Sunday 26 October 2014

Russell Brand, Narcissist and Comrade?

I've always had a soft spot for Russell Brand. Like many recovering Big Brother fans, I first encountered him on E4's E-Forum, a side programme to Big Brother's Little Brother, which in turn was an adjunct to the main event. But there was something about Brand that made him stand out even in those days. Was it his larking about? His knowing jokes about himself and celebrity? The casual peppering of monologue with Nietzschean observations and obscure social theory references? Yes, probably. Since then his cheeky-chappery has taken off. Hollywood films and megastar celebrity ex-wives and ex-partners later, this last year Brand has been on a journey of self-reinvention. While always a lefty of some sort, since his successful one issue take-over of the New Statesman, Brand has been using the platform he has to rally support for protest actions and campaigns. He has, of course, taken part in a few himself. And now his has a new book to sell, Revolution. Should we then take him seriously?

Of course. But that isn't necessarily the same as taking his views seriously. As Sunny notes, his views aren't as much intellectually lightweight as anti-intellectual. Chris Dillow agrees, pointing out that Brand thrives because our landscape is an "intellectual desert". The unsigned author on us vs th3m makes another telling point:
The overall impression is of a man on the ultimate ego trip. Success as a comedian is no longer enough to satisfy him, he needs to make a real impact on the world. The question of whether he really has anything to offer, besides a charismatic stage presence and a verbose vocabulary, hasn’t even occurred to him. He refuses to consider properly the consequences of his flippant statements, but is entitled enough to assume everyone should listen anyway.
Others, both on the left and the right have taken him to task for his incoherence. All true, but I think the bigger point is getting missed.

Brand appears to be someone for whom the blinkers are coming off. The veil has fallen and the ugly unpleasantries of 21st century capitalism stand before him unadorned. And like many others who've undergone similar experiences, Brand is responding by precociously picking up on fashionable radical ideas and thinkers. The difference is he's doing this publicly, when most radicalisations - which are a messy, uncertain process - go unremarked and unnoticed. This is why Brand's ideas and "programme", if it can be called that, are so muddled. Criticising Westminster and spiralling inequality sits with hints of September 11th conspiraloonery and paeans to self-transformation/revolution of the heart nonsense. For old hacks with fully-rounded out views, like you and me, this is presents itself as naive and, thanks to Brand's profile, potentially problematic.

Yet this is not the finished product. Brand is on a trajectory. And most significantly, he does not hang round with the tin foil hat brigade. He helps the E15 mums. Works with the Fire Brigades Union. And unlike much of the left who've piled in to criticise him, he's rattled tins and raised awareness about the Kurdish comrades fighting ISIS in Kobane. In case you hadn't noticed, these radical causes are working class causes. The more he engages with labour movement activity, be it community campaigns, unions, or solidarity work the more this will discipline his views.

Does this matter? Yes it does. There are few celebrities with his platform who are engaging with reality-based left politics. Instead of dismissing him or constructing Chinese walls of bad tempered polemic and denunciation, anyone serious about socialist change should be encouraging him to get more involved in the labour movement - and urging his supporters and fans to do the same.

Brand's revolution is a long way off, I doubt it will ever see the day. But he can offer our movement and our ideas a much greater audience. He's holding out a hand of friendship only fools would turn down.


ejh said...

Well Sunny Hurndal of all people should recognise an intellectual lightweight when he sees one.

Anonymous said...

"He's holding out a hand of friendship only fools would turn down."

There appear to be no shortage of fools on the left.

asquith said...

This is the exact point at which I knew myself and Rasool Brand had to part ways:

Because "this is serious" and the rest of that sentence, which presumably wouldn't get published here, is what I think of the matter.

So he's involved in activities for good causes outside party politics. I actually wasn't aware of this. And if I wasn't, you can bet your bottom dollar Joe Public won't.

As I remarked on the "intersectionality" debates, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Advocacy of not voting because theyreallthesame has never appealed to me. And given that Rasool's fans are overwhelmingly young, taking up this "cause" will only cause this demographic to lose out even further.

Old-timers vote, and we can see the rewards they get in pension policy, mainly due to the work of the excellent Steve Webb (whom even you would have a hard time trying to denigrate) but also because of fear of upsetting them, whereas Webcameron couldn't give a turd about how many young people he outrages.

Of course Webcameron isn't bothered about anyone, unless he is MADE to care, and that won't be done by remaining aloof from the voting process.

I dread the thought of Rasool being carried to victory in a London mayoral election, if he stood, by the LOL BORIS WHAT A LEGEND demographic's younger brothers electing RUSSELL.BRAND.LAD. to high office.

Sometimes there is an event or series of events when it becomes clear that someone's ways of thinking and doing are irreconcilable with one's own. And I am at this point.

asquith said...

Anonymous said...


what you said



Matthew Selwyn said...

The quote about revolution being another thing Brand has turned his mind to, in the hope of satiating his personal ennui is really relevant I think - it's something I feel myself. Like you, I've followed Russell for years, enjoying him as a presence if not always agreeing with him. Whatever the reason behind his calls for revolution, however, it's really difficult not to be swept up in his innocent idealised picture of a world without rampant capitalism.

My review: Revolution by Russell Brand