- Joanna Rowse weighs in on Russell Brand’s most recent viral, and questions the effectiveness of his political statement
Have you watched Russell Brand’s interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight yet? If you didn’t catch its BBC screening last Wednesday night, it’s likely you will have caught it instead on its journey around the online sphere. The YouTube clip alone has so far garnered over 1.4 million views. Head to head with a disbelieving and disapproving Paxman, Brand passionately and vigorously defends his right to edit a political magazine (the New Statesman) and therefore be pedestalled as a political commentator when he himself does not even vote.
A spectrum of responses as big as the Internet exists. The Huffington Post’s Robin Lustig called Brand ‘not only daft but dangerous’; an Independent Voices debate praised Brand’s ‘swagger’ and ‘charm’, but attacked his ‘apathetic cynicism’ and lack of political knowledge and a change.org petition calls for Brand to stand as the face of the ‘None of the Above’ party (a voting option for Brits as disenchanted with modern politicians as Brand is). The interview has created a reaction which far surpasses that of other viral videos, whose consequences are generally conﬁned to the very platforms which popularise them in the ﬁrst place (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and so on). Why has this video resonated so strongly with so many people?
To me, it is Brand’s rhetoric. People are suckers for good speakers. Brand’s argument presents nothing original (Marx and Engels wrote about revolution of the working classes all the way back in the 19th century) and lacks any practical solution. This is not to suggest inauthenticity on Brand’s part; his passion and enthusiasm cannot be disputed, and it has natural appeal to those as angry as he is. Indeed, it is magniﬁed by its strong contrast to Paxman’s typically steely and cynical demeanour (‘who are you to edit a political magazine?’ Paxman opens with) but his ﬁrst-hand experience of the failings of the British political system, vis-à-vis his early struggles with drug addiction, give his argument real ﬁre and meaning. Viewers believe in his disgust, and they are disgusted too.
But what are Brand’s followers to do with this inspiration? This is where Brand’s passion falls short. He can’t suggest an alternative to the current political system. He is sure of what the priorities of British society ought to be – combating economic disparity, ecological conservation and attending to the needs of the British people – but the only advice he can give to viewers is, like him, to not vote, as a message of dissatisfaction to the UK government.
So Brand’s ever enticing rhetoric, while as attractive as in his GQ Awards speech, his clash with American news anchors and his response to Thatcher’s death (all of which went viral as well), does not mobilise viewers to do that much. Sure, he is raising awareness, but with such little direction in his argument, at this point in time his words will probably just amount to more ‘likes’, ‘shares’ and articles on news platforms. Perhaps some people will be inspired to not vote – but I am sceptical that this will be enough people to destabilise British government. It will probably just give the Conservatives a higher majority.
Brand is extremely good at arguing – he is charming, funny, sensitive, and pretty much has a thesaurus programmed into his brain. This is why the video went viral. But ‘Revolution Russell Brand’ is not going to happen.