It’s not something that we choose to do on this blog anymore to comment on current affairs issues. However one thing made me in particular change my mind about this, one is that Michael hasn’t put up a post for a while as he’s busy so he let me write a post. Another thing is that between us we have seen a lot of Facebook commentary on this specific issue.
Russell Brand has been a bit of a firebrand hot potato lately. The Observer recently put a piece about cultural ‘bad boys’ (where are the ‘bad girls’ or bad-choose-not-to-identify-by-gender-binary? – but whatever, newspapers). So, maybe we’ll give a bit of context as to what’s happened.
The 101 on Russell Brand
Brand was once known as being an MTV VJ, and presenter of Big Brother’s Big Mouth, then he got really really famous internationally and used that fame to discuss issues that were very personally relevant to him, such as the way his spirituality has come to help him and the issue of addiction, which he has done much work towards tackling in the UK. In recent weeks, Brand had created a furore at the GQ awards for pointing out something that was mentioned in a 2011 biography of Hugo Boss, namely that the company (who was sponsoring the GQ awards) made uniforms for the Nationalist Socialists. Brand did something that Goffman would probably love, he destroyed the definition of the situation and made everyone lose face by destroying the facade of an awards ceremony by bringing up the blasée attitude of an earlier speaker about the Syrian civil strife going on at the time. There was once an interview a while back where Brand completely baffled and shocked the conservative journalist Peter Hitchens, while discussing the issue of addiction, which reflected a clash of cultures as well as ideas.
Its none of these things which Brand has been talked about on my facebook feed ad nasueam lately. It’s the interview with Jeremy Paxman (of current affairs programme Newsnight), where he mixes amusing jibes, verbose lexicon (see what I did there?), and a range of very general and unsystematic points which very much related to a swathe of younger people in the UK.
What was said?
The interview addresses an accusation from Paxman: why should we listen to the political views of someone who considers it rational not to vote? The accusation unpacked is, if one is not taking part in the political process then one has an audacity to raise the profile of alternative political views, or something like that. Brand said a lot of things in that interview, and it’s kind of like throwing wet toast against the wall, one might throw lots of things, but eventually a couple might stick. That’s how many people I know feel.
Brand points out how voting in a 2-3 party system every 5 years is hardly being involved with a political process. I think I agree with that. I think having such controls on dissent in political parties, and having so much emphasis on the party line creates a homogeneous set of policies and ideologies, and shows the genuine disjunct between grassroots activism, community action against discussions in hallowed Westminster. Is it rational not to vote? That’s something a lot of people consider a dangerous idea, and the reason can be construed in a Kantian light, if people as a whole consider it rational not to vote, then the institutions we supposedly vote for have no legitimate representation of public interest.
Perhaps we need to rethink our idea of a democracy. There are alternatives to democracy, you know. Was it last year when a variant of Condorcet voting was ruled out? I was personally in favour of Condorcet systems of voting. I am quite interested in direct democracy as well. It’s one thing to like an idea, like say, socialism, or the redistribution of wealth, but enacting it and upholding an idea is tricky, and sometimes boring. Some critics of brand are right to be wary of a charismatic individual. I’m sure Brand isn’t intending to be some figurehead for change nor willing to take charge of that. However its great that someone that is recognisable in the popular culture is trying to facilitate thinking about these issues: of environmental catastrophe and economic and social inequalities. I say to that, bravo Russell, you’ve caught the consciousness of a lot of people – isn’t that after all, the ideal of political and avant-garde art? Isn’t that after all, the goal of what politicians aim for in garnering consent? It’s just a shame that there wasn’t really a message.
Perhaps more celebrities should follow Brand’s lead, especially the crazy haired ones.
Coda: I saw this earlier on in the week and laughed – I thought to myself: that’s the other Brand!