A recent viral video of British comedian Russell Brand taking on a smug and dismissive BBC Newsnight interviewer by the name of Jeremy Paxman, and ending with Brand making a fervent case for social revolution, has had a surprisingly substantial impact, grabbing the attention of Facebookers, Tweeters, independent journalists and mainstream media alike.
Although certain establishment gatekeepers eagerly took it upon themselves to denounce Brand’s remarks as “trivial” and “half-baked,” many others warmly received his call for revolution and remarkably, his radical analysis of the status quo broke through what is normally a fairly strict firewall erected by the mainstream media to shield the general public from “dangerous” and “subversive” ideas.
The UK’s Daily Mail for example correctly reported that Brand’s vision is for “a socialist egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations and massive responsibilities for energy companies exploiting the environment,” which the Daily Mail not unsympathetically described as “a Robin Hood ideology” born out of a frustration with “a system he just doesn’t think is working.”
Also remarkable was the impact that his call for revolution had within what is generally an apolitical and frivolous social media sphere more receptive to funny cat memes and baby pictures than political diatribes. The website Trendolizer, which tracks the videos and links that are popular on Facebook at a given moment, reported that no fewer than ten stories were trending related to Brand’s revolutionary call for economic egalitarianism and environmental justice.
What is perhaps most remarkable though is the way that Brand was immediately attacked by factions of the left, which decided that rather than piggyback off of the sudden popular interest in revolutionary ideas that Brand’s comments provided, they would rather denounce him as an inauthentic revolutionary who fails to pay due attention to favored leftist causes such as fighting patriarchy, LGBTQ liberation and immigrant rights.
That’s right – the left is briefly given a window of opportunity in which much of the country is openly discussing revolutionary ideas, and instead of welcoming and leveraging that opportunity, the leftist instinct is to attack the messenger and effectively shut the window by bringing up divisive issues related to identity politics and the culture wars.
At Salon, for example, Natasha Lennard penned a piece called “I don’t stand with Russell Brand, and neither should you,” in which she urged against “jumping on the (likely purple velvet) coattails of a mega-celeb with fountains of charisma and something all too messianic in his swagger.”
Lennard irrationally complains that because Brand’s ideas have had such a profound impact on the popular discourse, we should reflexively be wary of the deliverer of those ideas, who may or may not be some kind of false idol. “If we’re so damn excited to hear these ideas in (in their slightly haphazard form) from a boisterous celebrity,” she says, “then clearly we have some idolatry and ‘Great Man’ hangups to address.”
It seems completely lost on Lennard that if anyone is revealing unaddressed and deep-seated hangups (over Brand’s fashion sense, for example, his “swagger,” or the possibility that he might be – gasp – a great man), it is clearly her.
But the left wasn’t done yet in marginalizing itself and ensuring that the window of opportunity that Brand briefly opened is firmly and safely sealed shut.
In an op-ed published by Truthout, Youngist and Rabble.ca, Suey Park and Isabelle Nastasia praised Lennard’s piece and questioned “Brand’s personal commitment to justice for oppressed peoples” by pointing to a Native American outfit he once wore to a costume party and a 2012 allegation of sexual harassment emanating from the Sun, a British tabloid. Without so much as providing context, Park and Nastasia highlighted these alleged transgressions as ironclad evidence of Brand’s shameful “appropriation of Native culture” and “his sexual exploitation of women.”
Park and Nastasia, who describe themselves as “young organizers and radical thinkers,” wonder why the British comic is “getting so much attention, while we – the ‘disenfranchised underclass’ – been saying this shit for years?”
Rather than looking to Brand for leadership, Park and Nastasia suggest that instead, we need to look at real revolutionaries, specifically “people of color-led movements for transgender and queer justice,” “movements fighting the school-to-prison pipeline, and other prison abolition movements,” and “undocumented youth and students who are fighting for an end to deportations.”