Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

An Unpopular Opinion

What Russell Brand said was obnoxious sexist bullying; Jonathan Ross should have known better than condone it, let alone participate in it. This much is clear - a certain amount of public opprobium, proportionate to the offense, is called for - and, should Andrew Sachs or his granddaughter have a civil case against them, I would not be sorry.

However, given that the whole Russell Brand schtick is about being a sexist laddish jerk, and that laddish idiocy is part of who Ross is too - along with the good stuff, to which I shall come in a bit - for the tabloids to jump in as if what they did and said were THE WORST THING EVER (TM) is a bit rich. For it to become something on which every journalist in the country has to have an opinion, and the Prime Minister feels obliged to comment, is ridiculously out of proportion.

It was wrong and it was objectionable, but not significantly more wrong or objectionable than an awful lot of what is on British radio and television where a culture of obnoxious bullying has crept into quiz shows from The Weakest Link to University Challenge as well as to radio chat shows. To discover suddenly that Russell Brand is a hateful sexist pain in the neck - as well as sometimes quite funny - is like Claude Rains in Casablanca discovering gambling in Rick's cafe and announcing that he is 'shocked! SHOCKED!'

A cynical person might reflect that this particular moral panic comes at a convenient time and is a distraction from discussing the bonuses that are not being confiscated from incompetent bankers, the profits being made from the financial crisis by unpatriotic speculators, the semi-illegal donations being made to parties and politicians by dangerously corrupt Russian oligarchs and so on. Suddenly all everyone can talk about is the demand that Ross and Brand be dismissed, never allowed to be seen in public again without being stoned in the streets and so on.

I really do think that a period of suspension of their shows and a certain amount of public contrition might be appropriate, but that is as far as it goes. If Ross is fired over this, he will be being fined about a million pounds for each of the very few words he uttered in the whole thing - now, I can see a certain appeal in the idea of a National Sexist Bullying Swearbox with a rate of a million pounds per objectionable word, but I somehow doubt this is what is going to happen.

I don't actually care very much what happens to Brand.

(In what follows, I have to declare a mild personal interest - Ross is a friend of friends and I have met him socially, and occasionally chatted with him on random encounters in comics shops - significantly, he is someone who starts conversations. I haven't seen him for many months and would have, if I saw him, to tick him off for some vaguely transphobic remarks he made about Thomas Beattie. On the other hand, I had tea at his house once when interviewing his talented wife Jane Goldman, and played with their robot dog. I scratched it behind the ears and it humped my leg; Jane and Ross looked appalled and said that it had never done that before; I just said that this is the sort of thing which happens to me. He is someone of whom I mildly disapprove much of the time, but for whom I retain a sneaking affection.)

Apart from the actual issue - indefensible as the incident was - there is the ongoing campaign against Ross's salary by various journalists - many of them motivated by malignant envy. He does a lot for the money - the major chat show, the major film review show, his radio show and various documentaries on popular culture like the one on Steve Ditko; he is, under the joky exterior, the floppy hair, the loud suits, a serious person who genuinely cares about film and comics and music and is not any sort of populist about them - he defends genre film passionately but also cares about all good stuff while being a scourge of pretension. Sometimes, when he is being a chat show host, he is obnoxious; quite often he asks really interesting and perceptive questions.

Punishment should always be proportionate to the offense; we would all lose were Ross driven off the air for good.
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