Russell Brand and politics. Generally not two things that go together. Or at least I thought so until I saw this interview between Brand and political journalist Jeremy Paxman. If you haven’t seen it already I would recommend a watch – even if you are not a fan of Mr Brand. He is his usual effervescent self throughout, but with an added level of depth, intelligence and passion I have never seen from him before. In a nutshell he is advocating a revolution of sorts – he thinks that the big issues of climate change and wealth disparity will never be resolved in the current democratic system and as such refuses to vote. He does not suggest a solution per se – he admits that is for smarter people than him to do – but he does succeed in achieving what is clearly his objective in the interview: drawing attention to the issues that he is really passionate about and getting those who watch it to devote at least a little bit of time to thinking about those issues too.
This interview got me thinking – not just about Brand’s views and my opinion of him – but also about the fundamental issue here: should we give a flying FARC what some celebrity, with minimal qualifications and negligible political experience, thinks about politics? And, broader still, why should he be given 10 minutes on Newsnight when someone more intelligent, informed and influential might deserve it more?
It seems today that having political views about something is part of celebrity 101. I kind of envisage that as a celeb starts making their way towards the A list they have to go through a PR Boot Camp – teaching them things like ‘how to use Twitter to your advantage’, ‘is underexposure or overexposure the best way to success for you?’ and ‘what political cause is going to become your cause celeb?’ Everyone seems to have one these days – from the obvious and respected George Clooneys and Angelina Jolies to the more subtle ‘I am going to wear a Darfur T-shirt to the MTV Movie Awards’ Ryan Gosling. They all seem to have a specific cause (or in some case many) that they champion.
And why wouldn’t you? I would like to think that if I, in some sudden cataclysmic event, became a Hollywood A Lister I would DEFINITELY use my powers for good, and would use every chance I got to bang on about climate change and refugees (those two being my causes of choice right now). But, I would be mindful of a couple of facts. 1. People don’t want to watch me rant on about politics all the time – they want to watch me because they like my acting/singing/writing/world ruling – and this is just an aside. And 2. I am not an expert on either of these issues, and should be careful not to pass myself off as one.
But Brand handles both of these issues exceptionally well in the Paxman interview. Firstly – this is the first time we have heard him talking about politics at length. He might mention it here and there in his stand up but it isn’t a focus. Even in the interview it isn’t 100% pure politics – there are some typically hilarious Brand diversions thrown in there. Secondly – he doesn’t hold himself up as an expert. However, he does make it clear, to the somewhat befuddled Paxman, that he has as much right as any other person to have views on politics and, in his case, choose not to vote (for a good reason). His own life experience has taught him the importance of the issues he is rallying on – but he also makes clear that he isn’t the one with the solutions, he is just the one saying ‘Oi! Look over here!’
And that is the fundamental reason why I have absolutely no trouble with celebrities being political – and, in fact, why I encourage it. If Angelina can get 10 people to donate to UNHCR as a result of reading an article about her travelling to a refugee camp then all power to her. If George can get a few people to do some research on the Sudan and find out what the heck is going on down there, that is fabulous. And if Joss Whedon can get more people to vote for Barack Obama thanks to talking about the zombie apocalypse, then huzzah I say. Huzzah!