Russell Brand is making me sick. Well, not the man himself. I’m sure he’s very nice. But I’ve OD’d on brand Brand: the interminable column inches dedicated to whatever-he-just-said-about-something or that-time-he-tore-up-some-hapless-TV-hack or look-how-many-protracted-adjectives-he-can-preen-into-perspicacious-sounding-sentences. And now here I am, writing this, making it worse.
Suddenly, though, the mood has changed towards ‘the establishment’s anti-establishmentarian’. Another day, another article, probably in the Guardian, renouncing him as representative of the repressed, encumbered proletariat. Perhaps it was his combative appearance on Newsnight, the predatorial pawing at poor Evan Davis (who is clearly more at home creeping around Whitechapel warehouses pondering pitches and percentages, and is no hyperbolic match for a trained, toughened performer like Brand). It was uncomfortable viewing. But maybe that was the point.
Hero no more, Brand is falling from grace as fast as Alice down the rabbit hole, blindly scrambling at floating lamps and tea cups and wayward rocking chairs, grasping for some semblance of sense in the media circus surrounding him. Except Russell Brand doesn’t exist outside of the media. Like a drifting molecular strand, he is composed of letters and words that only replicate in a media vacuum. It is little wonder, therefore, that when he starts to denounce “the media” (an amorphous entity, apparently) it turns on him. He is attacking his host organism, splicing his own RNA.
And now he’s cooked up a new booky wook and called it (subtly) Revolution, which is causing all kinds of trouble. On Facebook, Billy Bragg pointed out the ‘splenetic anger’ Brand has aroused from ‘mainstream commentators’, going on to compare his counter-culture religiosity with Lennon and the Beatles, but then Bragg compares everything to Lennon and The Beatles.
Nick Cohen slams Brand’s ‘Beverley Hills Buddhism’, linking him to Farage, Galloway; “demagogues [who] boom out certainties that make the tentative policies of conventional leaders appear pale and timid”. One Guardian commenter sunk to that last resort of rhetoric: likening him to Hitler, “mysticism, a messiah complex, a love of his own voice, mad eyes as he addresses the faithful, sudden shouty anger if someone dares contradict him…” (As far as I am aware, Brand has not yet issued genocidal threats to minority groups or taken out a subscription to Gas Chamber Weekly.) Even populist anarchist Jonny Rotten got in on the act, furiously calling Brand a ‘bum hole‘ in response to his purportedly telling the population not to vote. (It remains unclear how this particular policy will affect Brand’s alleged bid to be Mayor of London, someone has probably said, sniffily.)
What mere comedian dares spark revolution? Speaking on Radio 4, over the baleful backdrop of Beethoven’s 5th, The Economist’s Jeremy Cliffe called him ‘a trivial man with a serious message’. The new Jesus Christ or false prophet? I don’t know, but I have nothing against Russell, the man. He has an intriguing Jack Sparrowishness about him. I even fancy him a bit. Sort of. Because rebellion has a direct correlation with virility. Something about sticking it up to the… ahem. Although it slightly annoys me (by which I mean, I am jealous) that he’s made millions out of what is essentially verbosity, which one might assume (perhaps unfairly) that anyone with half an English GCSE could imitate, armed with a thesaurus and a rehab-rejuvenated short-term memory. It’s the other half we need to worry about. To them, Brand’s magniloquence sounds exotic, brave, new. An answer, to something. The monsters of adland call it ‘salience’ – the degree to which something sticks in your brain. Salience is something Brand has in spades, and no, he is not ‘the answer’. But he is a big, unforgettable question mark.
And I say to ‘the media’: be careful. Chew him up and spit him out too violently and you may just tip this rags-to-riches success story back into the gutter. The drugs, women and lifestyle that Brand fought so hard to forget may provide the only solace when the entire world turns on him, and then you’ll just have to write about him falling out of nightclubs and destroying himself and oh… maybe that’s the point?
What should he do with his notoriety? He’s doing the best thing he can. Shouting loudly about the causes he cares for, with little regard for people’s fucking opinions, offsetting seriousness with scruffiness and trying, in his own disarmingly fumbled-yet-articulate-yet-seriously-don’t-be-fooled-by-the-fumbling-this-man-is-acutely-intelligent way, to make the world a better place.
And what are you doing? Not writing yet another article about Russell Brand, I hope.