Spectacle and the functioning of power structures. The take-down of Russell Brand.

By: Gillian Schutte

This essay explores the interconnected use of rape allegations and conspiracy theory allegations against Russell Brand, an individual with influential views that challenge the status quo. Drawing upon Slavoj Žižek’s ideas on ideology, interpellation, spectacle, and the functioning of power structures, I examine how such allegations can serve as tools of suppression.

It is crucial to begin by acknowledging the gravity of abuse allegations. Such allegations, if valid, unveil deeply embedded power dynamics and societal injustices. It is therefore encumbent on us to take abuse allegations seriously as a moral and ethical imperative.

What I argue though, is that alongside the rape allegations, we must take into account the mainstream propensity to transform abuse allegations into sensational spectacles that captivate the public’s attention and sway opinion. This media sensationalism distorts perceptions and hinders a rational examination of the allegations and to this end the liberal media machinery ought to be scrutinized, critiqued and called to account.

My position on the rape allegations towards Russell Brand is that before we pronounce him guilty these allegations should be subjected to a rigorous and impartial legal investigation. In this way the process respects the principles of justice and ensures that all parties, including both the accusers and the accused, receive a fair assessment of the evidence. A belief in due process is not to be taken as a blanket dismissal of the survivor’s narratives.

Recent events have made it clear that to rush to judgment solely based on allegations and spectacular media coverage is a gross miscarriage of justice to survivors and accused alike. All allegations of rape are complex and require a meticulous examination of evidence, witness testimonies, and legal procedures. 

Further I argue that in the case of Russell Brand, a known counter-hegemony, dissident influencer with over 7,5 million followers across his social media platforms, it is imperative to engage in a critical interrogation of the ideological framing surrounding these abuse allegations as well as the UK government’s mandate to demonetise his social media platforms. We must explore how prevailing ideologies shape societal responses to such allegations and examine the potential for state and mainstream ideological bias and manipulation. 

This is not an apologetic stance but a call for a critical examination of power dynamics at play. The slew of articles denouncing Brand’s clear left-wing stance as conspiracy theory ‘pandering to the right wing’ are a case in point, which I will examine in part two of this essay.

In Žižek’s framework, Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) play a key role in shaping and perpetuating the dominant ideology of the ruling class. When individuals like Russell Brand threaten this ideology with their influential views, the ISAs may resort to tactics like coercing women into making false allegations of abuse to discredit and silence them. These allegations strategically paint dissenters as morally corrupt, undermining their credibility and reinforcing the status quo. It is therefore foolish to not critically examine this possibility of a systemicly orchestrated campaign to silence Brand.

The critical engagement with this possibility should in no way undermine the accusations of abuse of any survivor – just as the allegations should not hamper critical examination of the propensity of ISAs to label those who push up against their system as rapists. It is also not unheard of for ISAs to orchestrate these types of campaigns against those they wish to gag.

To further this engagement, we must look to Žižek’s concept of interpellation, drawn from Louis Althusser’s ideas, which explains how individuals are hailed into particular subject positions by ideological apparatuses. False allegations of abuse can serve as a mechanism for interpellation, invoking a moral panic that prompts society to align against the accused. In this process, influential voices like Russell Brand, who challenge the status quo, may find themselves interpellated into positions of guilt and moral reprehensibility.

Žižek’s concept of interpellation is a central component of his analysis of ideology and how individuals are positioned within ideological structures. To understand interpellation, we must first grasp the notion of the subject in Žižek’s framework. The subject, in this context, refers to an individual who is subjected to ideology and becomes a subject through that process.

Žižek argues that subjects are not pre-existing, autonomous individuals with fixed identities. Instead, subjects are produced as effects of ideology. Ideology, in this context, refers to the prevailing system of beliefs, values, and norms that shapes the way society perceives and organizes itself. Ideology is not just a set of ideas; it is a social and cultural structure that influences how individuals think, act, and relate to others.

Interpellation, as described by Žižek, is the process by which individuals are hailed or called into specific subject positions by ideological apparatuses, such as institutions, media, and discourse. It’s as if ideology addresses individuals, saying, “Hey, you there!” This act of hailing is not a passive encounter but an active process of subject formation.

When individuals are interpellated, they are called into specific subject positions within the ideological structure. These subject positions are roles or identities prescribed by ideology. For example, in a capitalist society, subject positions might include “consumer,” “worker,” or “citizen.” In a patriarchal society, subject positions could be “man” or “woman.”

Interpellation leads to subjectivization, which is the process of individuals identifying with and internalizing the subject positions offered by ideology. In other words, individuals come to see themselves and their identities in terms of these subject positions. They accept the roles and expectations associated with those positions.

Crucially, when individuals respond to the hail of ideology, they recognize themselves as the subject being hailed. They acknowledge and accept the subject position, which reinforces their participation in the prevailing ideology. This recognition is not a conscious or deliberate act; it occurs at a subconscious level.

Interpellation serves as an ideological alibi, concealing the fact that ideology is constructed and contingent. It makes individuals believe that their subject positions are natural and inevitable, rather than socially constructed. This obscures the underlying power dynamics of ideology.

Interpellation is a fundamental mechanism for the reproduction of ideology within society. It ensures that individuals continually occupy and reinforce the subject positions that align with the dominant ideology. This process perpetuates the social order and maintains the power structures in place.

In the context of false allegations of abuse or conspiracy theory allegations, interpellation can be employed strategically to vilify individuals who challenge the status quo. By framing them in a specific subject position, such as “conspiracy theorist” or “abuser,” those who wield power can manipulate public perception and suppress dissent. Understanding interpellation and subject formation helps shed light on how individuals are positioned within ideological structures and how these positions can be exploited for political or social purposes.

Applying Žižek’s framework to the hypothetical scenario of false allegations of rape and conspiracy theory accusations against Russell Brand, we can examine the desired impact within this theoretical framework:

Subject Positioning: False allegations of rape and conspiracy theory accusations function as powerful ideological tools that interpellate Russell Brand into specific subject positions. He is not merely an individual facing accusations; he is positioned as the accused, the alleged perpetrator, and, simultaneously, the conspiracy theorist.

Internalization of Accusations: Žižek argues that individuals often internalize the subject positions imposed upon them by ideological apparatuses. In this case, Brand may internalize the roles of the accused and conspiracy theorist, affecting how he perceives himself within society and how he understands his own actions and beliefs.

Fragmentation of Identity: Žižek’s theory also suggests that individuals can experience a fragmentation of their identity when subjected to conflicting subject positions. Brand may struggle to reconcile his identity as a progressive advocate with the accusations of rape and conspiracy theorist, leading to inner conflict and a sense of disorientation.

Effects on Public Perception: Interpellation is not limited to the individual; it also affects how others perceive the individual. In this scenario, the media and the state interpellate the public to view Russell Brand through the lenses of the accused and conspiracy theorist, potentially reshaping how the public interprets his actions and beliefs.

Reproduction of Ideology: False allegations and conspiracy theory accusations, when propagated by ideological apparatuses, serve to reproduce existing power structures and dominant ideologies. In this case, such accusations could be used to discredit Brand’s progressive ideas and maintain the status quo.

Resistance and Transformation: Žižek’s theory also acknowledges the potential for resistance and transformation. Brand, as an interpellated subject, may actively resist the imposed subject positions and attempt to redefine himself and his beliefs within the public discourse.

Žižek’s theory of interpellation offers a framework to understand how false allegations and accusations can shape the subject positions of individuals like Russell Brand within society. These accusations not only affect Brand’s self-perception but also influence how the public perceives him, potentially reinforcing or challenging dominant ideologies and power structures.

Spectacle and Manipulation

Žižek has criticized the media’s role in creating spectacles that divert attention from systemic issues. False allegations of abuse, when amplified by mainstream media, can become sensational spectacles that distract the public from the substantive critiques offered by individuals like Russell Brand. This spectacle serves to marginalize influential voices and maintain the prevailing order.

Expanding on how false allegations can become spectacles and tools of manipulation in the wake of the Me Too movement within Žižek’s framework requires an examination of the intersection between ideology, media, and the Me Too movement itself.

The Me Too movement emerged as a response to widespread sexual harassment and abuse, shedding light on the pervasive power imbalances and gender inequalities in society. This movement was initially driven by a genuine desire for social justice and the exposure of hidden abuses of power. However, like any social movement, it can also be subject to ideological shifts and manipulations.

In Žižek’s framework, ideology plays a central role in shaping how society perceives and responds to issues. False allegations, within the context of the Me Too movement, can be instrumentalised by certain factions to reinforce existing power structures. Those who benefit from the prevailing ideology may use false allegations as a means to discredit the movement and its legitimate grievances.

Media, as an Ideological State Apparatus (ISA), plays a crucial role in amplifying and framing narratives. In the wake of the Me Too movement, media outlets have the power to turn individual cases of allegations, true or false, into sensational spectacles. The intense media coverage can create a moral panic, diverting public attention from systemic issues and reinforcing existing ideologies.

False allegations, when brought into the media spotlight, can serve as a means of weaponizing the Me Too movement for political or personal gain. These allegations can be strategically deployed to manipulate public opinion, create division, and sow doubt about the legitimacy of the entire movement. This tactic is in line with Žižek’s critique of the media’s role in creating spectacles that distract from structural inequalities.

Within this context, false allegations can also be seen as a form of manipulative interpellation. By framing individuals as abusers or perpetrators without due process, certain elements within the Me Too movement may be interpellating the public into subject positions that reject the movement’s broader goals of addressing systemic abuse and inequality. This manipulation reinforces the existing ideological order.

False allegations, when sensationalized by the media, can contribute to the manufacturing of consent for a particular narrative. Public outrage and condemnation generated by these allegations may lead to calls for punitive actions against individuals, even before guilt is established. This aligns with Žižek’s concept of manufacturing consent to serve the interests of powerful elites.

The transformation of false allegations into spectacles and tools of manipulation within the Me Too movement can be understood as a complex interplay of ideology, media, and power. While the movement itself seeks to address genuine grievances and challenge existing power structures, false allegations can be exploited to reinforce the status quo. The media’s role in amplifying these allegations and diverting attention from systemic issues aligns with my critique of the media’s capacity to create distractions and maintain ideological hegemony. It underscores the need for critical analysis and discernment in navigating the complexities of social movements and media narratives, especially when false allegations are weaponized to undermine legitimate calls for change.

The concept of “manufacturing consent,” as articulated by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, posits that media can manipulate public opinion to align with the interests of powerful elites. False allegations of abuse can be part of this manufacturing process, generating public outrage and condemnation. Simultaneously, conspiracy theory allegations are deployed to paint individuals like Russell Brand as irrational or fringe figures. This effectively manufactures consent for the suppression of dissent and reinforces the existing power structure.

Both false allegations of abuse and conspiracy theory allegations serve as tools to preserve the ideological hegemony of the ruling class. By discrediting and silencing influential voices like Russell Brand, the power structures that benefit from the status quo can maintain their dominance. Influential figures who pose a threat to the established order may be systematically targeted with allegations to protect the existing power hierarchy.

In this framework, the intertwined use of false allegations of abuse and conspiracy theory allegations emerges as a systematic strategy to suppress influential voices challenging the status quo. Through the deployment of ideological apparatuses, interpellation, spectacle, the manufacturing of consent, and the preservation of hegemony, these allegations serve as powerful tools to silence dissent and protect the interests of the ruling elite. The case of Russell Brand exemplifies how such tactics can be weaponized to discredit and marginalize individuals who dare to challenge established power structures. This analysis underscores the importance of critical scrutiny and vigilance in the face of such tactics, as they threaten the integrity of public discourse and the pursuit of meaningful social change.

Gillian Schutte is a South African writer renowned for her courageous and incisive work challenging hegemonic narratives and serving as a keen social critic. Her writing delves deep into the intricate web of South Africa’s historical and contemporary complexities, particularly the enduring effects of apartheid and racial inequality. Schutte fearlessly questions dominant ideologies and power structures, aiming to dismantle them and pave the way for a more just society. Her essays, articles, and books provoke thought and inspire dialogue, encouraging readers to critically examine the status quo while envisioning a future where marginalized voices are heard and social justice prevails.