Russel Brand’s influence on British politics - English

The Russelution has arrived

By Jesse Van Mouwerik8.01.2015Culture and Society, Medien

How Russell Brand is helping force UK politics into a very necessary state of self-reflection.

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It’s 2006 and Amnesty International’s fundraiser The Secret Policeman’s Ball is underway in Britain. Among the massive line-up of comedians performing is the rising star Russell Brand, who has been surging in popularity since becoming clean of drugs and alcohol in 2002.

Brand at this point is already distinguished as one of mainstream English comedy’s most bluntly outspoken figures. This is a surprisingly difficult role to play in Britain, where the most respected senses of humor are often based on nuance and subtle innuendo rather than rapacious self-aggrandizement or casually direct social criticism. He walks on stage dressed as something of an androgynous Keith Richards-esque punk rock human peacock with long, frizzy hair and raccoon eyes.

With a confidently zany presence, he calmly pulls out a newspaper and says, “I sort of have an odd relationship with the “Sun” newspaper. I kind of think of it as a friend, but… do any of you have a friend, that you, like f***ing hate?” What follows is an utter disembowelment of “The Sun” for broadcasting messages of paranoia, racism, and fear-mongering as a means of merchandising. This is all done to an audience roaring with laughter.

Now fast forward to 2015, and Brand is still using his high-energy standup persona to talk about how the media distracts people from important issues. He has a new daily YouTube series, The Trews, where he both mocks and analyzes sensationalism and commercialism in the news. He has also published a book, called “Revolution”, highlighting his own concerns about social inequality, corruption in government, and environmental degradation, as well as highlighting the work of people he believes are doing much to solve these problems.

Comfort zone with his own vulnerability

From YouTube views to book sales, Brand has been raking in success, something his opponents at the “Daily Mail” revel in pointing out. But he is not the only beneficiary of his work. East London’s New Era Estate, an entire community in danger of eviction after a massive US conglomerate purchased half the neighborhood with aims to put in unaffordable luxury apartments, has so far been able to remain in their homes largely due to Brand’s utilization of his fame to raise awareness and support for their demonstrations. That’s a massive victory in London, a city where rising housing prices threaten working class neighborhoods on a daily basis.

Brand is also willing to do a hatchet job on himself just as fast as he is willing to do one on contemporary politics. He’ll speak freely about his utterly demeaning past behaviors as a former drug user, but then easily switch to a debate about the ineffectiveness of today’s war on drugs. That comfort zone with his own vulnerability that he acquired during his standup career gives him credibility both as a comedian and a commentator.

What separates Brand from most celebrity activists is that he is mainly highlighting the work of others, not himself. He has raised awareness of everything from the right wing agendas of UKIP to the closed-door discussions of TTIP by promoting the work of people like George Monbiot, among countless others. He has also been a heavy campaigner for preserving the NHS and promoting abstinence-based recovery for drug addicts rather than upholding the status quo of lengthy prison sentences.

Brand’s fame is also as much an obstacle as it is an asset while trying to inspire social change. Pundits across Britain have skewered him for saying he does not vote, arguing that that his statement encourages apathy, and such apathy could give rise to extremist parties. But in a political landscape where voter turnout is appallingly low and extremist parties are gaining ground, Russell Brand’s words aren’t likely to worsen the situation, but rather bring it back into people’s minds. If his media presence is indicative of anything, it isn’t that voting is a bad idea, but that voting by itself is not enough to make impactful progress.

Worth giving a big hand

The upside has been that politicians and citizens alike, even those who disagree with Brand, have had to be more outspoken about their own views, even if only to contend with him. Such outspokenness is critical at a time when the UK is at somewhat of a political crossroads, where issues such as immigration, healthcare, drug policy, and EU integration are largely at a stalemate in parliament.

If you ask most Brits about Russell Brand, you aren’t guaranteed to get unanimous adoration, but nearly everyone seems to have a rather complicated opinion about the man. Whether they like him or not: what’s clear is that his presence in the media has forced everyone from the highest official to the every day citizen to rethink their views, and take a second look at what they believe the role of institutions should be. Anyone that can spark that kind of dialogue, regardless of their own opinion, is inevitably doing a good thing for their community, their country, and their world.

For that in particular, it’s worth giving a big hand to Russell Brand.

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