With the release of his latest book has Russel Brand missed his chance to do something truly revolutionary? Paul Doyle thinks so and here he puts his manifesto to the testo.
Brand’s purported magnum opus, ‘Revolution’, could have been given away for free online. For no charge, it could have been available to all on Brand’s website, torrents, and anywhere that wished to host it; a beautiful statement about working outside the system from a multi-millionaire who seriously does wish to tear down the walls of his own golden palace.
It could have spread like the plague, ‘Have you read Brand’s new book? He’s giving it away for free you know’. It could have been released with no copyright, so that anyone who wished to print it and spread the word themselves could do so.
Brand, finally, would have un-cuffed himself from the chains of celebritarian clownery he so happily shackled himself with a few short years ago. His long sought after socialist credentials would have finally been obtained.
None of that good stuff happened, though. The book has a recommended retail price of 20 pounds, and is on sale in shops everywhere pretty soon. A large media tour will almost certainly ensue. Russell, if you’re a celebrity who claims you’re trying to end global capitalism and inequality, you should probably make sure the working class people you claim you’re trying to emancipate from the drudges of abject poverty can afford your Manifesto Westo.
Even after getting one up on Paxman, slating Fox News, and openly mocking the unnecessary pageantry and fakery of an MSNBC news show, Russell Brand is still, it seems, not really taken very seriously as a political force by a lot of people. This is not, as he would have you believe, because those against the revolution seek to discredit him – it is because he for so many years has so often discredited himself.
In a recently published abstract from his book, Brand, discussing a series of events that lead him to the belief that he needs to change the world (he was at a celebrity fundraiser for the victims of the Haiti earthquake), actually pretty succinctly articulates the reason that his cause is treated with such suspicion.
“It is just unfortunate that when philanthropy meets the machinery of celebrity, it acquires such an unpleasing hue.”
Although this remark was a comment regarding the perception of other celebrity philanthropists, it is in fact Brand’s image that the unpleasing hue, no matter how hard he seems to try, or how noble his intentions may be, will not leave.
Indeed, the dismissive sniggering directed at Brand is not unlike the mockery aimed at Gulliver, who, after returning from the land of the tiny Lilliputians, demanded that horses and carriages get out of his way, lest he crush them with his mighty size.
Brand, who, was undoubtedly a formidable intellectual force in the superficial and vacuous world of celebrity he has spent so long a time in, now finds himself in the world of serious political discourse – and his good natured egalitarian expedition an object of scorn.
In the province of serious political discussion, it is the minuscule Brand who will be mown down if he does not watch his step – not those he seeks to cumbersomely race by toward his vague conception of utopia.
The Politically Charged Jester
A few years ago, I was sitting in the audience for a public debate about abortion in UCD. When the debate was opened to the crowd, one young man did, verbatim, a George Carlin bit about abortion – ‘Why is it that when it’s a person it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken it’s an omelette, AMIRITE’ – much to the confusion of the audience.
Since Lenny Bruce, there has always been a category of young people who inform their politics via the wisdom of comedians. Young men who have adopted a Hicksian demeanour, a Carlinesque swagger, and now a Brandian antipathy toward the establishment, are easy to find, and ever ready to regurgitate a condensed version of their comedian anti-hero’s political aphorisms.
Brand’s bizarre attempt at some kind of revolutionary propogande par la fait has one sure-fire result: young people who buy his message will discuss loudly their disillusionment with the system, yet rue actually doing something about it. And, as with Hicks and Carlin, Brand’s followers are no more versed in politics after hearing his message; they can just echo his sound bites. Viva La Revolution!
While Brand has, to his credit, done better in terms of creating some serious conversation about politics than Hicks and Carlin, his positions are still, like those of political comedians before him, reducible to sound bites and buzzwords.
During an interview with the Huffington Post, one of Brand’s numerous blind spots was embarrassingly shown when it was revealed that he did not know who Bashar Al-Assad was. Brand had previously been on television waxing about what should be done with regard to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria.
A Radical Socialist Media Darling
If they were to respond to criticisms of his chosen method of disseminating his message, I’m sure defenders of Brand’s brand of revolutionary politics would say that one must work within the system on a certain level if one is to change it – as they do when his high ticket prices and advertisements for multinationals are brought up. Fine.
But then, why, must poor people work outside the system (they are encouraged by him not to vote, as it ‘won’t make a difference’), while he actively engages with it, making millions from tours, books, and television appearances?
It’s a pretty bad idea to encourage the poor, weak, marginal and vulnerable not to vote – reducing the volume of their already dulled and virtually unheard voices to absolutely zero. Noam Chomsky, who Brand often cites as an influence, says that when one is dealing with a power system as large as the US or the UK, it’s often important to vote – because the smallest of differences in policy can be of massive consequence.
The powers that be, the government, the man, whatever, are not stupid, and will hum merrily along as young people grow apathetic and unengaged and cynical with politics. Realistically, don’t vote – nothing changes.
Here lies the biggest problem with Brand; when you take away all the pageantry and lacquering of celebrity that he claims to so loath, what you’re left with is a rich, famous, powerful white male encouraging young people who want change not to vote; a terminus of vacuity in which the apparent answer to our cultures problem with celebrity and the superficial is merely a new category of celebrity he has created for himself – the disillusioned revolutionary.
And that’s just it; for all of the attempts made at iconoclasm, Brand does everything in his power to portray himself as some kind of saviour. No?
Make a visit to the website in which he advertises ‘BRAND: The Film’, and see for yourself how the comedian views himself as ‘a troubled visionary who embraced the superficial and doped up times in which we live, only to find it was an empty proposition’.
It turns out that the unpleasing hue, the unpleasant stench, the inescapable irony, is that Brand’s crusade against global capitalism has garnered him unprecedented money and fame. The revolution will be televised, apparently.
Brand will continue to appear on talk shows as a media darling, he will continue to live a celebrity lifestyle, and if he is listened to, the poor and marginalized will remain apathetic and uninterested in politics. In this sense, how will the outcome of his mission differ from that of Fox News, an organisation he so despises?
When the narcissism, the buzzwordery, and the questionably profitable methods of disseminating his revolutionary socialist message are eventually curtailed, then perhaps Brand’s words can be heard without a full faced cringe being induced.
Those in the UK who desire real, palpable change, or at the very least to keep the likes UKIP and the BNP away from meaningful positions of power, should, I dunno, probably go out and vote in elections, or something.