In London, there’s talk of revolution. And though system overthrow is far from nigh, a single shepherd has already emerged to lead the disillusioned fold: comedian, actor, author and former heroin junkie (and he adds: “Halloween-haired, glitter-lacquered, tree-hugging, Hindu-tattooed, veggie meditator”) Russell Brand. Oh, and this revolution will be televised.
It all began this fall, when Brand guest-edited an issue of the left-leaning New Statesman magazine. “When I was asked to edit an issue of the New Statesman, I said yes, because it was a beautiful woman asking me,” wrote Brand, by way of an introduction to his 5,000-word editor’s letter. But “imagining the overthrow of the current political system is the only way I can be enthused about politics,” he continued. Brand went on to wax philosophic about New Age spiritualism, “our materialist consumer culture,” Oliver Cromwell, redistributive economics, the shortcomings of atheism and the need for a “total revolution of consciousness.”
When the magazine went to print, Brand was interviewed on the BBC’s Newsnight by the famed news presenter Jeremy Paxman. And this is where things got interesting. Brand admitted that he had never voted and never will. “It is not that I am not voting out of apathy,” an increasingly irate and deliciously glib Brand explained. “I am not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations.” For more than 10 minutes, a wild-eyed Brand danced oratorical circles around Paxman, one of the country’s most esteemed journalists.
Minutes after the interviewed aired, commentators pounced—some lauding and others lambasting Brand—but all bowing to his growing political influence. “Whatever Brand may be,” the Independent opined, “he is not trivial.” The interview has since gone viral. And Russell Brand is now everywhere: trailed by paparazzi, written up daily (hourly!) by British broadsheets, his image spray-painted on brick walls in east London and printed on Che Guevara-inspired T-shirts.
The last few weeks have seen Brand’s ideas scrutinized from all sides. The Guardian’s Anne Perkins described Brand’s politics as “a little like the distorted utopianism of the Italian proto-Fascist.” The Cambridge-educated comedian Robert Webb told Brand to “please read some f–king Orwell.” But others insist that Brand has reawakened the apathetic masses—and drawn new attention to the glaring shortcomings of our current political system. And anyway, supporters bristle, Brand never claimed to have all the answers. “Jeremy, darling,” he drawled during his BBC interview, “don’t ask me to sit here in a bloody hotel room and devise a global utopian system.”
So captivating has this new political figure and his ethos become that even the BBC’s Paxman—who, days earlier, had berated Brand for not “being arsed” to vote—admitted that he, too, had abstained from voting in the last elections because he found the political options “unappetizing.” He added: “There is something irresistible about [Brand] . . . He stands squarely in the British tradition of cheeky chappies.”
It’s doubtful that Brand would object to his new role as subversive-in-chief. His new comedy tour, after all, is titled “The Messiah Complex.”