Mar 16, 2014
Truthdigger of the Week: Russell Brand
Posted on Oct 27, 2013
By comparison, what kind of person is Paxman? He appears first in the interview with his arms crossed, laughing dryly with a downward gaze as he shifts in his chair. He wears a conventional outfit of suit and tie that conveys a sort of comfort in rigid conformity. He smiles on occasion, but when he does, it’s not clear he’s experiencing joy. “Why don’t you change it then?” he demands of Brand, speaking of society’s general poor condition in one of his many exhortations that the actor get real. A permanent look of disturbed concern, periodically punctuated in its seriousness with a cocked eyebrow or a bit lower lip, tells viewers inclined to identify with the interviewer that no matter how powerful and precise are his guest’s articulations, nothing he says should be taken too seriously. The good man says and does nothing personal, while the bad one makes facetious jokes that we are told are irresponsible. If Paxman ever read Jonathan Swift, it’s not clear that he enjoyed it.
The means and ends of social improvement are points of disagreement, but there is little dispute across the U.S. and the U.K. that society itself must change. Paxman claims that this change occurs when “people get power” by being voted in. “In a democracy that’s how it works.” But history is dotted with moments when that’s not how it worked: 13th-century England, America in 1776 and France in 1789. Brand recognizes it doesn’t work. “People have voted already and that’s what’s created the current paradigm,” he says. “We no longer have the luxury of tradition.”
There are good reasons to be critical of the view that people should abstain entirely from voting. Ticking an independent box on Election Day or writing in “Popeye” or “Daffy Duck” is a real way to register one’s dissent, even if voters aren’t likely to do it in numbers large enough to force candidates to take notice. But it is undeniable that the British and American electoral systems consistently fail to put up alternatives to the status quo, and that under this arrangement, voting can do little more than express the constraints placed upon voters’ imaginations. It soon becomes clear that democracy does not exist simply because a choice is offered, but rather is made possible in those so far rare eras when citizens are empowered economically, politically and socially to vote their individual and community interests. It’s the absence of democracy then, the phony kind that now exists in name only—not democracy itself—that Brand seems to actually reject.
The confrontation between these two men, one impassioned, animated and indignant, the other unfailingly certain of himself and his wisdom, is exemplary of an ongoing combat that must be at least as old as civilization. One view holds that survival and well-being for some, though never possibly all, are best achieved through recourse and obedience to existing institutions. The other demands that we reinvent those institutions and ourselves as needed to fit shifting social and environmental circumstances, in the interest of everyone in the band. The history of progress, whenever it was made, is not indifferent about which view is correct.
The left is right to criticize celebrity. But famous actors remain real people, and we objectify and dismiss them out of hand, without inspecting their words and actions, at the risk of losing the opportunities their fame presents to draw larger audiences into an urgent discussion. Is Brand capitalizing on the discontent flaring in the West? No doubt. But is he harming the public in doing so? The evidence available so far seems to suggest no. He is paid to misbehave when so many of us cannot. As long as does so in the interest of positive change, he deserves our support. We may want a society that drastically minimizes the role of celebrities, but the one we currently have grants them substantial influence and power, and refusing their offers to help makes us fools, especially one as likable and enthusiastically disrespectful of elite power as Brand. The comedian knows the dynamic well: “Perhaps this is why there is currently no genuinely popular left-wing movement to counter Ukip, the EDL and the Tea Party; for an ideology that is defined by inclusiveness, socialism has become in practice quite exclusive.” I suspect those suspicious of Brand fear the public and the media will make the mistake of anointing another false savior. The left made this error twice in recent years. It need not make it again. “What I want to offer people is truth and authenticity,” Brand said during his 2012 parliamentary hearing. No doubt because of his vocal efforts a number of people who were previously unengaged, many of them young and desperate for real change, are for the moment listening. Let’s take this valuable opportunity that Russell Brand, our Truthdigger of the Week, has provided.
Heaven smiles down:
1 2 Go to Truthdigger of the Week
Previous item: Carbon Cutoff Point ‘Is 27 Years Away’
Next item: First, Admit the Problem
New and Improved Comments