A Different Brand of Humor at the VMAs
If MTV is the massive, monolithic bastion of music's lowest common denominator, then their yearly Video Music Awards are the hulking, empty-headed sentinel standing outside the gates. This year's show was, for the most part, no exception. Between Britney Spears' umpteenth comeback to the litany of unremarkable sounding presenters, nominees and musical guests (Kid Rock? Really?), MTV delivered the same sanitized uninspired material that has had viewers reaching for the remote the past few years.
To many music devotees, it's no news that the network is out of touch, and has been for some time. Which is precisely why the controversy surrounding Russell Brand's comments are so refreshing. Whether Brand is funny or not is a point of debate and ultimately a matter of taste. What can't be denied, however, is that Brand's opening monologue brought a much needed dose of reality to a show that has long had its head shoved up its own... well, you know.
Right off the bat, Brand openly called for a vote for Obama:
"Now, as a representative of the global community and a visitor from abroad, I don’t want to come across a little bit biased, but could I please ask of you people of America, to please elect Barack Obama! Please! On behalf of the world. Some people, I think they’re called racists, say that
He went on to rip into Sarah Palin and the Republican Party:
"And I feel most sorry for that poor teenaged father. Boy! One minute, he’s just a teenaged lad in
Though the straight politics more or less stopped there, Brand continued throughout the night to push the sex button by mocking the Jonas Brothers' chastity vows, at one point brandishing a "promise ring" as if he has won it from the Brothers.
Brand's s performance set off a flurry of right-wing angst. Almost immediately, MTV's message boards were filled with comments denouncing Brand as "anti-American," with many demanding he be deported. Michelle Malkin called Brand's monologue a "screed." And of course, there were predictable comments demanding that the FCC intervene. Of all the blog-o-riffic outrage, though, the most commonly heard was that the VMA's are "about music, not politics."
That Brand provoked such anger among the right wing isn't too surprising. Most of them are fine with the VMAs being their normal, vapid selves. Most of these same people don't have a problem when artists spout on about patriotism and supporting the troops, let alone the countless times that MTV runs recruiting ads for the US Army.
For its part, MTV has historically gone out of its way to keep any politics that even vaguely counter the status quo as far away from its viewership as possible. This is the same network that refused to play any videos from groups that opposed the invasion of
To this day MTV buries any video of even moderate social conscience in the wasteland of late night and early morning programming, if they decide to run it at all. That Brand's comments actually made it onto the program comes sheerly from the fact that it was being broadcast live.
In short, Malkin and company aren't upset that the VMAs suddenly got political; they're upset because Brand represents the direction in which this country is shifting. The polls speak for themselves: 80 percent think the
As for the Brand's ribald mocking of the Jonas Brothers' rings, the furor it has provoked is as equally out of touch as those raising the hue and cry of a "politics free zone." Later in the night, "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks defended the rings: "I just wanna say, it's not bad to wear a promise ring because not every guy and girl wants to be a slut, OK?"
Sparks completely missed the point, and in many ways fed into the kind of misinformation and sexism behind the Republican right's "abstinence only" stance. The Jonas Brothers, a group of home-schooled Evangelical Christians posing as rock stars, are merely the face of a wider agenda that doesn't deter teen pregnancy, does nothing to stop the spread of STDs and ultimately leaves young women dangerously vulnerable. It's an agenda that has hopefully been even more discredited after the Bristol Palin scandal.
This is what Malkin and right-wing America are so uppity about--that the leaks in the hull have become too numerous, and sticking their fingers in the cracks simply isn't cutting it anymore. It almost was enough to make the VMAs watchable, if only for a few minutes.
Alexander Billet is a music journalist and activist living in Chicago. He is a regular contributor to SleptOn.com, Dissident Voice and ZNet. His article on censorship in hip-hop is included in the recently published At Issue: Should Music Lyrics be Censored for Violence and Exploitation? from Greenhaven Press. His blog, Rebel Frequencies can be viewed at http://rebelfrequencies.blogspot.com, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.