By Cora Morris
“It is an incredible time to be alive.”:
A phrase that seems to flash across my brain all the more frequently at the moment, in quiet moments of humbled acknowledgement. Indeed I see it elsewhere too. It’s chucked around incessantly at rocket launch after rocket launch, called out when another medical breakthrough hits the headlines. With each and every flashy new gadget, we are reminded of the wonders of human achievement, and it is brilliant. I am as glad of these things as the next person, they delight me. But, in all truthfulness?
I’m a social justice girl.
I like anger. I like protest, peaceful or not. Uprising excites me like little else. Anyone with an ounce of awareness of the world around them likely recognises that we are living in a time where that’s becoming increasingly prevalent, with fury brewing. It’s the same brew of fury that’s been bubbling away for years, decades, centuries, but now feels climactic. It’s felt as if the gradual accumulation of gross injustice, and the resultant rage felt, has mounted, and is about to blow. It feels as if we are on the cusp of a global revolution.
We have been craving this.
It is so exciting.
The work done by activists and campaigners to get to this stage has been tireless, and all too often painstaking. The fact that it might just be paying off is delightful. Which justifies a feeling of irritation – to say the least – when an already very privileged, and essentially un-oppressed figure of society not only semi-discredits this work, but begins to profiteer from it. A Che Guevara-esque character seems to be Russell Brand’s latest dress-up costume in the comedian-turned-actor-turned-author-turned-revolutionary’s never-ending wardrobe of personas. This said, something tells me that the Cuban Marxist’s intentions were somewhat different.
Had Brand’s past actions not been so questionable, I’m sure I’d be more tolerant of his ‘activism’. Indeed when his more political side began to emerge a year or two ago, I was almost willing to give the man famed for prank-calling a rape helpline a second chance. His misogyny littered everything he did, scandalous text messages and ‘casually sexist’ stand-up routines included and certainly not to be forgotten. The thing is, the man is clever enough to know that in order to get anywhere in the long-run with his anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti- establishment revolution, he is in dire need of re-working his public image regarding his attitudes toward women. Besides, if he’s advocating an entire overhaul of ‘the system’ as we know it, in all its gross hierarchal glory, one would hope that that would include the patriarchy. He also knows that within the extreme left groups that similarly back this kind of uprising, there are countless feminist overlaps, and beyond that, that feminism is incredibly topical at present.
Early last year, Brand tweeted a photo of himself holding up a No More Page 3 t-shirt in support of the campaign, receiving a very mixed response. Though not entirely significant, you’d think he might bother putting it on! In the accompanying caption, he wrote how “Finally, through love of a good woman, sexist me was slain.”.
I’d love to believe it, Russ – really, I would. But that tweet in itself isn’t quite the compelling evidence I was hoping for. Superficial compliments aren’t quite the way forward, I’m afraid, and your words reek of benevolent sexism.
Eleven months on, and Brand’s presence in the public eye as a messianic figure for the left had grown considerably. In mid-December, his much anticipated appearance on the BBC’s Question Time took over our TV screens and Twitter feeds for an evening. Expected, essentially, to be a Brand vs Farage brawl, the show was watched by millions of popcorn-clutching Britons. It was an episode of Jeremy Kyle, albeit a little more political and arguably less civilised.
During the show, Brand clashed with more or less everyone on the panel. What struck me as obvious in him over the hour-long programme was a kind of obligatory awareness of feminism, much like his No More Page 3 tweet. As communities minister Penny Mordaunt praised firefighters, he interrupted, saying: “Pay their pensions then, love.” Then, with a little hesitation: “’Scuse the sexist language, I’m working on it.” He acknowledged his fault, yes, and that is a step in the right direction. But to come out with such a comment in the first place was a fatal error, and one I’m sure few will be forgetting in a hurry.
I suppose what I struggle with most about this Brand-wagon that so many are jumping on are the petty feelings of creditability, of originality, and the wholly more offensive profit side of things. Admittedly most realise that no, Russell isn’t the first to proclaim that “Shit is fucked up, and stuff”, but there seems to be a certain fascination with a narcissistic comedian saying not-totally-idiotic things about politics. This in itself is worrying to me: it proves once more that with money, and with fame, comes an automatic elevation when it comes to voicing an opinion. This only serves to hush so many with similar ideas from people who work oh-so-much harder to get their voices heard. From someone who is supposedly fighting against this grotesque kind of privilege, this feels a little hypocritical. Of course, by making money in the process, many feel even more aggravated by him.
‘Revolution’: from the reviews I’ve read, Brand’s forth title is essentially a regurgitated mass of (perfectly good) work from elsewhere. It’s one more book for the list of many published last year calling for change, outlining the problems we’re facing as a society and printing all of the statistics to back them up. At The Guardian, Nick Cohen wrote: “His writing is atrocious: long-winded, confused and smug; filled with references to books Brand has half read and thinkers he has half understood.” Harsh though this sounds, what is true is that everything Brand says has been said before – by people far more worthy of the attention, and – dare I say it – the profits. Owen Jones springs to mind. ‘The Establishment – And How They Get Away With It’ was published a month and a half prior to Brand’s book, serving as a real and intelligent analysis of Britain’s failing government and the corrupted, privileged politicians running it. The observations made were necessary, with angering truths, and – quite obviously – the result of extensive study and research. Statistics aren’t available for sales of ‘The Establishment’, but with Brand’s attempt at a Noam Chomsky volume making £230,000 in just its first week combined with the relative bulk of publicity it was given points to it being rather more successful that Jones’ second book. And of course it would be! Russell Brand is something of a national treasure in the UK, worth an estimated £15 million and with the power to have as much media presence as he wishes. If it wasn’t already grossly obvious, this is a lot of the problem I (and increasingly others) have with him.
So, Russ, I have some ideas on what you could do to sort this out. Take them or leave them, but I think they’d do you – and your public image- a lot of good in the long run.
- Take a step back.
Support this revolution, but stop trying to lead it. Help to sustain it, but don’t try to be its pioneer man. Put your excessive riches to good use: pump in into the organisations and campaigns that need it, be them Class War, Occupy, The Green Party or even the smaller left-wing radical parties aiming to gain some political presence. It would make up for the money you’ve gained from all of this.
- Re- think your political stance
Telling our young people that the way to be heard is not to vote at all is almost criminal. It makes it far more likely that a right-wing Etonian member of the Establishment will be elected (obviously naming no names), because the voiced opinions will be those of the people that didn’t listen to you in the first place. These are exactly the people who you were trying to work against initially, and by ordering us away from the ballot boxes you do them a grand service.
- Fix your feminism
Get a better grip on what you really need to know, rather than a vague idea of the aims of a couple of campaigns. You will be more knowledgeable for it, and be a far better male role model for young feminists everywhere. Be critical of lots, and open up the injustices we see to a wider audience that is largely blind. We will respect you far more for that than a token tweet of support a couple of times a year.
There’s one more thing to get past: you are a wealthy, white, straight, cisgender, healthy man. Nothing is pushing you down. That’s not a criticism, but I don’t reckon you’d be willing to sacrifice many of those things for the sake of the revolution. So understand that you are on the receiving end of so much privilege, and that this war you are trying to fight is so much less for you than it is for others. You are a beneficiary of everything a capitalist society has to offer. Use it, but in a way that doesn’t by default hurt the movement and help your pocket.