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  • Pierre Smith Khanna

Russell Brand's Revolution


The celebrity has once again grabbed the headlines by virtue of guest-editing this week’s New Statesman, with Revolution at the heart of his theme. Having already defiled the limelight at the GQ Awards last month - with the additional kudos of a second interview with Jeremy Paxman, rather than remaining an archive on the Guardian website, Mr. Brand’s dissident views are gaining momentum.

The last time I came across a celebrity somewhere you wouldn’t expect them to be, was Shakira’s article about child education in The Economist back in 2010. I remember thinking ‘Wow… They’ve sunk low.’ My reaction to Brand’s cameo at the New Statesman betrays a bias of some sort. I didn’t believe Shakira could do anything in terms of changing the status-quo (and probably believed that The Economist thought just the same), whereas I do believe that Brand has something a little more important to offer in that direction.

Paxman was quick to challenge Brand, pointing out that his talk of political change is ‘vague’ at best. “Why”, he asks, “would we take you seriously?” to which Brand replied:

I’m here just to draw attention to a few ideas […] there are people with alternative ideas that are far better qualified than I am and far better qualified - more importantly - than the people that are currently doing that job. Because they’re not attempting to solve these problems, they’re attempting to placate the population.

And drawing the public’s placated attention he certainly is. With hundreds of comments for his article on the New Statesman and over six million YouTube views in 4 days for his Paxman interview (up from 240,000 for his first one), comments to Shakira’s article on The Economist website - all five of them - look rather meek in comparison. Perhaps no-one reads The Economist’s website.

Both Brand and Shakira share a key ambition: to put an end to the disparities between rich and poor. In fact, Shakira’s actions are probably more to the point than Brand’s insofar as she has actually taken action and already set up a program to meet these ends. Yet who payed attention to Shakira’s stunt in The Economist? Concrete proposals aren’t, it seems, what count.

It wouldn’t be unruly to venture that the response to Brand’s outbursts stems from their contents resonating, quite strongly, with a thoroughly disenchanted public. Shakira’s foundation might be helping kids out of poverty, but Brand’s call to revolution sounds a lot more exciting for a population tired of “the mundanity of our everyday lives” as he put it to Paxman in 2010. Or, as he put it his week in his inimitable manner:

If we can engage in that feeling - instead of some moment of lachrymose sentimentality trotted out on the TV for people to pour over emotional porn - if we can engage with that feeling and change things. Why wouldn’t we? Why is that naive?

Funnily, while watching the interviews with Paxman, one has the quaint feeling that the Great Interrogator is in fact sympathetic to Brand’s plight. If Brand were to ditch the ‘vague’ talk of a spiritual revolution to replace it with something more tangible - imagine his call to abstain from voting was heeded by a substantial portion of the population - it wouldn’t be surprising to find those he is poised against decide that the entertainer has had enough fun as it is - and put an end to his ‘triviality’.

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© 2020 by Pierre Smith Khanna