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September 10, 2008

If Russell Brand is the Counterculture’s Best, It’s All Over


By D.F. Krause

Russell Brand was last seen in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, possibly the worst movie ever made. Not content to merely grace us with cinematic vomit, Mr. Brand returned recently to host the MTV Video Music Awards.


You know about some of this, in all likelihood. You probably saw the video clips, on TV or on YouTube, of the esteemed Mr. Brand making fun of a certain 17-year-old girl from Alaska while begging the United States, “as a representative of the global community,” to elect a certain Illinois senator to something or other.


From there we moved on to a discussion of masturbation, a “retarded cowboy” and whatever else Mr. Brand had to say. It’s not important. This column is not really about Russell Brand.


It’s not even really about MTV, which you probably didn’t know is supposed to stand for Music Television – because long about, oh, say, 1982, it actually used to show the occasional music video.


I would simply like to know: When did the entertainment industry decide that its best possible method for continuing to secure access to our money was to say and do things that make us cringe? Where did they get the idea that this is a good business strategy?


If it wasn’t Russell Brand, it would have been someone else. They actually gave Britney Spears three awards, and if you’ve seen any of Britney Spears’s videos, you’re probably getting the idea right about now that MTV rewards raunch and musical debauchery at the expense of actual creativity.


It’s almost as if they give out these awards to these people because they enjoy shoving it in our faces and saying, “Whaddaya gonna do about it?” It’s almost as if they put idiots like Russell Brand in front of us because it’s fun to invite, then revel in, the outrage.


OK. I understand that rock music is synonymous with the counterculture. I am not young. I know that all those long-haired, walking stink bombs took to the stage at Woodstock and denounced the establishment and The Man. I know what Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin celebrated. I know about Ozzy and the bat. I know about the Chili Peppers taking the stage naked (although I’m very glad I wasn’t there to see it).


Yes, rock music has always tweaked the establishment. That’s fine. That’s part of what gives it its edge. A lot of what the rock community has advocated over the years has been silly, but that’s OK. It’s borne of youth. A lot of the musicians who have toured the world in recent years having reached their 50s and 60s have grown out of that sort of thing – but even if they haven’t, it’s still OK. Peter Gabriel is running around trying to establish a council of “global elders” who will solve problems. Apparently Jimmy Carter is aboard. Problems can be expected to continue. But you have to give Gabriel, naďveté and all, credit for trying.


What, however, is the point of putting a foul-mouthed, bed-headed, out-and-out stupid idiot like Russell Brand on MTV to prance around a stage and basically just insult the intelligence of every man, woman and child on Earth? He was that bad. He is that stupid.


It can only be that somewhere along the way, the counterculture, as exemplified by MTV, lost touch with the idea that rebellion has to be about something worthwhile. Even if every idea you have is wrong (think John Lennon’s “Imagine”), at least you’re looking for something good. That’s what the counterculture used to be like. Today, apparently, it feels it’s sufficient simply to anger, upset and enrage you.


If this is the best the counterculture has to offer anymore – and I fear that it is – it might as well just fold up shop. It had a good run. It took down Nixon. It lived to see Birkenstocks become practically mainstream. Many movements have accomplished less.


But it’s 2008. Revenues from music sales plummet as the industry tries to cope with the new reality of digital downloads. So of course, when times are tough, who wouldn’t try insulting your audience at every turn?


My friends, you’ve stayed too long. Don’t be sad. We’ll find another video channel – perhaps one that actually shows videos – and we’ll always think of you for your worthier moments. Russell Brand doesn’t deserve to be remembered anyway, so . . . wait, I’ve forgotten him already.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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