Russell Brand, Keep Hillsborough Out Of Your Spat With The Sun
I have a confession to make, and it’s not a particularly cool one. I quite like Russell Brand. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always found his whole Essex Edward Scissorhands schtick very funny, whether or not he’s mixing it with the BNP in RE:Brand, or with P. Diddy and Jonah Hill in Get Him To The Greek. Off camera, he appears pleasant – a working-class kid done good, with all the right intentions, and his nana’s voice in his ear telling him not to forget where he came from.
I bet he’d be lovely if you met him, and you’d tell all your mates how funny he was for years after. His stand-up is amusing, his interviews interesting and his writing enjoyable, if not in dire need of a good edit. And yet, through some complete social catastrophe, Russell Brand is currently the most prominent left-wing politician in the United Kingdom, and all of a sudden, the British press are treating him like a credible threat.
If you’ve been living under a rock, or in some small Jesuit community in the hills of North Wales, you may not be up to date on the Brand vs Murdoch beef, so let me update you: basically, The Sun ran a double-header of slam pieces on Brand which to all intents and purposes were flimsy, transparent efforts to discredit Brand’s – and get ready to use airquotes here – ‘growing influence’ in the public sphere, and Brand retaliated with similar vigour. So far, so predictable. Brand is certainly no stranger to the tabloids, and his exploits have been covered by the grubbiest, nastiest hacks in Christendom for the best part of a decade.
However, there was something markedly different about this tabloid splash. Gone are the tried-and-tested tricks of old: the kiss-and-tells, the schoolfriend’s stories, the long-lensed stills of Brand hoovering drone off Andrew Sachs’ grand-daughter. All of a sudden, polls are being taken, tax records are being examined, and barnstorming labels like ‘HYPOCRITE’ are being bandied about. Brand is being treated like a real politician; and like a real politician, Brand is responding to gain face, rather than to merely save it.
It was not The Sun’s machinations that drove me to write this piece, however. I don’t think it’s remotely worth lending credence and validity to any paper owned by News International, let alone a poisonous, rotten publication like The Sun. A discussion on why The Sun are turning on Brand is pointless. Quite simply, Ed Miliband is too easy a target, Owen Jones looks like the Milkybar Kid, and Brand is literally the only person left. What annoyed me more was Brand’s self-serving response.
Brand – in a move almost clunky in its crowdpleasing – pledged to sue The Sun for defamation of character, and then, to generously donate his no-doubt-incredibly vast compensation to ‘#NewEraEstate and JFT96’. I have quoted Brand directly there, instead of saying that Brand will pay whatever he receives from The Sun to the Campaign to Support the Tenants of the New Era Estate in Hoxton, and the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. Why? Well, for me, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I don’t have any problem whatsoever with Brand donating to these two incredibly worthwhile causes. Brand’s work for the New Era campaign has been decent enough, albeit his unfortunate hashtagging of them makes them sound like the next big hit in #menswear. It is Brand’s ‘championing’ of the Hillsborough campaign, however, that I’m most uneasy about.
I am a lifelong Liverpool fan, from the city of Liverpool, with a season-ticket in the Lower Centenary on line with the six-yard box. I obviously have no objection towards any charitable donations to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. What I do take up an issue with, though, is Brand involving the Hillsborough Justice Campaign in his petty spat with the press. I find it galling and disrespectful that Brand feels he can ‘play the Hillsborough card’, as it were, in an effort to defame The Sun. Time after time I’ve heard the line trotted out, typically alongside a reference to phone hacking, with the same dull, rhythmic precision of a political soundbite. Russell Brand, Hillsborough is not your card to play.
Liverpool, as a city, is proud of its rejection of The Sun newspaper. It is rare that you will even find a copy of it in a shop, never mind in the hands of a reader. Across banners, walls, windows and shopfronts, in some shape or form, the 25-year old slogan “DON’T BUY THE S*N” can be found all across Liverpool, in a move of persistent and poignant solidarity with the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. We have distanced ourselves from that paper, and the admirable strength of the HJC has ensured that the lies and vitriol directed at their fallen friends and family have been disproven, discredited and rendered utterly defunct. And so, when Brand signs off his tweets against the Murdochs with ‘JFT96’, I can’t help but object to him trivialising their cause.
'Justice For The 96' is not about justice from The Sun newspaper, it is about holding those whose negligence led to the tragic and preventable deaths of 96 football fans to appropriate culpability. Liverpool is not a city defined by its bad relationship with The Sun; Liverpool does not seek any relationship whatsoever, and does not want to be held up as an example of what is wrong with the paper.
Brand has earned the respect of the people of Liverpool through his previous donations to the campaign, and his support – both financially and publicly – I do not wish to discredit. Indeed, he has already used compensation settlements from The Sun to donate to the campaign previously, after receiving damages on a story about some alleged affair that isn’t particularly interesting or important. However, using the campaign to bolster a personal response against The Sun, to make us feel like the great battle is being fought on their behalf, is cheap and degrading to the cause. Liverpool fights its own battles, and we don’t need Russell Brand to fight them for us.
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