Jade Goody, Russell Brand and Hegemony
I’ve heard it said that there’s a special irony to blog articles complaining about the Jade Goody story. By complaining about it, apparently we’re vindicating and perpetuating the rather nauseating circus surrounding the whole issue. I think such logic is bollocks, of course, because the mainstream media – TV, radio, newspapers, blogs belonging to all the aforementioned and others – would have merrily continued to spout crap regardless of what a few poxy political bloggers decided to say.
Nor, by continuing to talk about the whole thing, are we somehow justifying what has to be one of the most grotesque hypocrisies of modern celebrity journalism. A woman, ridiculed for being, well, let’s face it, a bit thick, subsequently bullied for being a bit racist and then beatified for getting cancer, getting married and dying, leaving millions to her kids. And probably to her thug husband, though I am not going to bother checking that up, since I already feel dirty just writing about this subject.
Why, I hear the masses cry, do you bother writing about it then? Why not go back to reading some pretentious wank by Sartre, of the type I am disposed to moan about on this blog? These are good questions, and the answer is that not five minutes ago, I spotted a ridiculous article on the BBC website titled, “Star dubs Jade ‘Primark Princess'” and then I made the mistake of reading it. Thankfully we don’t allow firearms in this country or I reckon I’d feel compelled to hunt down Russell Brand and kill him, earning myself a British Comedy Award for services rendered.
Brand came up with the following wank, which outdoes any Existentialist for pretentious fuckwittery…
One of the charges often levelled at Jade was that she was just a normal girl with no trade or practiced skills. Well people didn’t care and our heroes are not prescribed to us, we have the right to choose them and the people chose Jade. Fame has long been bequeathed by virtue of wealth and birth and this was the first generation where it was democratically distributed by that most lowbrow of modern phenomena – Reality Television…When Big Brother 3 made her famous she was vilified in the paper and bullied in the house but through her spirit she won people back round and became a kind of Primark Princess with perfumes and fitness videos and endless media coverage – because people were interested in her.
Now, it’s easy at this point to simply become choked with rage at the notion of Jade Goody being anyone’s hero but I actually have a serious political point to make. Brand has bought in, hook-line and sinker, to the notion that fame is now in the gift of ‘the people’, perhaps thanks to the concept of telephone voting, such that it can be ‘democratically distributed’ on the basis of individual likes and dislikes, which we in turn presume to be beyond reproach precisely because they are individual and we’re all entitled to our own opinions.
Except there’s nothing democratic about any of this. Our very likes and dislikes are not formed in a world with infinite choice. Our choices, especially in the matter of subjects covered by the media, are limited to the options offered by the industry that exists for the purposes of creating and extolling celebrity. Even when we make a conscious choice not to be interested in something, its transmutation into a cultural meme means that few of us can escape it, howsoever we wall ourselves off.
Consider the fascination with Jade in the same terms as the fame of the Beatles or any other mega-star. This sort of unreasoning adulation (or its opposites) is part of a form of cultural production that grew into existence alongside the first truly mass media. This cultural production is not merely, however, an attempt to pander to popular prejudices – quite the opposite. Men like Max Clifford have the contacts and the resources to convince the media that the public should/will be interested, and in turn the media whip up a frenzy.
When one section of the media works itself into a lather, the very fact of commenting on commentary extends this unhealthy attitude all across the nation. It is almost a textbook example of some of the processes which Nick Davies describes in his book, Flat Earth News. It is not new. Other, perhaps worthier, subjects have their place in the media usurped by this story on the basis that editors know we’ll succumb to the same frenzy-whipping techniques which have succeeded in the newsroom.
Brand’s point about Jade’s personality is therefore dead wrong. The whole charade has nothing to do with the personality or qualities of Jade Goody. It is not the case that the punters are simply ‘choosing’ the Jade Goody story out of an infinite list of stories they could be interested in. For a couple of days last week, it was the only story and received coverage in every medium imaginable. Similarly, the media themselves aren’t interested in Jade’s qualities or personality – and they were quite happy to demonize her in the past.
In fact, the celebrity cancer theme is readily exploited because people are basically caring, and because many thousands of people get cancer. It’s a problem with which our society is familiar. Russell Brand himself, foppish shithead though he is, is a clear example of how cancer as a theme can cause people to relate to the story of Jade Goody. The terminal illness, the kids, the last-minute wedding – all are eminently marketable, and I suspect the wedding and Jack’s release from prison were dreamed up by Clifford for that purpose.
Had it not been Jade Goody, however, it would have been someone else. Brand’s attribution of public interest to Jade’s normality, and his claim that this marks Jade down as different (“authentic” or “accessible”) from Posh Spice-Beckham, J-Lo or Jennifer Aniston, are therefore rubbish. Actually, Brand’s contention ignores that there was a well connected PR firm dedicated to insinuating Jade into the popular consciousness, to making her appear authentic and accessible, even though thousands of normal people die from cancer each year, people who can’t afford Max Clifford’s rates.
It may be revealing that the ‘Primark Princess’ (or People’s Princess or any other populist epithet) is what the PR gurus have arrived at as the best vehicle for commercial exploitation, but we must remember that the audience in this process is essentially passive. The audience can applaud or shout its dissent – but even for the dissenters, there’s a marketing angle to be played. Some of the more high-brow papers and blogs denounced Jade, denounced the media circus around her and so on and so forth.
It would surprise me not a bit if Max Clifford’s PR firm was behind a few of those as well. This should tell us something about the concept of Hegemony, which this blog wrestles with quite a bit. Hegemony entails not merely the exploitation of labour for the purposes of extracting surplus value, it also entails the exploitation of the basic oppositional drives between the classes, a contained subversion manifesting itself as populism but never actually challenging the inequalities that this populism implicitly or explicitly rejects.