By William Boardman -- Reader Supported News
Taking No Chances, The Empire Strikes Back With the BBC
"Russell Brand, who are you to edit a political magazine?" asks BBC (British Broadcasting Corp.) interviewer Jeremy Paxman with all the arrogant irrelevance required of an establishment shill at the beginning of an eleven-minute interview on the BBC's October 23 edition of Newsnight. Posted on the BBC Newsnight channel on Youtube, the interview had almost 6 million views in its first three days
Disappointingly, Brand does not immediately respond to the insult with something like, "Well who are you to decide who does or doesn't get to edit anything in a country that more or less claims to have a free press?"
This segment of Newsnight isn't exactly for serious
news. It's also a promotional
appearance by Brand, whose primary work is as a comedian and actor, currently
on a world tour of his stand-up show, Messiah Complex. It opened in June, but doesn't get even
a mention in the interview. Brand is on the program now because one of
Britain's more successful political magazines, New Statesman, has just
published its October 24 issue for which Brand served as guest editor, organizing
the content around the present need for global revolution. He explained his
appearance in New Statesman in a 4,500-word
editorial that began:
"When I was asked to edit an issue of the New Statesman I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me. I chose the subject of revolution because the New Statesman is a political magazine and imagining the overthrow of the current political system is the only way I can be enthused about politics."
So when the over-dressed, neatly bearded Paxman challenges the under-dressed, shaggy Brand about his "credentials," Paxman is both quietly bullying, and is committing a basic logical fallacy: basing his argument on authority, rather than facts. Instead of pointing this out, Brand answers with a variation on the opening paragraph of his editorial, with an added joke about being "a person of crazy hair, quite a good sense of humor, don't know much about politics -- I'm ideal!"
"But is it true you don't even vote?" Paxman immediately asks next, already knowing the answer. Brand confirms this, he's never voted. Then, not even thirty seconds into the interview, Paxman seems to go gently for the jugular: "Well, how do you have any authority to talk about politics then?"
Can we then assume that, if you don't vote, you don't really exist?
Brand takes the bait without missing a beat. He doesn't challenge the presumptuous premise of the question -- that you have to participate in a system in order to earn the right to criticize that system (a standard by which there was no authority for the Cold War). But Brand takes the question at face value and offers a perfectly coherent, brief answer about deriving his authority from looking for alternatives "that might be of service to humanity -- alternate means, alternate political systems."
Still on the attack, the BBC interviewer presses the comic for a blueprint of his alternate systems, but this time Brand ridicules the ridiculous question. He points out some of the worst abuses by the current system, noting that the world would be improved merely by stopping these abuses (such as destroying the planet, creating massive economic disparity, or ignoring the needs of the people) -- "the burden of proof is on the people with the power."
Paxman pounces on the mention of power and tries to argue that people "get power by being voted in". in a democracy, that's how it works." This is just another paraphrase of the traditional establishment defense, that you have to be part of the system if you want to change the system. It's so patently false, it's hard to imagine Paxman actually believes it. But it's an argument he's tacitly expected to make as part of his job.
But Paxman has a repitation for being good at his job. Business Insider calls him "Britain's toughest journalist," adding that he's "a journalist known for his incredibly combative style of interviewing (he once asked a government minister the same question 12 times in succession )."
So Paxman presses on with the same rutted irrelevance, in an ad hominem form: "If you can't be asked to vote, why should we be asked to listen to your political point of view." When Brand bats that away with more sharp criticism of the system, Paxman tries a guilt inflection, asking Brand, "Well why don't you change it then?"
Challenging the powerless to change things is what the powerful do