“Russell Brand, what a c*nt.” Those immortal words were issued by Boomtown Rats singer and savior of starving Africans Bob Geldof at a UK 2006 music awards ceremony, after the British comedian Brand had made cutting cracks at the stars in attendance. (Geldof’s four-letter insult is much less offensive in Britain than America, and used mostly as an insult among men.)
National Review‘s Kevin Williamson is right about nearly everything, but as one of Brand’s sparse band of right-of-center comedy fans, I think Williamson is wrong when he calls Brand “witless,” as he did in a scathing takedown in November. Brand the current-events thinker (?) has an unhealthy and offensive fetish for conspiracy theories. He’s also extremely intelligent, funny on his feet, and has verve, energy, and a supernatural sense of awareness, traits easy to underestimate under the get-up and ridiculous hair (which he admits would resemble “mental illness” if not for his fame). His old BBC radio shows crack me up, though your tolerance for British tabloid ephemera may be lower than mine. He’s obnoxious, arrogant, and people like him anyway, which is a decent working definition of charisma. Too bad Revolution is so often repellent.
Brand’s freshly minted political profile emerged after a famous confrontation with BBC interviewer Jeremy Paxman, but conservatives who enjoy “MSNBC fails” may remember Brand embarrassing the Morning Joe crew (“Is this what you do for a living?”) when they made a mistake of having him on as a guest while promoting his stand-up tour, the aptly named Messiah Complex. He’s reviled on the right (and parts of the doctrinaire left) for what’s seen as unearned left-wing political cachet and for urging people not to vote, though that’s far from the most offensive idea raised in Revolution.
Brand, a former heroin-and-sex addict who isn’t shy about his past, now has much to say about how the rest of us should live our lives (first off – avoid those “fascists” at Fox News). After scaling the libertine ladder in Dior boots, he wants to pull it up behind him, heralding an end to selfish individualism and its co-dependent, capitalism. Many would be jealous of Brand’s “joyless trudge through flesh,” though he seems sincere in his revulsion of his former hedonistic ways. With Revolution, the author brands (sorry) himself a morass of contradictions, an obsessive striver denigrating individual achievement, a fan of deep ecology whose hair care alone is an environmental catastrophe; if not a limousine liberal, then a Range Rover one.
Never mind the countless millions lifted out of dire poverty around the world whose living standards continue to rise thanks to freer markets: Now that Brand has had his fill from capitalism’s cornucopia, it’s last call. Of course, in the comedian’s ideal world, no one would have the incentive in the first place to come up with the things he mocks us for wasting time on, and which he himself has fully and (a favorite obsession of Brand’s) inequitably enjoyed.
Revolution‘s assertions (they’re too thin to call arguments) are nothing new – willfully arcane rants against corporations, with cut-and-pastes from Noam Chomsky supplemented by something Brand read in Adbusters, strung together with occasionally funny digressions, bouts of self-awareness in which Brand is properly defensive about his wealth, status, and celebrity.
Brand was more profound when he was only trying to entertain, as in his first two books, which share a rollicking, good-humored tone, though a familiarity with British pop ephemera helps. Brand boasted of regularly hopping on government benefits and engaging in shoplifting, fare-dodging, and stealing (“victimless crimes”), foreshadowing the redistributionist fetish that bloomed in Revolution.
Interestingly, in Revolution Brand denounces a fellow British conservative-hater, uber-atheist Richard Dawkins, as a proponent of “atheistic tyranny” and “scientism” for denying the supernatural. A spiritual undercurrent of the universalist strain runs through Revolution. There is praise for Mother Teresa yoked to condemnation of Margaret Thatcher’s “self-centered nihilism.” In one of many silly sentences, Brand announces that “‘socialism’ isn’t a dirty word; it just means sharing. Really, it’s just the bureaucratic arm of Christianity.” Orthodox Christians might not recognize this particular oneness (he goes by many names), with his trippy, “yes to the universe” vibe.
Brand’s observational wit has not deserted him: Einstein is a “bed-headed genius; Mark Twain is the “thinking man’s Colonel Sanders”; “Phobias are like fetishes,” while Maximilien de Robespierre “sounds like an untrustworthy Gallic Transformer.” Then there’s Brand’s embarrassed description of left-wing perennial presidential candidate John Hagelin’s “yogic flying,” which resembles “some highly motivated amputees clamoring for a top-shelf magazine.”
As a comedian, Brand resembles Dennis Miller in his discursive sub-referencing style, though his on-stage persona is far looser than Miller’s. With Revolution, Brand has “revolved” into the actual example of what petulant liberals pretend has happened to Miller since he’s started leaning right — he’s become more earnest and less funny, and his let’s-be-decent-to-each-other humanism lies uneasily alongside his approval of rioting.
The scariest sentence in the book opens: “Noam Chomsky will explain…” The second scariest: the one citing “highly respected experts like Thomas Piketty and Naomi Klein” (Klein thinks the ISIS videos are fake and Ebola is part of a takeover plot by the U.S. military). And I keep squinting for the irony in Brand’s discussion of “dear, beautiful, morally unimpeachable Che Guevara.” (Though he does admit Che was quick with his Kalashnikov.)
By the time Brand suggests the Twin Towers fell via “controlled demolition,” I began to think Geldof was right all along. To re-purpose a bumper sticker: if Brand says he’s revolting, who am I to disagree?