Russell Brand is on everyone's lips. He heckled the GQ awards, wrote the latest in a series of brilliant pieces about them, and is now guest editing the New Statesman. Last night the comic and actor promised a "revolution" on Newsnight. But would you follow him to the wall?
Case for: Masterclass
“I hate Russell Brand. He’s an idiot and what really is a sex addict anyway?” There it is. The easiest card to play at the water cooler. But after his debate with Jeremy Paxman last night how about a shuffling of the pack?
Brand’s rant may have been lacking in specifics but it was a downright masterclass in forthright and intuitive persuasive-speaking. Might not his non-voting be perceived as apathetic, asked the venerable beardy one. No! retorted the less venerable beard - twisting the argument in a manner Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony would have been proud - “[It’s the politicians] that are apathetic to our needs: they’re only interested in servicing the needs of corporations!”
Brand the soap-boxer had it all: swagger, charm and even flattery for his opponent. “That beard - its gorgeous,” he purred. “Grow it longer… tangle it into your armpit hair.” And for his next trick? Robin Hood rhetoric of the highest order: “Aren’t the Tories taking the EU to court because they [the EU] are trying to curtail bankers’ bonuses?”
This is what one might call “route one political discourse”. It’s an approach that’s been tried by various people throughout history with varying degrees of success (Jesus Christ, Karl Marx and Pol Pot all spring to mind, while Ed Miliband’s “many not the few” tagline also has a whiff of Robin Hood economics to it)
Now, if Russell can just add a bit more of this type of political content to his next highfalutin diatribe – well, I’ll raise a pitchfork to that. Bravo Brand! Viva la Russolution!
Case against: Trivial
Yesterday evening, if you were fortunate enough to tune into Newsnight, you would have been privy to the ultimate expression of Slackerism, a political theory with roots in teenage angst, mild rebelliousness, and a pie-in-the-sky leftism that wants to pull down the walls of the politics then sit around smoking pot in the ruins. Russell Brand was being interviewed by Paxman. It was a car crash.
Britain’s most charming man – that’s Russell – sounded all too much like an undergraduate who hadn’t done their homework, grabbing wildly at big terms (“prescriptive parameter” this, “paradigm” that) and regurgitating some vague sense of global injustice (“this system just doesn’t address these ideas”). In the Brandian mode of Slackerism “profit” is, of course, a “filthy word” – because bankers are bad. That capitalism has also lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty is purely by-the-by. The sad thing is, he’s right about a lot of things too. Yet the way Brand went at it last night instantly discredited everything that came out of his mouth.
Apathetic cynicism about the political class is all the rage. But, much like Will Self on Question Time not long ago, these armchair idealists ignore the fact that democracy is a difficult process that involves compromise, and that the vast majority of politicians are simply the only people dull enough and public-spirited enough to stick around in politics.
If Brand had his way, and was king of the UK anarchists, he’d creep off to L.A. the moment he heard a good ashram was opening. At least with ‘boring snoring’ Rachel Reeves, you know she’s here for the long run. Brand is a searingly eloquent and brilliant commentator when on song. Yesterday night was a low point. To borrow Paxman’s put-down, what we saw was not a leader of the “despondent underclass”, but Britain’s most trivial revolutionary at work.