Lauren Wills explores the effect that the outspoken comedian and political commentator Russell Brand has had on the UK political sphere
Russell Brand encourages us to talk about things that matter.
I must admit, I cringed a little when Russell Brand appeared on BBC Question Time talking about politics. It didn’t seem right and I thought (and still think, to an extent) that what he had to say lacked substance with regard to democracy and voting. However, politics is something that young people on the whole don’t want to engage with, and the idea prevails that political discussion is best left to more intelligent people who know what they’re talking about. Russell Brand is changing these static ideologies about participation in politics, and in my opinion, this can only be a good thing.
In fact, I sometimes worry about our generation, when it seems we’re more interested in Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance than what’s really going on in the world that’s truly affecting people’s lives.
At first I was disappointed when Brand came along selling his new ‘Revolution’ and encouraged people to abstain from voting. I still disagree with him and actually think that using one’s vote is integral to a functioning democracy. Thus I immediately jumped on the Brand-hating bandwagon, though what I was really doing was tuning out because honestly, I didn’t want to take political advice from a comedian.
There may have been a worry his political emergence would create a “Russell Brand wore army pants and flip-flops, so I wore army pants and flip-flops” situation whereby the entire 18 – 30s population would be hiding away when it comes to the general election later this year. Realistically, this is not the case. It’s just refreshing to hear from someone who’s a bit different.
I think many of us have a bad attitude towards Russell Brand because he doesn’t fit the mould of what your typical individual in an influential position should look like. It’s been drummed into us for years, subconsciously if nothing else, that judges, ministers and Members of Parliament have to be smart, white, middle class and male with not a blip on their records. It’s got to the point where we don’t want to learn from or trust anyone who doesn’t fit this stereotype with important societal issues.
I know Russell Brand isn’t exactly “one of us” in terms of wealth, but I do think he has a greater understanding of the needs of people in the UK than many people in Parliament.
Lord Fink’s statement last week serves as the perfect example. He commented that he took “vanilla tax avoidance” measures and that “everyone avoids tax at some level”. What he failed to see was that most of us don’t have the desire or opportunity to avoid paying tax, partially because HMRC are like a dog with a bone when it comes to collecting every last penny with the general public. This bizarre statement showed just how out of touch with the real world those in power can be. No, we don’t all avoid paying tax and no, we don’t all have the opportunity to do so even if we did want to.
With this in mind, I quite like it now when Brand sits there amongst politicians with his unbrushed, bird’s nest hair and sleeve of tattoos. He is incredibly respectful of other people’s opinions in interviews and is clearly well-informed on a wide range of subjects. In particular, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, he showed a sensitivity which not many people did on asking questions about religion and how personal actions can affect and marginalise others. He also raised issues about both terrorism and the causes of terrorism. He discussed acts of the government in general on his video blog and how we should question and be free to criticise their decisions.
He often talks about subjects that we leave to the experts. Young people especially are disengaged with world affairs and politics, with celebrity gossip being more interesting (and perhaps more ‘cool’ to talk about.) However, I hope Brand encourages young people that we are moving on from days where everyone in power has to look and talk in a certain way, and that we can all participate in democracy through political discussion.
I think the fear was that people would blindly follow his opinions because he had a large long-standing fan-base he could influence, but in reality I think it’s opened up a more general debate about the government and world affairs, especially amongst young people.
Celebrities stand in a unique position of influence in society. They especially affect the way young people live in a number of ways; their appearance, manners, fashion-sense, music preferences and general interests. Brand has started to use his influence to engage people in healthy discussion and debate which in my opinion can only be a positive thing.