Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A "Gerald Ratner" moment for the BBC?

So Brand and Ross overstepped the mark. They've done it before. Given the chance, I'm sure they will do it again. That is the nature of edgy comedy.

Why the outcry this time? Why have the heads of government and opposition been driven to make statements? Whatever we think of the merits (or otherwise) of Brand and Ross, and however we take the event itself, it is surely worth asking how this has become today's top story in most of the British press.

Remember Gerald Ratner? A hugely successful businessman, he brought a business empire crashing in 1991, with one throw-away line in a public speech. Wikipedia, has an article on him which quotes his words more fully. Suffice it to say, he joked that his prices could be so low because his products were 'crap'.

An ill-judged joke. But I don't believe it would have been enough to cause his company's near collapse, if it didn't encapsulate something the public already believed. Not that the products in question were bad. Rather that the entire business elite were so out of touch that they believed they could openly insult ordinary people and that the public would be too stupid or too lacking in taste to realise. Ratner took the fall for the business community as a whole. If it hadn't been him, some other unlucky business leader would have made an unguarded comment and fallen into the same trap.

Back to Brand and Ross. It looks like the Ratner effect all over again. They bragged about Brand's sexual exploits on air and thus abused a woman's trust. They made a series of bullying phone call to an older man, who is much loved. And then they apologised with obvious insincerely - an apology that was only there to get more laughs. Thus, in one perfect-storm of ill-judgement, they encapsulated the widely held public opinion of brash, young celebs. Not that they are sexually promiscuous. Not that they abuse people's trust. Not even that they lack respect. Rather that they seemed to believe they are so far above ordinary people that they can do or say whatever they like, hurt whoever they like, and never need to feel sorry.

Strange how a few words can cause such a storm if they catch the zeitgeist. Or a few images, for that matter. Turn this idea around to the positive. Look at what Matt Harding has done with his dance (yesterday's blog entry). By showing the Earth to be one place, he has captured the real spirit of the age.


Mosher said...

My personal view is sack Brand and keep Ross. Mainly because Brand is about as funny as Chris Moyles (*shudder*) and because I'm incredibly jealous of him sleeping with such a hot chick.

But, yes, you'd think there were more important things in life than a practical joke that went wrong.

I do like the BBC story today where they've interviewed two sets of people. The older generation queuing for the Alan Titchmarsh show all wanted two heads on spikes. The younger crowd queuing for Buzzcocks all reckon it's blown out of proportion.

Thing is, the younger lot *like* the two who did it and will continue to listen. The older lot don't like him and don't listen to them anyway. So surely it goes back to the simple premise surrounding all entertainment (books, cinema, TV, radio, stage...):

If you don't like it, ignore it.

Rod Duncan said...

Good point about the two different audiences. That's why I think it will damage Ross's career far more than Brand's. The reason Ross is paid so much by the BBC is that he is able to pull in a wide audience - one that overlaps the Tichmarsh and Buzzcocks crowds. In this mistake, he has outraged a good chunk of his natural audience. Brand's natural audience is far narrower, and he hasn't angered many of them.

It will be interesting to see what happens.