Let me see if I understand the rules: If you’re an American celebrity, it’s permissible to criticize the president, but not if you do it overseas (see: Dixie Chicks). Now, it appears, there’s a converse rule: It’s also not permitted for a foreign celebrity to come to our shores and criticize our president and tell us how to vote. Judging by the firestorms that have erupted on our comment boards (here and here), that’s the gist of the complaint against VMA host Russell Brand (pictured) for his blunt political advocacy during his opening monologue and throughout last night’s show. In particular, he urged Americans to vote for Barack Obama and called George W. Bush a "retarded cowboy" who, in the U.K., wouldn’t be trusted with even a pair of scissors. (Doesn’t he know that you can’t say "retarded" in this country anymore?) The anti-Brand complaint seems to be: You have no right to come over here from Limeyland to tell us how to vote or to mock our president — that’s our job. Then again, many commenters thought Brand was hilarious and spoke truth to power.
Brand also courted controversy by repeatedly making fun of the Jonas Brothers’ virginity pledges (and using them as an excuse to make teen pregnancy jokes about Bristol Palin and her fiancee). He issued a sort of non-apology apology about that later in the show, as if someone had twisted his arm backstage, but then threw in an R. Kelly joke, as if to say he wasn’t repentant at all. Finally, in stepping on Robert Pattinson’s introductory remarks, he alienated untold numbers of loyal Twilight fans.
Now, while I actually agree with most of what Brand said about politics, even I thought his remarks were tacky. So were his jibes at the Jonas Brothers (though Jordin Sparks’ response, that promise rings are okay because "not every guy and a girl wants to be a slut," was equally tacky). Still, complaining about tackiness at an MTV production is as futile as complaining about lip-synching or product placement. And Brand’s political remarks seemed to play well in the room. Which is why I predict that his controversial emceeing turn may actually have done him more good than harm.
Brand has a history of destroying his career through his own outrageous behavior, and if public sentiment is any guide, he could have done it again last night. But the Hollywood types in attendance on the Paramount lot last night seemed to enjoy him, and their opinion may matter more than ours in terms of his job prospects. Besides, last night’s VMAs were as mediocre as ever, but no one can stop talking about Brand, who two days ago was a virtual unknown in America. He’ll certainly be a solid test case for the theory that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Tell us, PW-ers, did Brand commit career suicide last night, or will his controversial performance serve as the calling card that lands him bigger and better gigs on this side of the pond?