A lot of people find it a bit hard to swallow what Russell Brand is telling them they should. The cheeky English geezer, most well known for his stand up work and appearances in films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, has profited from his persona as a witty sex addict briefly married to Katy Perry. So it’s pretty easy to dismiss his ideas about a new order – about a revolution. Of late, he has dedicated himself to the cause, publishing part–manifesto, part-autobiography Revolution in 2014 and frequently uploading news commentary videos on his YouTube channel The Trews (what the news would be if it were true).
The man’s got his finger in many a pie these days – from terrorising several American morning news anchors, to lobbying for New Era estate families whose housing was threatened by rising rent at the hands of American corporation Hollybrook, to championing addiction’s status as a legitimate health issue. His forthrightness is undeniable. Brand’s wide-reaching social media presence and notoriety no doubt facilitated the eventual success of the New Era lobbyists, and his criticisms of publications on The Trews have sparked huge media backlash that other critics wouldn’t have attracted. Brand’s brand makes him an easy target.
Undeniably, he’s bloody funny – and self-aware. It makes some of his more far-flung claims seem possible; the self-deprecation tempers the idealism. Brand knows better than anyone that he contradicts many of his core views, including that extreme wealth should be eradicated, that fame and celebrity distort true fulfillment, that capitalism should be consigned to the rubbish bin of history. There’s a tangible sense of survivor’s guilt in his writing. His awareness of his hypocrisy is precisely what empowers him; he pre-empts this reproach and satirises it.
The book has sparked considerable controversy; some suggest that many details and quotes are misattributed or manipulated, and that some information is plain incorrect. The major criticism, however, pertains to Brand’s scarce allusion to what kind of system might replace capitalism. He criticises without alternative, thus remaining an optimist in an ivory tower. But this is an unfair accusation. Brand is not a trained academic – and this should not be a requirement for publishing dissent or vocalizing disenchantment. Brand laments this scholastic elitism. His book is sometimes shallow and self-obsessed, but also earnest in equal measure. In the short term, he may benefit from writing a book about de-centralising power to small, democratic collectives, – something Brand willingly admits. But in the long term, it is people like him who would deal with capitalism’s collapse. Thus by silencing the powerful and often valid ideas expressed in Revolution and on The Trews on the basis of Brand’s inherent hypocrisy or lack of traditional ‘training’ in economics, politics and philosophy, we perpetuate what Brand fights against: we silence dissent.
We are often all too willing to condemn those who do not practice what they preach. We mistrust everything that someone preaches as soon as we discover that they erred in their argument. The gravity of Brand’s core contention – that our current system is broken – should not be shelved because it lacks polish. He has, without doubt, exploited his fame and been given a voice because of his privileged position. But condemning what he does with that voice is a crucial error. Preconceived bias has unfairly undermined Brand’s work. Would we so willingly discredit it if it was packaged differently, if his curly-haired mug wasn’t plastered all over the front cover? If Brand’s fame can help further mainstream political activism, then it is hardly farcical. Choosing to use his leverage for something other than promoting the newest organic diet or acne cream is arguably what recently earned him the title of the world’s 4th most influential thinker by Prospect magazine. He’s nothing if not an agitator, and, at day’s end, a little controversy never hurt anyone.