have on public life, and how far away we are from being a genuine meritocracy.
There appears to be a stronger relationship between parental background and children’s future income in Britain than in many other countries, the report said.
When working-class people do manage to overcome the tremendous disadvantages they face and manage to rise above their station and enter public life, they are constantly belittled.
The Labour politician John Prescott, who once worked as a ship’s steward, was ridiculed for his syntax. George Galloway, whose dad was an electrician, and mum a cleaner, is ridiculed for everything by smug, sarcastic commentators who may have gone to university, but who intellectually cannot hold a candle to him.
Now it’s Russell Brand’s turn to receive the sneers.
The attacks, however, tell us more about today’s establishment than they do about Brand.
They’ve proved that Brand’s thesis, however “atrocious” his prose may be, is fundamentally correct, that Britain does need radical change. And needs it very, very quickly.
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