Sunday, October 26, 2014

I don’t get the cult of Russell Brand...

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m with an awful lot of Russell Brand’s positions. But I don’t get the cult. I don’t get why this man is becoming a poster-boy for direct action and reforming capitalism, and I don’t like it. Why don’t I? Perhaps I’m just unhappy with somebody outside of the normal elite taking on a political role. The normal elite includes me: party political member, elected local politician, PPE graduate. Perhaps I’m part of the problem, but I want to articulate why I feel deeply queasy about the whole thing.

So, let me put the questions I’ve never had answered:

- How can a man who has gained so much personal wealth from the system of capitalism, and unrepentantly flaunts and spends it, be a credible opponent of the system? Would he collectivise his great wealth, or a portion of it, for the benefit of those workers who have generated it for him (in his case, mostly workers as consumers)?

- How can a man whose status is entirely contingent on an intensely capitalised system, credibly use that status to bring it down?
- Why is he never asked:why shouldn’t we vote for a world that is marginally better tomorrow? Okay, I too would like a more radical re-think of the structure of government in the UK, and the power balance between capital and labour – but it’s not on the cards tomorrow. Voting for a party who will abolish the bedroom tax, introduce lower tax rates for the lowest earners, restructure rail franchises, makes the world marginally better for so many people – although not perfect. Why can’t we vote for a little bit of a better world, rather than waiting for a perfect one that’s a long way away? Which leads me to…

- Why does he always imply (and at points explicitly state) that voting is incompatible with direct action and re-thinking politics? Can’t you do both?

- Why do we on the left, who believe in calls for a louder collective voice, and the end of the cult of the individual, put him on a pedestal in the first place? And why does he sanction it? I’m not saying he shouldn’t be on Newsnight, or running a TV show, but I am talking about having him preach to the choir at marches and seminars. More power to our elbow to have him as our public face to an apathetic world, but why isn’t he in the crowd when it comes to workers rising?
I have a degree of trepidation about putting up this post. It’s partly because I feel much more confident providing my opinions to the world, rather than asking for answers to questions, and partly because I don’t want to undermine the appeal of the charismatic comedian articulating views I by and large agree with. The latter point is perhaps what underpins my whole queasiness about Russell Brand – any questioning or attempts to get an answer out of him that is meaningful is presented as a personalised attack on him, rather than a desire to critique his philosophy. As I review the above, I can see how it can seem that way – and that’s because it’s a cult of personality. His inconsistent views and lifestyle are untouchable only because they fall apart without his front. We’ve had this personality-worship before in our movement, and it’s never gone well.

That is also why the above is a pretty sad indictment of the media, because dissecting his ideas and getting answers is supposed to be their job. They are, however, not really equipped to do that – especially when presented with a fully-formed, media friendly personality package like Brand. Having had years of creating personality cults from Blair to Farage and relegating serious analysis of policy and principle to a minor issue, it’s telling that they don’t know what to do to pull such a cult apart in a meaningful way. I wish they’d let Ed Miliband, or David Cameron for that matter, talk for as long as they let Brand do. I also wish they’d critique the ideas and philosophies of all politicians, instead of measuring them by the sending of choice pictures, eating a bacon butty, or drinking a pint of real ale. Such measures are not applied to Brand - and probably rightly so.

So tell me, am I totally out of touch and defensive? Or does everyone sense that there’s something missing?