I am glad that there is such a thing as Russell Brand, and I was as impressed with his recent conversation with Jeremy Paxman as everybody else was, for I share his egalitarian and environmentalist views. It is beyond refreshing to see someone in the public eye willing to speak out in this way. I've read Brand's books and seen some of his comedy and movies, too, and heard a little of his old radio program, and am generally a fan.
However I believe his calls for "revolution" are the absolute worst, even if he means the Velvet kind, as I hope and believe he must.
Brand is very far from being the first person ever to become utterly exasperated with the horrible condition of Western Civ.—so much so that he's ready go all "we don't need no water, let the motherfucker burn." Moving and sincere as he is in the Paxman interview, it is a little boggling, the way he appears almost to believe he's the bringer of some kind of revelation. In any case, this Burn It Down mentality has never worked, not ever, to secure a fair and just society. And it's been tried!
The chief problem is that revolutionaries never reckon with the survival of their ideological opponents. But they do survive, they always survive. For example, when I was a girl I was certain that John Lennon's generation was going to get in charge and fix everything by the time I grew up. They were so obviously in the right! Peace! Love. What could be more obvious. And look what happened! The Piggies are fatter than ever. George W. Bush is six years younger than John Lennon would have been, had he lived.
In the U.S.A. we now have many different gangs of ideological purists who no longer care what happens to a corrupt and incompetent government. Each of them believes so strongly in the rightness of its own cause that somehow or other everyone will, everyone MUST, come around eventually to their way of thinking, because it's so obviously true and right. The Tea Party is one such gang, and as I am sure Russell Brand knows, they recently tried and failed to take the world's economy hostage in order to subvert the constitutional operations of the U.S. government. This was a newly violent, destructive development in modern-day American politics, and it provoked general horror and dismay. Yet these people are doing exactly what Russell Brand suggested to Jeremy Paxman ought to be done.
In order to achieve an ideologically pure society constituted according to their convictions, the Teahadists would have to kill me (and millions and millions of others,) because I'll never agree with them and cannot be made to. When revolutionaries start getting their way, that's just what happens. This we have seen, over and over again, and it never results in a better world. It only results in a nightmare.
So the reason why the needle of our politics can hardly be made to move is that we have to share the world with our ideological opponents, and we just don't want to kill them. It's no more complicated than that. If we tried to get along with them a little better (and they with us), we could move it a little farther.
As for voting, I am in total agreement with Brand that it does little to nothing to alter the status quo. However it is sometimes useful for averting abject catastrophe. In the U.S., that is all that voting has been good for pretty much all my life. I am very, very angry over the broken promises of the Obama administration, particularly with respect to transparency and whistleblower protections, which were explicitly promised. I worked hard to get Mr. Obama elected, and I am real mad. But every time I think about the bare possibility of a President Palin I immediately begin to fan myself with relief and all my regrets vanish instantly. Sometimes it is worth voting. Faute de mieux! Isn't that basically the mantra of adult life?
My own hope is that it will be increasingly possible to field progressive candidates and fund them with grassroots money. In the U.S., I believe, the Man fears the very thing I hope for: hence all the frantic attempts to permit private money to influence elections, yet another of which currently awaits the uncertain verdict of Chief Justice John Roberts.
It seems to me that Brand has got a very warm nature, and he has this tendency to get all wound up and make a real mess. I was particularly disappointed in his attempt to cheapen Jeremy Paxman's appearance on "Who Do You Think You Are?"—in which he described the hard but admirable life of his grandmother, Mabel. Why couldn't he see that this was Paxman's way of drawing attention to the same things Brand claims to care about—oppression, inequality!! Paxman has always treated Russell Brand really well, so far as I know, kindly and respectfully. So this rant against Paxman was a real lapse in judgment, and I think that Brand should apologize to him. If he wants to involve himself in issues of politics and social justice—and I hope he does—Russell Brand will maximize the good he can do by trying to be a little more… politic.
Maria Bustillos is a journalist and critic in Los Angeles.