Friday, 31 October 2008

Brand new row

I don't really know how I feel about the whole Jonathan-Ross/Russell Brand thing that has blown up over the last week, and I'm too tired to try to write something coherent, so this'll probably be just bullet-pointed thoughts:

- I like Brand's style of humour. I think he's very funny most of the time.

- I wish people would stop referring to it as a "prank call", since by all accounts it wasn't a pre-planned exercise by Brand and Ross to call up and be outrageous. They didn't pretend to be anyone, and the call was expected and agreed upon beforehand by Andrew Sachs. Instead, you have two men trying to be both edgy and funny, suddenly put into an environment where they were not just being recorded by the forgiving studio, but by an external device. It seems unlikely to me that there would be such a furore if there had not been an answerphone involved, and if they'd just made jokes about Brand possibly sleeping with Sachs' granddaughter as part of the banter on the show itself - more offensive things have been said in the past, and will be said in the future, on the radio. If this is the case, then the problem is not with what was said, necessarily, but with the fact that it was piped directly into the answerphone of the person about whom the joke was being made. An embarrassing error, certainly, but not one, I feel, that necessarily deserved to cause such a storm.

- The BBC could have handled it better, by making far greater efforts to contact Andrew Sachs before the broadcast was released and check what his views were, which would probably have resulted in pulling that segment, and issuing an apology. Certainly there would not have been such an outcry.

- The outcry itself is interesting, since there were only two complaints initially, ballooning to thousands once the media got hold of the story. Complaints from people who did not actually listen to the show live (and perhaps, cynical though the thought may be, did not listen to it at all before complaining) must be taken as that. The people listening, the audience to whom the broadcast was made, and at whom it was aimed, by and large did not seem to be offended (or at least not until the media told them to be). Offence is a difficult thing to judge, and part of the point of having a surfeit of media is that the audience can pick what it wants to hear. The people who were offended by the broadcast would never normally have known it existed. I would suggest the BBC has broadcast more edgy and potentially offensive things in the past (MonkeyDust springs to mind, I'm sure there are other examples), but they didn't generate such a storm partially because there was no "answerphone issue" and partly because there was no media crusade. I would therefore suggest that the content of the show itself should not be something of concern.

- I think there were funny elements to the call. I liked Brand's little improvised song, and I liked the back and forth banter between the two of them. It wasn't immensely comedic but neither do I feel it was particularly more offensive than a lot of other media.

- I think the comparison to the Stanford incident in cricket is interesting too:

> Prominent media figure(s), check.
> Slightly embarrassing unpremeditated action.
> Recording of said action causing problem where otherwise there might not have been one.
> Apology offered and accepted by the party directly affected.
> Media reporting constantly referring to the financial aspects of the affair.

Anyway, that was all pretty stream-of-consciousness, so don't know how much sense it made. In general, I think there are questions to answer in the procedural handling of the show's production, but I don't believe that the performers are the people who should take the brunt of the media-stoked backlash. Anyone agree? Disagree?

Happy Halloween.

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