Russell Brand is a mediocre spokesman for some important ideas


Of course I enjoyed watching this interview of Russell Brand, which Gawker says may spark a revolution.

Brand is right about a lot of things. He’s articulate and cutting and Paxman gets what he deserves. The questions aren’t very good, and Brand’s shtick is perfectly tuned to Paxman’s condescension. So it’s satisfying to see him practically jumping out of his chair and bringing the heat. And it’s satisfying to see him disrupt the staid and practiced drama of this kind of an interview.

But that being said, I’m really not that impressed. Brand is a celebrity calling for change in vague terms. I agree with many of his positions. Global and national inequality are huge issues. We are indeed destroying the environment at a horrifying pace. The political systems in the US and UK have deep, deep problems. Part of the solution involves looking inward. Good for Brand for pointing all this out, and using his celebrity to do so. But there are people working day and night to advance these same ideas in much more practical and specific ways. It might seem like they’re losing the battle, but can you imagine how much worse things would be if these people were not engaged? We might have a Koch brother as president. (Instead they’re just funding the opposition.)

None of this would be a big issue were it not for Brand’s exceptionally lazy and dangerous attitude about voting. There is absolutely no justification for this. It is a position I can only imagine someone holding if (a) they are so ensconced in privilege that they do not recognize how enormous their privilege is or (b) they are so at the margins of society that they’ve decided to check out completely. Brand is certainly the former, notwithstanding his working class background. Either way, not voting has zero validity as a political strategy. It’s true that our democratic systems have been disgustingly abused and rigged, but if you think, for example, that there is no difference between G.W. Bush and Obama, you must be very rich and comfortable indeed. Our system is not dysfunctional enough to boycott elections. If you think it is, you haven’t seen a dysfunctional system.

Oddly, voting is one of those things with a value that may be hard to appreciate until you don’t have it. Living in and visiting places where people are truly unable to vote or even express their opinions gives one a special appreciation for the privilege of these small but meaningful powers.  If you are in a country that has outright vote rigging, I can see the purpose of election boycotting. Brand is not in that position, and he’s lying to himself and everyone if he says so. It’s painful to hear him suggest that he is. People have laid down their lives again and again, in the United States and elsewhere, to obtain suffrage. It disrespects their legacies to shrug your shoulders and suggest that none of us should vote. Yeah, millionaire celebrity Russel Brand, of course you don’t think it matters. But don’t promote your ballot box passivity as a viable strategy for life. People in far more vulnerable positions than you will be the ones who suffer.

One thing I can’t abide is people who don’t acknowledge their privilege, or people who have privilege and refuse to try their best to use it for good. If you can vote in one of the most powerful countries in the world, do so! (But don’t stop there, either.)

PS I will say that that was one of the greatest smirks I’ve ever seen at the beginning of the interview.

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