Rory Bremner as Ahmadinejad: The Purity of Alternative Media
by Chris Atton — Napier University
December 10, 2007 – 11:00
There is much talk about the ‘purity’ of alternative media. But are we simply to think of alternative media in terms of their opposition to a mainstream (whatever that is)? Alternative media can be just as subject to the same economic and political pressures that are present in more dominant forms of media. In addition, alternative journalists and commentators do not necessarily reject all existing forms of representation (there is, after all, relatively little avant-garde or experimental newswork going on in alternative media). Moreover, when alternative media producers want to preach to more than just the choir, they often need to adopt and adapt dominant media practices. The British satirists who came to prominence in the 1960s through programmes such as That Was The Week That Was and magazines such as Private Eye (now in its fifth decade of publication) might be considered as alternative media producers. Some of them, such as John Bird and John Fortune, are still active today. They have been joined by a younger generation of satirists, such as the impressionist Rory Bremner. Bremner’s routine in this clip has all the acuity of the most effective satire: it is closely observed, the product of a shrewd political intellect. It is concise and to the point. I find it very funny. But some might argue that the programme from which it is taken - Bremner, Bird and Fortune - should not be considered as an example of alternative media at all. Its writers and presenters are now seasoned professionals; it is broadcast on national television (on Channel Four, a commercial channel with a public service remit). It has little to do with the radical democratic and horizontal communication practices that characterise most theories of alternative media. Yet it seems to articulate many arguments and positions that we would find in ‘purer’ alternative media. What does this say about its ‘alternativeness’? What can it tell us about how we categorise, define and explain alternative media?