by Daniel Isler
“The reason I’m focusing more on political and social ideas, than the past when I was focused primarily on my own penis, is because I am growing up now. Although he still does get enough attention.”
Russel Brand, the British comedian is said to evoke a revolution with a new issue of the “New Statesman” edited by him and the out of the ordinary interview with Jeremy Paxman. Brand, an extravagant figure, made a habit out of deconstructing traditional interviews and exposing the artificialness of TV studio recordings. He is also a stand-up comedian, an actor, a provocateur, a Messiah, a menace and much more. In the past five years, there is a visible awakening of old traditions of protest and defiance against “The System”. It could be the political system like in the case of Egypt and other Arab countries. It may be a financial system, as in the case of the “occupy Wall Street” movement. It could be the industrial system in the case of “green” causes and global warming and so on.
Often in revolutionary transition, there is a need for a charismatic and sweeping figure that will unify abstract ideas, ‘teach’ the public how to spit in the system’s face by personal example and will take the movement to the next level. Brand just might be this figure, at least in the context of the western world and the goals of a post-industrial protest movement. This comes as a result of several contradictions in his character that allows him to be appealing to so many crowds, and more importantly – the right ones.
He is theatrical yet sincere.
He is all out there, with his choice of words, his Essex drawl accent, his bluntly sexual body language. His performances on screen rarely give the viewer the feeling that he is watching a “real” person, but rather a radicalized version of a border-line crazy celebrity. This alter-persona allows him to get away with the most controversial statements and acts. This standing point allows Brand to deliver straightforward, sincere and true emotions. He is openly talking and making fun of his hard childhood and his mental disease, which allows him to make his audience and followers believe and relate to the more political and mobilizing content he produces.
He is ‘like us’, but he is completely NOT like us.
38 years old, born in Essex, England, his father left him, his mother got sick and pushed him to leave his home as a teenager. Against all odds, Brand pulled himself out of the ordinary life of a lower class Englishman, and into a glamorous life of an MTV rock star. And he is a rock star. He projects self satisfaction, brags about his sexual and financial success and is not modest about it. By relating his new lifestyle to the ones of his audience/followers (and by this I mean he emphasizes the big difference between the two), he stands out. Out of the dusty line of celebrities that do not touch politics, especially not revolutionary thoughts. The celebrities that would have set in front of Jeremy Paxman and would not challenge his conservative and dull questions whatsoever.
He is a nihilist and an ideologist.
As seen in the interview and his 4,500 words revolution manifesto, Brand holds firm opinions about the socio-economical situation and the political and industrial imbalance in the world, and proposes an alternative: “A socialist egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporation, and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies exploiting the environment. I think the very concept of profit should be hugely reduced”. In his entertainment content he communicates exactly the opposite: he believes in nothing, mocks everything, he does not vote and he is extremely self-centered. These messages relates very well with the contemporary protester: the one who lost any belief in the western model of democracy, that is seeking a radical and subversive change, that do not buy Paxman’s attempts to undermine Brand’s arguments with questions like: “what is the alternative?” “Why won’t you change it then? By voting”, or the classic “what’s the plan? What’s the scheme?”.
He is not American.
This might not be an inner contradiction, but it is an important component in Brand’s character that makes him so appealing as a voice for revolution. The contemporary protester, be it an Egyptian, a German, an Indian and yes, even an American – resents the United States. It is perceived, in general terms, as the source of inequalities, the main domain for the dangerous connection of capital-government-media, and the home of fake political correctness. This is not to say that these problems exist only with Uncle Sam, they don’t, and also a lot of those new protesters that are bound to follow Brand come from the U.S. But the charismatic figure itself cannot originate from this specific culture. Jon Stewart, for example, with his tones of good intentions (and actions), is still bound by the political correctness of American television and any non-American statement he might produce can cost him not only his career – but also his level of dignity in the eyes of the American public. Brand, on the other hand, has based himself as a counter-voice, the kind of voice that kick the establishment in the balls, that performs culture jamming on live TV. The kind of voice that can be appealing to more than the average American-Obama-voter. His blunt Britishness allows him to get away with extreme ideas and statements. And, well, it makes him sound damn smart.
Russel Brand, even if he will eventually be leader of no revolution, is transmitting in an uncensored channel the cry of a western lower class that needs change. Jeremy Paxman is representing the old and conservative paradigm that is so afraid of this upcoming change. Who is stronger? As always, the existing order is. Who will overcome? This is a different question.
Follow us on Twitter at @NameThisSoon
Get all the updates on Facebook