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Russell Brand, the Posh Left and the Politics of Class

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Posted on Dec 2, 2013
Kim Nicolini

“Ambling Toward Oblivion.”

By Kim Nicolini, CounterPunch

This piece first appeared at CounterPunch. See the author’s website here.

In case you couldn’t tell, this is a drawing I did of Russell Brand. I decided to draw him as part of my Headlines series which I am currently working on.  I seriously didn’t know a damn thing about Brand until he was brought under my radar because of his essay in the October 24 Issue of The New Statesman in which Brand – pop star Katy Perry’s ex-husband, comedian, and “notorious womanizer” – talks about ineffective government,  the silencing and apathy of the disenfranchised, and the need for revolt. What interested me more than the Brand essay itself was the backlash that Brand and people on the Left who support his political stance received from elite Academic Leftists and insulated politically correct Secular Leftists. In my opinion, Brand stirring the pot of class, activism and political agitation is even more important than the closed circles of self-congratulatory Leftists who purport to be champions of the under and working classes while they have never gotten their hands dirty and refuse to see how class affects real people – not just people who are represented as ideas in books or vehicles for propaganda.

When I announced that I was going to draw Russell Brand, my fifteen year old daughter exclaimed with undisguised disgust: “Why would you draw Russell Brand? He’s horrible!” When I asked her why he was horrible, my daughter said that Brand exploited Katy Perry by posting photos of her on Twitter without her permission. In other words, my high school age kid knew a lot more about Brand than I did, but I quickly did my research. I read his article in the New Statesman, watched his movie Get Me To The Greek, and read his book My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up to get a sense of who this guy is that is getting so much attention. My first assessment is that he is a guy who came from the trenches and fought his way out with his humor and energy. He snubs his nose at the politically correct elite, and in his essay in the New Statesman he provides a voice that people (especially young people) will listen to. No, he’s not going to start a revolution, but he has stirred the pot, and motion is better than stagnancy.

Russell Brand and those who have “taken his side” have gotten a lot of shit. Brand has especially been reamed for taking the stance of the revolutionary while he is living high on the hog in his celebrity and riches. However, it must be noted that Brand himself outwardly critiques his position and asks “Who am I to talk?” Well, he is able to talk for a couple of reasons: 1) as a pop culture icon, his voice will be heard by young people; and 2) he has come from the lower classes himself and knows what that life is like. He is not speaking from theory but from experience. For the record, Russell Brand – asshole, womanizer or not – did not come from privilege. He came from the lower classes and was lucky enough to joke his way out of it. He personally knows the struggles that the underclass face. He knows the streets, the hopelessness, the drugs, the feeling of beaten down and not able to get out.

Let me state something else quite clearly. You cannot erase class no matter how many swank hotel rooms you stay in. Class sticks even if your bank account is lined with greenbacks. I know firsthand how it feels to wear my class like a coat of anxiety. No matter how far you climb on the cultural or economic ladder, if you come from the underclass, you never stop feeling your inferior position. With elitist Leftists slamming you at every turn, the anxiety is amplified to the Nth. Not only do you feel awkward and anxious occupying a strata where you don’t feel you belong, but you get critiqued by people who think they know more about class than you do when you live with the burdens of your class background every day. Class manifests itself in a person’s entire psycho-social biological being, and it is not simply erased because one becomes successful of the surface.

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It is clear from reading Brand and watching him in his movie, that he is fully aware of the vulnerability of his position because of his class background, so he exploits his class origins for humor in ways that Leftists often find offensive. (e.g. The “African Child” video in Get Him to the Greek which is an overt critique of Hollywood centrist leftists like George Clooney, Ben Affleck et al.) Also, Brand isn’t just funny. He is self-reflexive and serious in his humor. He understands how his drug addiction and other “personality flaws” are connected to class, and he uses his experience to formulate his ideas into terms that can connect with those who are “in it” and not just outside observers.

My general position has always been that getting “the masses” to think politically outside the box is a good thing, and popular culture is an effective way to do that. This goes back to my early days with Bad Subjects whose “manifesto” promotes Political Education for Everyday Life. Academic left elitists and closed circles of politically correct secular Leftists only preach to the choir. They rarely accomplish a damn thing except stroking each others’ egos. Regardless of Brand’s celebrity, his words and repurposed Marxism will reach many more people than those Posh Lefties sitting in their ivory towers. I’m a populist at heart, and you aren’t going to reach the populace with a lot of high fallutin’ language and discourse that no one but your elite club can understand. Brand’s writing reads like a pop song with punch that will get people riled and thinking.

The text I included on my drawing is cut-up text from Brand’s New Statesman essay and reads as follows:

Ambling towards oblivion. Whores, virtueless horses and money-grabbing dicklickers. Young people have been marketed without the economic means to participate in the carnival. Apathy is a rational reaction to a system that no longer represents, hears or addresses the vast majority of people. Mechanised indifference and inefficiency. Apathy is the biggest obstacle to change. Zeroes lining up three wide. Planes falling from the sky. This is serious, you cunt. The devil has all the best tunes. No obstacles to the agendas of these slow-thighed beasts. Blithering chimps, in razor-sharp suits, with razor-sharp lines, pimped and crimped by spin doctors and speech-writers. The feeling that you aren’t being heard or seen or represented isn’t psychosis; it’s government policy. (Pieces of Russell Brand, 24 October 2013)


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