I have just been sent, by Clapham Picturehouse, an invitation to “In Conversation with Russell Brand: a frank discussion between Russell Brand and the Guardian’s renowned journalist and commentator Owen Jones”.
While it is wonderful that political debate, wherever it is on the political spectrum, is broadcast to a wide audience, there are many striking paradoxes in this invitation.
First of all, the invitation states “that Brand has been taking on talk show hosts, Fox News fascists and BBC stalwarts. Now drawing on the likes of Orwell and Piketty, he sets out his ideas for a brighter, fairer society.” I would never expect Russell Brand to like Fox News. But to label Fox News as “fascists” is not only clearly wrong (fascists for example never upheld the principle of free speech) but more importantly is also insulting and demeaning to all those who have suffered – and continue to suffer – from the horrors of totalitarianism.
Second to suggest in the same paragraph that George Orwell may in some way have been sympathetic to his arguments is also extraordinarily ignorant. Orwell loathed this kind of misuse of language. In 1944, for example, he wrote that: “It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless… Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one — not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword. “
Third, there is the delicious irony that the Picture House Group is an achingly trendy art house set-up, which boasts on its website that “Picturehouse Cinemas was formed in 1989 to challenge the multiplex model and provide cinemas that serve their communities in city-centre locations. We are now the leading independent cinema operator with 20 sites in our group, and are the fourth largest circuit in the UK. Independent, art-house and foreign-language films have always been central to our profile.”
All fine, but read on and you will see that “Picturehouse Cinemas and Picturehouse Entertainment continue to go from strength to strength following new investment from Cineworld in 2012.” And who is Cineworld, the 100% owners of the Picturehouse group? It is the second-largest cinema operator in the UK with more than 800 screens. Not only that, but it is clearly a pretty tough and successful operation. Last year, The Guardian revealed that Cineworld employs 80% of its 4,300 staff on zero hour contracts. Moreover, this year Cineworld's Picturehouse chain has seen a long campaign of industrial action because it refused to pay the London Living Wage to its staff; the strikers garnered the support of no less than Eric Cantona.
I may be wrong but I suspect that Russell Brand and Owen Jones have both railed against the evils of zero hours contracts. And it is not entirely impossible that they have also both supported the London Living Wage. But should you be tempted to go to a PictureHouse screening of their debate – and I certainly am tempted – do bear in mind that both you and Mr Brand and Mr Jones will all be lending your support to the excellent Cineworld organisation. And do remember that if you ever hear them hold up the sanctity of the picket line, that they themselves have, whether knowingly or not, supported an organisation whose staff has come out on strike against its employment policies.
You couldn’t make it up.