The modern form of political activism, involving sharing or liking on facebook, has gone into overdrive since the appearance of the darling of the unthinking classes on last week's Newsnight. The 'Brand makes Paxman look ridiculous' youtube clip keeps appearing in my timeline, and Twitter pages roll over and over with platitudes for the man. It seems as though the nation has finally found a champion, someone who speaks up for them against the villainous disingenuous politicians. It's quite clear that Russell Brand exemplifies a modern form of style over substance, but mention this on Twitter and you can almost hear the boing as many leap to his defence. The standard line is that he's raising important issues that get glossed over by politicians, but this goes against fact and reason. The news is full of copy about exactly the issues he raises: fracking, social mobility, drug crime etc. Maybe politicians aren't doing enough, but he's doing nothing. He's not even suggesting anything concrete. I'm pretty sure that Kennedy didn't rely on the use of long words and antiquated English to make his point, but RB certainly does, and he's taking the country with him, onward toward revolution. One other difference is that Kennedy had some ideas to go along with the multiple sexual encounters.
How has RB managed to win over so many? His message is simplicity itself - "let's be compassionate", "let's share the wealth", "let's stop killing the planet". So far, so reasonable. But these are vague utopian ideals, hard to argue against, but rather harder to implement. It's akin to saying that gassing innocent people in Syria is bad therefore I am against it. Cue liking and sharing. No need to do anything about it, because 'awareness' has been raised. We're all about raising awareness these days, less keen on actually doing anything. The most obvious question is "what do you suggest we do Russell?" but on that point he goes rather silent. Apparently thinking through solutions to complex political and social problems and inequalities is a little more tricky. Never mind that - just tell people that a revolution is coming (and it's already started in his head remember) and that'll be enough for the moment. Like and share.
But it's not really RB's fault that the public has taken to him. It's not really even the fault of the unthinking masses - we live in an age where most people are so busy with modern life that getting them to use a quarter of their brain to think about issues such as these is asking a lot. I blame the BBC. The BBC has some in for quite a lot of stick in recent months, and here's how they are to blame for the rise of Brand's brand:
1. Paxman's performance on Newsnight was surprisingly lacklustre and when his opening salvo of "you don't vote, so you have no right to an opinion" didn't seem to work, the fight seemed to go out of him, leaving Brand to dominate the rest of the interview. Brand is certainly articulate - no ums from him, nor pauses for breath - but Paxman let him go on, streaming verbal diarrhea at the camera without offering serious challenge.
2. The BBC put him on Newsnight last year as an antidote to Peter Hitchens. I'm pretty sure you could put Fred West on the other side of the table from the Daily Mail version of Hitch and at least some people watching would come down on his side. He's intelligent (Hitchens) but lacks any noticeable humanity so that RB looks like a saint simply by disagreeing with him. Their debate on sentencing for drug use was childish and go no further than "lock them up"/"show them compassion". Ever since Ian Katz (he of the "innit" tweeting) took on Newsnight it's been noticeably downgraded.
3. The BBC put him on Question Time regularly. Similarly to the point above, he never has any genuine competition. Just like that chap from the Beautiful South used to be wheeled out as the antidote to complicated political ideas, now RB is that Messiah-like figure (to use his own modest description). He is never going to need to prove himself in the political arena so he is the one with the license to make broad political statements about how we can improve the country.
Put simply, the BBC put Brand on a platform so low that he is unable to fall off. Why not give him a genuinely challenging platform, or better still, ask for some substance to go with the style people seem to like so much.
The hipocrisy is self-evident. Happy to hawk HP tablets but rails against big business. He's disgusted by the inequality of wealth but happy to shell out $6.5M for a Hollywood Hills mansion. I'd start to look a little closer to home Russell, when it comes to looking at distribution of wealth, because we really didn't need to re-make Arthur, and so badly. And if you really think that Hugo Boss "make the Nazis look ****** fantastic", how about you don't attend the GQ Man of the Year Awards, which they sponsor.
Russell Brand is on tour tonight in Newcastle, just in case that had escaped your attention. No doubt the show will lay out his manifesto for political and social revolution. Or maybe he'll just speak like a child from a Hogarth etching and talk about his penis. I know which one my money is on.