Russell Brand’s Televised Revolution

The modern form of political activism, involving sharing or liking on facebook, has gone into overdrive since the appearance of the darling of the unthinking classes on last week’s Newsnight.  The ‘Brand makes Paxman look ridiculous’ youtube clip keeps appearing in my timeline, and Twitter pages roll over and over with platitudes for the man.  It seems as though the nation has finally found a champion, someone who speaks up for them against the villainous disingenuous politicians. It’s quite clear that Russell Brand exemplifies a modern form of style over substance, but mention this on Twitter and you can almost hear the boing as many leap to his defence.  The standard line is that he’s raising important issues that get glossed over by politicians, but this goes against fact and reason.  The news is full of copy about exactly the issues he raises: fracking, social mobility, drug crime etc.  Maybe politicians aren’t doing enough, but he’s doing nothing.  He’s not even suggesting anything concrete.  I’m pretty sure that Kennedy didn’t rely on the use of long words and antiquated English to make his point, but RB certainly does, and he’s taking the country with him, onward toward revolution.  One other difference is that Kennedy had some ideas to go along with the multiple sexual encounters.

How has RB managed to win over so many?  His message is simplicity itself – “let’s be compassionate”, “let’s share the wealth”, “let’s stop killing the planet”.  So far, so reasonable.  But these are vague utopian ideals, hard to argue against, but rather harder to implement.  It’s akin to saying that gassing innocent people in Syria is bad therefore I am against it.  Cue liking and sharing.  No need to do anything about it, because ‘awareness’ has been raised.  We’re all about raising awareness these days, less keen on actually doing anything.  The most obvious question is “what do you suggest we do Russell?” but on that point he goes rather silent.  Apparently thinking through solutions to complex political and social problems and inequalities is a little more tricky.  Never mind that – just tell people that a revolution is coming (and it’s already started in his head remember) and that’ll be enough for the moment.  Like and share.

But it’s not really RB’s fault that the public has taken to him.  It’s not really even the fault of the unthinking masses – we live in an age where most people are so busy with modern life that getting them to use a quarter of their brain to think about issues such as these is asking a lot.  I blame the BBC.  The BBC has some in for quite a lot of stick in recent months, and here’s how they are to blame for the rise of Brand’s brand:

1.  Paxman’s performance on Newsnight was surprisingly lacklustre and when his opening salvo of “you don’t vote, so you have no right to an opinion” didn’t seem to work, the fight seemed to go out of him, leaving Brand to dominate the rest of the interview.  Brand is certainly articulate – no ums from him, nor pauses for breath – but Paxman let him go on, streaming verbal diarrhea at the camera without offering serious challenge.

2.  The BBC put him on Newsnight last year as an antidote to Peter Hitchens.  I’m pretty sure you could put Fred West on the other side of the table from the Daily Mail version of Hitch and at least some people watching would come down on his side.  He’s intelligent (Hitchens) but lacks any noticeable humanity so that RB looks like a saint simply by disagreeing with him.  Their debate on sentencing for drug use was childish and go no further than “lock them up”/”show them compassion”.  Ever since Ian Katz (he of the “innit” tweeting) took on Newsnight it’s been noticeably downgraded.

3.  The BBC put him on Question Time regularly.  Similarly to the point above, he never has any genuine competition.  Just like that chap from the Beautiful South used to be wheeled out as the antidote to complicated political ideas, now RB is that Messiah-like figure (to use his own modest description).  He is never going to need to prove himself in the political arena so he is the one with the license to make broad political statements about how we can improve the country.

Put simply, the BBC put Brand on a platform so low that he is unable to fall off.  Why not give him a genuinely challenging platform, or better still, ask for some substance to go with the style people seem to like so much.

The hipocrisy is self-evident.  Happy to hawk HP tablets but rails against big business.  He’s disgusted by the inequality of wealth but happy to shell out $6.5M for a Hollywood Hills mansion.  I’d start to look a little closer to home Russell, when it comes to looking at distribution of wealth, because we really didn’t need to re-make Arthur, and so badly.  And if you really think that Hugo Boss “make the Nazis look ****** fantastic”, how about you don’t attend the GQ Man of the Year Awards, which they sponsor.

Russell Brand is on tour tonight in Newcastle, just in case that had escaped your attention.  No doubt the show will lay out his manifesto for political and social revolution.  Or maybe he’ll just speak like a child from a Hogarth etching and talk about his penis.  I know which one my money is on.

I predict a riot

Actually, I didn’t predict the London riots, but at least I had the excuse that I was abroad, on holiday. Whilst I was away, I watched Question Time on the BBC Parliament channel (it’s amazing that I have a girlfriend, isn’t it?), and from listening to those sage political commentators, you’d be convinced that each of them had predicted these precise events a long time ago. Many of them (Prescott, Paddick etc) spoke of a kind of inevitability about the London riots, which was surprising, as no-one to my knowledge had warned the country of this powder keg about to blow at any point before certain areas of the capital were on fire, by which time most people would agree that it was a little late. The shocking events of last week are made even more shocking by the fact that they came as a surprise to most people.

Public (and media) reaction has broadly fallen into two wildly simplistic categories. The liberal view is that we have a mass of young people (mainly young black males) that have been ‘failed by society’. This failed by society line (henceforth to be known as FBS) is trotted out often, but no-one has yet to give a satisfactory answer as to what it means. Still, it sounds good, and it gave the Guardian a chance to wheel Russell Brand out to emphasise the FBS point. Mr Brand clearly gave so many soundbites after the death of Amy Winhouse that he’s now required to comment on all major news stories. I await his coverage of the US presidential race with baited breath. Back to the main point, but in what way has society failed these young rioters? One news channel suggested that it was the fault of the ‘nice things’ industry, which has created ‘must-have’ items such as iphones and D+G clothing. The theory is that young people cannot afford these things, therefore their self-worth is defated, meaning there is nothing left for them to do but smash things, and nick things. Does anyone actually believe this is the truth? There’s lots of things that I can’t afford (a yacht, for example), but you won’t see me down at Brighton Marina at midnight in a hoodie, making off with someone else’s.

Having nice things doesn’t make you happy and content. These young people are angry because they don’t aspire to anything, and the majority of the fault lies with the parents. Quality parenting is about setting your child up well for life, and guiding your child as best you can until you are able to remove the stabilisers, and they are free to make their own way in society. This usually means some form of understanding of what is right and wrong, a respect for your fellow human beings, and a little bit of education along the way. Is that too much to ask? Only yesterday, my hairdresser was bemoaning the fact that so many of her friends are pregnant (they’re all about 21, and the babies are unplanned in general; I did a bit of research). Why are these people so happy to have kids, when they’re generally so unhappy with the raising them properly bit? True satisfaction comes from earning things: not having them given to you, and not from nicking them. There’s a good message from which to start. Labour were totally wrong in the assertion that 50% of people going to university would be a good thing. In fact, fewer people going to university would be a good thing, and more people doing apprenticeships and learning a trade would be an even better thing. All young people have talents, and the sooner they find out what they are good at the better.

On the flip side to the liberals and their seeking to justify this behaviour comes the ‘lock em up and throw away the key’ brigade. Those that think it’s reasonable to lock up two morons from Cheshire for 4 years each for trying to incite a riot via facebook. I don’t know what’s more tragic, the long sentence or the fact that nobody came. This knee-jerk reaction attempts to placate a public that is baying for blood, but we cannot allow public opinion to override rational decision-making. Handing out over-tough sentences as an ‘example’ has been proved not to work; someone isn’t going to refrain from hurling a brick through a window because the sentence length for criminal damage has increased by 33% in recent times. We need to consider the root causes of this anti-social behaviour to prevent it – to cure the cause, not to hammer the consequence.

We are a confused country. Are you proud to be British? Am I? Do we know what it means? The spectacular failure of Cameron’s Big Society suggests that the Thatcherite ideal of greed is good still looms large over the country. Better parenting to start, more opportunities for kids to learn a trade early, less emphasis on having to go to university (fewer universities even) and far less exposure for Russell Brand.

That can’t be too tricky, can it? Or maybe Huxley had the best idea after all?