Charismatic comedian calls for revolution

Brand damage: This bruising encounter on Newsnight has divided the nation.

Russell Brand is a self-described ‘Halloween-haired veggie meditator’ famous for his exuberant, anarchic wit. Now he is calling for the capitalist system to be overthrown. Should we listen?

Before Thursday, British commentators were bickering about energy prices and internet surveillance. Today they are arguing about revolutions of consciousness and whether the capitalist system is on the verge of collapse. The man behind this startling shift in the political debate? An exuberantly anarchic clown with a history of trouble-making and a penchant for outrage and scandal.

Russell Brand is, in his own words, a ‘Halloween-haired, Sachsgate-enacting, estuary-whining, glitter-lacquered, priapic berk.’ He has never voted in his life. Yet in his own flamboyant and excitable way, Brand has been talking passionately about politics for many years. And now fame gives him a platform to air his provocative opinions to a national audience.

The new edition of the left-leaning New Statesman, a venerable political magazine, is guest-edited by Brand. And the theme he has chosen for this month’s issue is ‘revolution’. This decision has outraged plenty of people. And one of them, apparently, is Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman.

Paxman greeted Brand onto his show on Wednesday with trademark disdain. But the comedian gave as good as he got. When challenged about why he never voted, he replied that politics served only corporations and the elite, and that participating in elections was ‘tacit complicity with that system’.

What is the alternative? ‘I don’t know,’ said Brand. ‘But it shouldn’t destroy the planet, shouldn’t create massive economic disparity, shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people.’ When Paxman quizzed him further Brand responded by complimenting the journalist’s bushy new beard. ‘You are a very trivial man,’ responded Paxman contemptuously.

But Brand insists he is deadly serious. Most people feel unserved and disenfranchised he said, and only a ‘revolution of consciousness’ can fix that.

Then there is a third group: those who take Brand seriously but think his message is dangerous and wrong. The concerns Brand articulates might be legitimate, they say; but if he really cares he should channel his passion by legitimate means like voting and campaigning. The road to revolution ends in bloodshed and chaos.

Wisdom of clowns?

Plenty of the commentariat agree with Paxman: this is trivial nonsense, they say. Brand is undoubtedly charming and has proved himself intelligent as well; but he is a comedian, not a political theorist. He should get back to his chat shows and leave politics to serious people.

But for thousands of young people Russell Brand’s call to arms resonates strongly. We do feel alienated by the system, they say, and mainstream politics has no answers. Bring on the revolution.

You Decide

  1. Is it wrong not to vote?
  2. Do comedians have a place in serious politics?

Activities

  1. ‘I would join Russell Brand’s revolution.’ Conduct a class debate on this proposition and put it to a vote.
  2. Imagine you have been asked to contribute an article on Russell Brand’s issue of the New Statesman. Write a short column on the ‘revolution’ theme.

Some People Say...

“The spiritual revolution has come and we have only an instant to act.’Russell Brand”

What do you think?

Q & A

He’s right! Politicians are all the same!
They certainly don’t see it that way, and indeed they do disagree about important things that affect your daily life: how wealth should be distributed, how public services like schools and hospitals should be run, rights at work, and how much the government should interfere in the economy or people’s lives.
Maybe so, but they still all look and sound like they’re from another planet to me.
That’s a common complaint, and not just from the young: many people, including some MPs, agree that modern politics is far too dominated by those from a narrow range of backgrounds. If you want to change that, why not think about going into politics yourself?

Word Watch

Sachsgate
A low point in Russell Brand’s career. In 2008, Brand was appearing on a radio show with Jonathan Ross. They started making prank calls and left a series of messages on the answering machine of actor Andrew Sachs in which Brand made offensive comments about Sachs’ granddaughter. Both were forced to make grovelling apologies and Brand resigned from the BBC.
Estuary
An accent common in south-east England and named after the Thames Estuary. Russell Brand grew up in Essex.
Lacquered
Lacquer is a hard varnish or other final coating for items made of wood. As a verb it means smothered or covered – in this case in glitter.
Priapic
Resembling a penis. Yes, Russell Brand likes to use obscure words.
Tacit complicity
Tacit means unspoken but understood. Complicity means some level of cooperation. Brand is saying that when we vote we give the political system our unspoken approval.
Disenfranchised
The franchise is the list of people who are allowed to vote, so disenfranchisement is the inability to participate in the democratic system. People can be described as disenfranchised even if they are legally allowed to vote, if they cannot reasonably expect their contribution to make a difference.

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