Russell Brand: Madman or Messiah?

“Capitalism is not real; it is an idea. America is not real; it is an idea that someone had ages ago. Britain, Christianity, Islam, karate, Wednesdays are all just ideas that we choose to believe in and very nice ideas they are, too, when they serve a purpose. These concepts, though, cannot be served to the detriment of actual reality. 

The reality is we have a spherical ecosystem, suspended in, as far as we know, infinite space upon which there are billions of carbon-based life forms, of which we presume ourselves to be the most important, and a limited amount of resources. 

The only systems we can afford to employ are those that rationally serve the planet first, then all humanity. Not out of some woolly, bullshit tree-hugging piffle but because we live on it, currently without alternatives. This is why I believe we need a unifying and inclusive spiritual ideology: atheism and materialism atomise us and anchor us to one frequency of consciousness and inhibit necessary co-operation.

—(Quote courtesy of Tumblr user Kim Jong Chill)

Who do you think would have said these words? Comedian and actor Russell Brand probably would not have been the first to come to mind. His reputation for years has been that of the bad boy, the play boy (of heroic proportions), the alchohol and drug abuser, the farcical jokster.

Photo courtesy of Eva Rinaldi via wikicommons
Photo courtesy of Eva Rinaldi via WikiCommons

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, amidst a littany of ridiculous figures and outpourings of suffering and of rain, it is the Fool who speaks the play’s sharpest truths. Perhaps Brand, similarly, has upended his shallow reputation and seized the role of the truth-telling jester.

He has been traveling for his newly released stand-up show, “The Messiah Complex,” in which he makes connections, both somber and ridiculous, between Che Guevara, Ghandi, Jesus Christ, Malcom X (and Hitler). He has also become outspoken politically and socially.

Brand first garnered attention for a viral video titled, “Brand Hijaks MSNBC Morning Joe and Shows Them How to Do Their Job.” The interview pans out like watching a glass drop to the floor in slow motion. Brand unravels the frivolity of the newsroom; by the interview’s end, the interviewers lie shattered on the ground, having lost all control over the situation, and a good deal of dignity.

Since that interview he has done several others, speaking about politics, current events and the “collective consciousness” of society. His ideas are radical. In an interview with Alex Jones, he talks about the wave frequencies of society and calls for people to look past the commercialism and superficiality of the media to find  more transcendent ones. In the quote at the beginning of this article he urges people to unify under a new set of religious ideals in order to save the planet.

His most controversial remarks have been his most political. In this interview with Joe Paxman,  Russell Brand urges citizens not to vote and calls for a revolution. As a guest editor of The New Statesman magazine, he details the reason why.

“I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance; I know, I know my grandparents fought in two world wars (and one World Cup) so that I’d have the right to vote. Well, they were conned. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for. I feel it is a far more potent political act to completely renounce the current paradigm than to participate in even the most trivial and tokenistic manner, by obediently X-ing a little box. Total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system is what interests me, but that’s not on the ballot. Is utopian revolution possible?”

How do you even respond, or react, or think about words like that?

Well, if you’re TIME Magazine you focus on the most pressing question: “why doesn’t the U.S. have a series of articulate celebrities? Regardless of what Brand is saying, he has a coherent answer for every different question, which is a lot more than we can say for the people we choose to put on TV.”

A point indeed. Though more importantly, why does Brand wear eyeliner that makes him resemble Jack Sparrow? Aren’t their patents against that or something?

Jokes aside, is Brand’s history, his deep need for attention, his erratic thrill seeking behavior, his charisma and eloquence in an interview, important? Can we separate Brand’s ideas from his person, and should we?

If we separate the ideas from their source, if we accept them wholly, we find vagueness. To completely overhaul society one would have to have an alternative. Alternatives come from revisions and changes upon structures that already exist; alternatives do not fall cleanly from the clouds. Brand has no alternative. His idealistic theories on revolution echo Karl Marx. Brand wants society to reach a break point, the point at which it can no longer tolerate inequalities and atrocities, and will thus undergo complete revolution. Marx called for the same thing, arguing that once the upper class was overthrown humanity would truly start. Yet history is cyclical in nature; the same themes, tensions and struggles resurface continually. Marxism has always failed because it requires humans to remain selfless and altruistic (or mutates into weird and dysfunctional dictatorships). So we run into problems if we believe Brand entirely.

Short of revolution, what can one make of his ideas? Google him and you will find a billion answers. These range from impassioned critics, to jokey satires, to endorsements, and most of them are interesting.

To interviewer Joe Paxman, Brand described that the Occupy Wallstreet Movement as important for the simple reason that it brought the idea of inequality back to the public lexicon.

Perhaps Brand is important for the same reason. He speaks passionately about the apathy of current culture, the ways the media feeds distraction and erodes people’s humanity. He says he wants to spark discussion, draw attention to a few ideas, and give a voice to the complex problems society now faces.

Maybe we aren’t yet at the point of revolution, but maybe we need Brand’s emotion; we need to feed from his energy and find a way to up our humanity, critically examine our democracy, and think intensely about change.

Then again, maybe we need to act.

Corinne Keer

Corinne Keer (CAS '15) has a dual major in English and underwater basket weaving. Ideally, she will put her knowledge of heroic couplets to good use and, starting from the bottom, become a bonafide rap star. She may also settle for a casual day job as a petroleum engineer, computer programmer, or VC.

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