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The Russell Brand Issue

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Photo from Google images.

Words by George Odysseos

Russell Brand’s appearance on Newsnight and his essay calling for revolution has raised a few eyebrows, if only for a short while. Brand is no stranger to the limelight and it would seem almost pointless to list his various achievements and controversies. The questionable ethics of the comedian-cum-actor with the rock-star looks has made him a vaguely divisive figure. As divisive as you can get about a comedian, that is.

New Statesman - Russell Brand issue

I personally have a soft spot for him. Being the long-haired hippy sort that I am (or try to be), I can appreciate the quirkiness and slight romanticism of his style. He’s not a complete moron either. Not that using big words in an interview makes you clever, as The Spectator has pointed out, but he does seem to possess a certain degree of self-awareness, thanking Mika Brzezinski ‘for the casual objectification’ when the MSNBC hostess referred to him as if he were a (forgive the pun) ‘brand’. But is his latest escapade into the world of politics a step too far?

The first thing we could note is that, depressingly, none of what Brand says is new. The woes of the world is a trumpet that has been played often enough. His appeal seems to lie in the idea that he has cut through the stiff and boring political discourse of the mainstream media and has pursued a no-nonsense approach to the issues that we face today. Looking at his 4,500 word essay in the ‘Russell Brand Issue’ of the New Statesman, there is a sense that he wants to connect with his readers. He admits to having not spared a thought for the misfortune of others in faraway lands and to feeling anger towards banks and bankers only when an ATM charges him to withdraw his money. He’s just a regular guy like us in that sense. But he is also aware of the ‘hypocrisy’ in his pontificating from atop his mountain of fame and fortune ‘like Kubla Khan‘, so does this mean that he has no right to express his opinion?

The apathy of the youth, environmental concerns, the disparity between rich and poor, and our relation to the rest of humanity are things that should concern us all. Brand says that ‘these things are not nonsense’. And he’s right. But is he just another celebrity trying to get those public brownie points? His sharp increase in popularity on the web in the form of memes and the Facebook page ‘Russell Brand for Prime Minister’ (currently at over 120,000 likes) was obviously the effect he and the New Statesman were going for, but should we look at this ploy with disdain? Surely the benefit is that people will actually engage with politics once again, even if it is to express how unhappy they are with it. His appointment as co-editor of the New Statesman for the week was clearly a publicity stunt and his refusal to vote, along with his appeal to others to do the same, was a point Jeremy Paxman would not allow to go unchallenged.

Russell Brand issue
We could take the cynical view (some might say realistic) and dismiss Brand and his call to revolution as nothing but vacuous drivel by a man who is just after attention. But cynicism can be a lazy position for most things. Pointing out that revolutions invariably fail, get rolled back, or do not live up to expectations requires little insight into complex matters. Not that a touch of cynicism isn’t needed when dealing with political matters, but the default to inaction is hardly any more of an enlightened position to adopt. Having said that, I sympathize with the view that people cannot take Brand’s call to revolution seriously when he describes MTV’s dissemination of pop-culture as ‘like a glistening pink pony trotting through your mind shitting glitter’ or excusing himself from describing what his revolution would look like by saying ‘I’ve had a lot on me plate’.
 
So at the end of it what can we say about the whole thing? Should we describe Brand’s method as vulgar (in both senses of the word) or no-nonsense? We shall have to see how people respond to it. The internet has shown itself as capable of being a political force and Brand’s image is already being passed around along with his message. Even failed ideas create patterns of thought that can be successfully applied later.
Jeremy Paxman - Newsnight
I would like to end, though, with a thought Brand mentioned in his interview with Jeremy Paxman. Towards the end of the interview Brand seemed to be getting angry and he mentioned Paxman’s appearance on Who Do You Think You Are. He said he remembered that Paxman had cried when he heard about what his grandmother had suffered at the hands of ‘the aristocrats’. He pointed out that these things are happening right now and that people should engage that kind of emotion in order to do something about it. As unimpressive and simple as it seems, what I think Brand is after is a little humanity, and I can see nothing wrong with that.

Born and raised in Cyprus but with a British upbringing (a fun mix of halloumi and tea), George studies History at MMU but thinks the present can be just as fascinating – only just though. Believing it can be a strange and wicked world, George tries to make sure he’s armed with a sense of humour. Follow him at @OdysseosGeorge

About the author / 

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Natalie Carragher is a lecturer in journalism at Manchester Met. She loves indie magazines and going to gigs. Follow her on Twitter @NatCarragher

1 Comment

  1. George Odysseos 31st October 2013 at 1:53 pm -  Reply

    Cheers for the feedback! I don’t entirely know if I’m for or against either I suppose!

    Likewise, I think that something’s got to give. Whether it’s this kind of revolution that’s coming or something worse, I don’t know. Things can’t go on as they are now and I’m obviously hoping for the former! I agree that this things should be re-iterated. Again, and again. However, my issue is that they need to be articulated by people who are going to be taken seriously. Not in the sense of sour-faced seriousness, but I do think there is a bit of a tug-of-war between humour and being taken serious.

    Getting a few laughs does something, even if it’s just pointing out the inadequacies in the current state of affairs, but there is a step between laughing at problems and doing something about them.

    But I’m just trying to be the Devil’s advocate here. Like I said, I do like Brand and I do think he’s intelligent, but I’m just wondering aloud if he’s the right guy for the job.

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