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Government, Inequality, Opinion

The trouble with Brand(-ing)

Brand(-ing): verb. To promote or follow the political ‘teachings’ of Russell Brand.

Russell Brand

Russell Brand’s been on the tele and in the papers a lot recently, and it’s been winding me up somewhat.  Despite my annoyance I can’t help but seek out the coverage because on some level I want to be outraged.  Even though I’m generally in agreement with him I’m sort of waiting for him to say something stupid again, like “I don’t vote and I don’t think you should either”.  I’m not sure where this vitriol comes from, and yes it does have a certain “People’s Front of Judea” vibe I confess.  When my fiancée stuck up for Brand it led to a weird and pointless argument and that is how, upon reflection, I decided to give him a chance or at least learn to keep my cake hole shut at home.  Then I decided to participate in #NaBloPoMo so I’ll take any inspiration I can get, hence here I am.  Still talking about Russell Brand.

We have something in common, Russell and I. We’re both passionate about the spiritual and the political in equal measure. For me, Brand sounds more genuine when he’s talking about his spiritual transformation… about kundalini yoga and the inner knowledge that we are all somehow interconnected, that we are one. I BELIEVE him when he talks about stuff. I believe that he has lived it while (possibly due not to some inherent quality or lack of knowledge, but his lavish and privileged lifestyle) I find him less convincing as a political activist. I find myself wondering whether if, on any level, Brand is conscious of this potential conflict. I wonder this because I know that I was political before spiritual, and that the two are not often found in one being. The majority of raving lefties like us are atheist, or at the very least agnostic. The majority of new age types don’t like to think about politics because, according to the Law of Attraction, focussing on the negative in society only breeds more of the same. So Russell and I are anomalies. I’ve long been conscious of this contrast and I wonder if he is too. He’s managed to weave the two together in a way I never have, as though he’s not aware it might confuse or alienate anyone, whereas I am way more comfortable talking politics and well aware that when I do start to talk spiritualism I’ll probably lose the handful of occasional readers I have. This doesn’t seem to be affecting Russell Brand – he’s more popular than ever – although it’s the politics not the yoga that’s getting him all over the papers.

As I’ve said I found him being plastered all over the TV and papers painted as some kind of working class messiah INTENSELY annoying. Normal people choose to ignore stuff that annoys them. But not me. I can’t bite my tongue, I can only attempt to control the direction and format I let it loose in.  So I chose to read his new book – Revolution – and then use this as the topic to re-launch the Ethical Times blog (or the ET for short).

What’s so annoying about him anyway?

Admittedly thanks to clean living he no longer looks like the personification of syphilis, but he still speaks like a Dickensian villain who’s just completed a MOOC in Marxism 101. He seems overly enamoured with a few fancy words (hegemony and paradigm are particular favourites). And every couple of pages he lapses into rhyme, and I think I’ve wondered into Dr Seuss material.  Only more sweary. Frankly that’s disconcerting.

On top of that, anyone who does one of these Che Guevara copy pictures is instantly on my shit list. The fact that Guevara’s family remained so committed to the message of his life that they have never attempted to copyright or profit from his image should inspire us to offer up ourselves just as freely – as humans, as inspiration, NOT as a brand or a commodity. To steal Che Guevara’s image to promote yourself is to miss that message entirely and frankly that pisses me off. Madonna… Ricky Gervais… I’m looking at you as well *INFJ death stare*

But these are shallow reasons when Russell Brand and I are, without doubt, on the same side and I’m willing to let such trivialities go (I’m all about the greater good, me). The trickier issue is the fact he’s being taken so damn seriously. Editing New Statesman, appearing on Newsnight, getting a book deal… He’s not the messiah. He’s a TV presenter who read a couple of books. He’s had his eyes opened to inequality and that’s great, but he isn’t experiencing it. Therefore he will never truly understand it. And that ultimately makes him unqualified to speak for ‘us’ (the people on the wrong side of that inequality). After all, isn’t this part of the whole problem? Call it the cult of celebrity or the powers that be or even the middle class intelligentsia, but it has always been someone else speaking for us. Russell Brand wants to give ‘us’ a voice but why are we consistently failing to make our own voices heard? Why are we looking to a TV presenter (however well-meaning he might be) to tell us what to think? Why is our voice either silent or ignored? Where’s the benefit claimant or the immigrant on Newsnight? When does an A&E nurse get to guest edit New Statesman? Why is it so accepted that celebrities deserve to be listened to, and we don’t? Isn’t Russell Brand just another example of the whole damn problem he’s trying to expose?

Yawn, ok ok – what about the book?

This book seeks to cover a LOT of ground. Oddly, that ground does not include revolution. Certainly not a political revolution anyway. It’s more about a gradual revolution of ideas, of coming to an understanding of the fact that the system is screwing you and well… quite how we’re supposed to get from understanding that and doing some deep breathing to overthrowing the established power structures has still not been adequately explained.  But since no one’s been able to answer that satisfactorily yet (otherwise we’d have done it and this would be a moot point) I can’t really hold this against him.

Revolution is a partly biographical look at Brand’s past and his own failings as a human being (this is when Brand is at his most endearing and relatable, in my opinion) and partly a political lecture, where Brand recants the various things he’s learned from other sources. They are all true by the way, so if you haven’t yet figured out that our society has been deliberately and intricately designed to repeatedly fuck us you should read this book.

Surprising bits

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs! It made me chuckle to find this Business Studies A’level staple of boringness in there, especially because I once wrote a blog post about it too. I think I’ll re-post the blog tomorrow as I can’t resist the neat little segue. There’s a bit of MTV presenter in all of us.  (Go read it here)

Awesome bits

I’ll bow out on my favourite quote from the book. It’s not a revolutionary thought – we all know this to be true already, but it is beautiful in its sheer unabashed honesty. For this, I might even forgive Brand his stupid Newsnight comment about how voting makes you complicit in the current system.  For the record, when it comes to voting this crazy old guy from the butter adverts is right.  To not vote plays right into the hands of politicians – the less people they need to persuade at election time the happier they are.  And it’s only about 20,000 people in key seats they are worrying about.  If you don’t vote they ain’t worrying about what you think for one second.  You’re doing them a favour.  If suddenly all the people who don’t bother to vote did turn up there would be enough of them to swing most seats in the country – and that, ironically, really could be revolutionary.


Anyway, as promissed, here is my favourite moment from the book:

Any British politician like David Cameron who claims to be Christian – which means to practice the teachings of Jesus Christ – has to (like Jesus) heal the sick. Not (like a cunt) sell off the NHS

Revolution by Russell Brand


About ethicalgirl

Ethically obsessed tree-hugging leftie.


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