Well, Russell Brand is at it again. And sadly, I suspect that unless someone kicks him squarely in the bollocks, he’s likely to keep banging on eternally with his simplistic call to the disenchanted to take up their pitchforks and flaming torches and… I really don’t know what. Burn the castle down? Guillotine the aristocrats? Raid the palace wine cellar? Some disgruntled display of non-specific discontent, in any event.
Not only that, there have been suggestions of late that he also has designs on the mayorship of London. This could present something of a challenge for Brand, as he has opined on numerous occasions that people shouldn’t vote. Achieving office of mayor would thus provide him with an interesting technical obstacle.
Brand is out and about promoting his new book ‘Revolution’ and it strikes me that it’s an episode of high irony that this swaggering narcissistic auteur (his Wikipedia entry now lists him as an ‘activist’) who’s made his career as a comedian, desperately wants people to take him seriously.
I have talked about him previously on the Cow, as you undoubtedly remember, and as I said then, it’s not his belief that things are broken with which I take exception. Things definitely are broken, but Brand’s simplistic call-to-arms – aligning his attitudes as he does with the Occupy movement – offers no enlightenment on the complexity of the problems, and no way forward. All Brand really has to offer, once you pare away his angry posturing and hyperbole, is a swag bag of platitudes and naive idealism.
Brand’s book has so far garnered a stack of unflattering reviews. Mark Steel at the Independent attempts a show of support of Brand with a diatribe of condescending snark that seems to suggest that the negative reaction is due to some kind of confabulated de rigueur disdain for the would-be revolutionary. He finishes off (virtually repeating the Brand mantra word for word, as if he’s come up with a new piece of insight on the whole thing):
“..in a world in which it’s accepted by all major parties that banks and giant corporations and vast inequality are inevitable and can’t be curtailed, the most radical act can be to ask why.”
Seriously? It strikes me that, as radical acts go, asking why is a bleedingly obvious question that takes no great acumen whatsoever. If that’s the very best defence he can put up for Brand (and the article offers no evidence of anything else), then he’s working with very slim pickings. Steel might like to consider that the reason that reviewers have so comprehensively trashed Brand’s book is not because they’ve all come to some complicit agreement that he’s a fashionable whipping boy, but because his ideas are, actually, lame.
Steel quite rightly (if rather obtusely) points out that Brand’s bombast will appeal to young people. Of course it will – young people always respond well to simplistic rhetoric that offers to stick it to the Man – but this is hardly an endorsement of some revelatory new political strategy. It’s simply a recycling of the same aspirational flower-waving that we all subscribed to in the ’60s. And here we are again, because, hey – that went so well.
Why do I care so much about this? Why do I bother to spend words on this arm-waving would-be Zapata? Simply because it’s all such a misdirection of energy. An intelligent person like Brand could conceivably do a lot of good by attracting a young audience and constructively channeling their discontent. Unfortunately it’s just not good enough to be opinionated, brash and outspoken, no matter how passionate you are, nor how ‘right’. Constructive politics is not an explosive and radical landscape. It’s a difficult and complex process that requires thoughtful, dedicated and often slow application of strong and considered concepts. Most importantly, I think, it asks for a few things that Russell Brand is fairly short on: patience, insight and humility.