When I was asked to write this blog I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me.
JUST KIDDING. That was a JOKE. I DIDN’T LITERALLY MEAN THAT.
In actual fact nobody asked me to write this blog but I am doing so because I want to say something about Russell Brand and revolution.
“Russell Brand and revolution.” Now there’s two, well, brands I never thought I’d see in the same sentence. Who did? I am sure I’m not the only one thinking this is all rather weird and strange. But hey, I personally tend to like weird things so I have reason to be pretty excited.
As weird, absurd and downright Monty Python-esque it all may seem, Mr Russell “I like to fuck models” Brand not only wrote an article but guest-edited the whole October issue of a British political magazine called New Statesman. His 4,500 word editorial-turned-political manifesto begins with this sentence:
“When I was asked to edit an issue of the New Statesman I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me.”
He is referring to Jemima Khan, the human rights campaigner and associate editor at the magazine. Some folks on the “Left” got so upset about a “sexist pig” calling for a revolution that they wrote a petty character assassination and shot him down because he’s a dirty rich white guy and that’s all he deserves. An internet front of red comrades attacked Brand and his call for revolution because he is neither red or a comrade.
All this negative animosity despite the fact that the sentence which followed his (rather silly and dare I suggest tongue-in-cheek) opening line was more to-the-point and, most importantly, more widespread than anything Tony Benn has managed to say in years:
“I chose the subject of revolution because the New Statesman is a political magazine and imagining the overthrow of the current political system is the only way I can be enthused about politics.”
“Imagining the overthrow of the current political system.”
That’s all he is doing. He’s imagining alternatives in a country in which democracy and party politics and a sense of real political empowerment (on the Right and particularly on the Left) are long gone and he’s simply calling for another way of thinking, to think outside the box of Right-Left party politics.
He’s not a political expert, he’s not an academic, he’s certainly not poor, immigrant or a woman. He’s a white male celebrity and he’s talking about revolution as if he’s Tracy Chapman. Except, of course, he’s not. He’s Russell Brand.
Let me be clear: I’ve always despised the guy. He’s always seemed like a slightly dumb, self-obsessed narcissist, slimy, arrogant idiot not to mention a bad actor. They say he’s a comedian, but I wouldn’t know, I’ve never seen his stand up. I once saw about ten minutes of some terrible Hollywood film in which he seemed to play himself. I concluded he can’t act and changed the channel. Many years ago I bumped into him in Hampstead, North London. He was coming out of Boots with some tall woman who looked like a model. They both looked like yuppie scum to me.
I wasn’t a fan of his then, and I’m not a fan of his now. He sums up a lot of things that are wrong about sexist pig celebrity culture.
However! My view altered slightly when I saw him on the Newsnight clip last week. It gave me a sense of pleasure to see someone take on Jeremy Paxman. I’ve always been more of a Jon Snow-fan myself so I’ve never been too keen on Paxman.
Jon Snow and his rebellious bad boy-socks are pretty much anarchy in the UK (or Channel 4, anyway) whereas Paxman is just a face for the British political media establishment. To see Paxman lose a verbal duel to a trash celebrity like Russell Brand satisfied the little anarchist in me. It was like Theatre of the Absurd, except on British telly.
What’s actually more absurd than the interview itself, is that some British (?) Leftists seem to feel the need to defend Paxman, a white privileged very male representative of the rigid system that is mainstream British political media. Then again, I guess the whole concept of “British Left” needs that rigid system for its own survival. If Russell Brand’s utopia had its way, there would be no Paxman, no current political establishment and therefore no Right and no Left. A revolutionary idea, indeed.
Anyway, back to Brand. A few days after seeing him giggle at Paxman, I read his editorial in New Statesman and had the pleasure to conclude that even though the guy may not be able to act, he sure makes up for it when he puts down the script and starts typing.
I am not ashamed to admit that the 4,500 word manifesto by Russell “I fuck models” Brand is the most exhilarating and witty political article I’ve read in a long time.
And here’s the thing: I don’t agree with all his points. As an atheist, I find his New Age idea of “spirituality” and insistence on “utopia” a bit too vague. Furthermore, as someone living in Scandinavia, I still have a shred of faith left for the system of voting. His call for everyone to stop voting is therefore, as emotionally true in the context of Britain as it may be, still a tad too romantic for my taste. Thirdly, as a woman, I find his clumsy jokes about beautiful long female models alienating and too tongue-in-cheek.
He ain’t no Tracy Chapman, that’s for sure. But then again, Tracy Chapman never wrote such a good editorial and I’m a sucker for good editorials.
Here we are in 2013 and we have a household celebrity who, like it or not, has millions of fans and who for years gets attention in the media by snorting coke in Soho and popping out of Boots with supermodels. And who then, instead of doing yet another Fashion Week, opts instead to hit some nails on the head on Newsnight in front of a stupefied Jeremy Paxman, guest-edit New Statesman, travel to Kenya to witness the environmental effects of Western corporate policies, report about them in the media, mock himself, mock his own sexist celebrity idiot status, mock the rich white guys who fuck models and ease their conscience by giving to charity, set himself out for ridicule and writes a 4,500 word call for a revolution in Britain in one of the leading Leftist political and cultural magazines in the country.
That, I do like.
For some people this is just not enough. A sexist pig is a sexist pig is a sexist pig. We don’t care how many people you engage, how many millions of politically disenfranchised British people you may actually encourage to think differently, we don’t care how many internet hits you may reach with your celebrity – we don’t care because you are a dodgy comedian who dumped Katy Perry by text message (tut, tut!) and you’ve behaved in a rude manner on MTV.
Does it help to know that the October issue of New Statesman has contributions from such opinionated, respected women as Naomi Klein, Amanda Palmer and Laurie Penny and that the five out nine journalists in the editorial team are women?
According to some disgruntled arm chair revolutionaries to our left, the answer is a grumpy no. Because a sexist pig is a sexist pig is a sexist pig, they repeat and stamp their feet like someone has taken their candy. And, in a way, someone has.
While the Left insists that the revolution will not be televised, it forgets about the ending line of the Gil Scot-Heron track they’re so keen on quoting: “the revolution will be live.” In today’s world, “live” means not only reclaiming the street but also internet shares and tweets and maybe even a celebrity endorsement in the shape of a silly comedian.
It might mean that someone like Russell Brand will stand next to you at the next protest and help you carry your banner.
I say more the merrier. Personally, I like my revolution non-elitist, open and free with no politically correct secret handshake required. Anyone who hates what the current system is doing to our lives and our planet, anyone who encourages critical thinking, anyone who is intelligent enough to laugh at themselves and not take themselves too seriously, anyone who appreciates the old carnival spirit of political and intellectual anarchy, is welcome to join the ranks of those I respect and admire and is qualified to present a blueprint, no matter how romantic or vague, for revolution.
The Left has no exclusive right on said blueprint. We’ve known this since about 1989. Come to think of it, who does have an exclusive right on revolution?
Socialists? Celebrities? Immigrants? Poor people? Middle-class people? Black people? White people? Women? Men? Anarchists? Communists? Feminists? Working class people? Students? Small to medium sized businesses? Mothers? Fathers? Politicians? Pop stars? Pussy Riot? You?
How about all of the above and then some?
The first steps of a revolution are not taken in the headquarters of any political establishment but in the minds of the people.
So, Dear Left, stop attacking Russell “yes I am a sexist pig” Brand. It’s an easy target which he’s already aiming himself and besides it’s a complete waste of time.
Instead of attacking, just thank the nice man in the mainstream and… here’s a revolutionary thought… do something with the huge momentum he’s managed to create.