The Message, Not The Man: Why Russell Brand Is Not Our Messiah, Nihilist or Otherwise

by Hannah Wallace Bowman

Let me begin by saying, I like Russell Brand. A lot. There is actually quite a high chance that I am in love with the rambunctious quipster. That now famous interview with Jeremy Paxman has been viewed worldwide and, quite honestly, I could not be more thrilled that he was able to articulate, in less than 10 minutes, the frustrations of a generation. 1384097_10101192290364329_1355535520_n

The problem is, however, that Jezza the J-ster Paxman, could not get past the fact that Brand himself does not vote. He could not get past Brand as being “facestious”, as Brand being a joker, as Brand being “trivial”; in fact, he could not get past the idea of Brand as an individual at all. And, while this made for scintillating viewing, it is also precisely why we cannot look to Mr RB to lead the revolution.

This has to be about more than just one man. This is about a message.

As we have seen from the responses of his critics over the past week or so, it is all too easy to undermine the need for change, when the impetus for said change becomes the responsibility of a man who also played the lead role in “Get me to The Greek.”

Rather than a deeper engagement with the social and political concerns that have generated such a profound response, the discussion is easily diverted to considerations of Brand’s questionable conduct with women or his former drug addiction.

In a widely circulated article for the Huffington Post, David Lustig accuses the comedian of being “Not just daft, but dangerous,” condemning Brand for suggesting people are justified in bowing out of an electoral system that fails to serve them.

“Voting doesn’t change anything?”  asks Lustig in rhetorical disgust.
“Tell all those tens of thousands of British workers on the minimum wage”

A minimum wage in the UK? Really, Señor Lustig? This is one of the best examples you can come up with as to how the electoral system serves the citizenry?

Excuse me if I slip on my skeptical face for a moment.

Surely this demonstration of “voter power” becomes slightly less momentous when we consider the ongoing privitization of the NHS in Britain, or the slashing of public sector budgets as those bankers who gambled away the country’s money enjoy legal impunity, or when we consider how thousands of people were ignored when Blair took the country into Iraq.
Indeed, in labeling Russell Brand as damaging and irresponsible, the only thing this article does succinctly is to miss the point. And here’s why.

Whether he votes or not is irrelevant. Indeed, whether you agree with this Essex hipster on his stance toward formal political participation is moot. The important thing is he is recognized as a legitimate voice who, in a few moments, managed to communicate a sense of disillusionment and despair that many feel.
The steadfast refusal to acknowledge that people are disengaging, are disillusioned, are underserved is itself the embodiment of apathetic sentiment, sweeping hardship and discontent under the silk Esfahan rug.

It is not up to a self-proclaimed “right-arsehole” to come up with a manifesto for change, and neither should it be. As he himself says, he is not looking to front a revolution:

“I’m here just to draw attention to a few ideas, I just want to have a little bit of a laugh. I’m saying there are people with alternative ideas that are far better qualified than I am, and far better qualified, more importantly, than the people that are currently doing that job.”

Having done a great service in bringing this discussion back into the mainstream, a necessary push for widespread political change cannot rely on a “Brand Manifesto” to provide the answers. To do so would be akin to looking for the meaning of life in between the pages of “Green Eggs and Ham”: brightly colored, linguistically accomplished but, fundamentally, just for entertainment.


Illustration from Dr Seuss children’s book classic , Green Eggs and Ham.

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3 thoughts on “The Message, Not The Man: Why Russell Brand Is Not Our Messiah, Nihilist or Otherwise

  1. Pingback: Russell Brand Owns the Mainstream Media | THE SCARECROW

  2. I am really glad that this interview created so much debate. Sadly I have not read any commentary on it that tries to show some alternatives. Brand leaves us with the unmistaken belief that in order to tackle climate change and global or national equality, then the only option is non-democratic. He may be right – he certainly believes that there’s no time waiting for the tortoise of elected government to save us. So if we deliberately opt out of voting, what do we do instead? In the old days, I guess we could have tackled this on a national level and had a good old punch up civil war. Change by force, not change by diplomacy. (Does Russell really stand for that?) How do we instigate change at an international level? Impossible? (Russell would do well to extend his spiritual ideal of change from within to a national level.) So how do we tackle change without electing someone to do it? Let us not forget that anybody who leads us (democratically or not) is effectively a politician – ie someone who has to gather enough consensus to make something happen. Whether they are US republican senators or the organisers of a anti-war demo. There is a very significant issue at play here that nobody has mentioned and that is what a post-Marxist marxist might call “control of the means of promotion”. Brand’s rant has been seen all over the world. What a waste! He has gift of having people listen to anything he says. And yet he is vacuous. So Brand has blown (so far) his political wealth. He has become a politician for a moment, but then run away because he knows what he’s done. But then I’m not surprised, because the culture of politics that he represents is inherently negative. A decade of vacuous 24 hour news has resulted in a belief that opposition is the only truth. Theatre improvisers will tell you that the improviser that blocks another’s idea, will always retain control, but will not help build an interesting scene. And this is where we find ourselves. In a world where Obama, Cameron and now Miliband know that the less they say, the safer they are. In a world where Murdoch controls a massive proportion of the means of promotion – particularly to an audience who needs revolution more than anyone else. So, what is the solution? Ironically, the solution is with the Russell Brands. They must stand for something, not stand against something. And again, ironically, the only non-violent way for an individual to lead a country to change is to influence elected politicians by influencing voters.
    In order to avoid criticism of my own vacuousness, I would recommend the strong promotion of the benefits and economies of scale of state owned, properly accountable provision of all essential goods and services – energy, water, non-investment banking. I would promote a 100% inheritance tax (except that it would be 100% re-distributed and not drawn into government spending.) I would set up community hubs with large depots of re-useable and shareable equipment and expertise. I would aim to make the UK self-reliant on renewable technologies by 2025. (The earliest estimate for drying up of fossil fuels is 2032.)

Speak that beautiful mind of yours!

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