The British left weekly New Statesman has taken a chance on an up-and-coming rogue editor, but the actor-comedian and newly welcomed progressive-minded firebrand Russell Brand seems so far to be a brilliant and elegant choice.
Tapped to guest-edit the magazine's 'Revolution' issue this week, Brand is making waves both for his feature-length essay on the topic but also with a televised interview that aired Wednesday night on the BBC with veteran Newsnight anchor Jeremy Paxman. In the ten-minute interview, the 38-year-old Brand points at the futility of voting in a corrupt democratic system determined to serve the interests of the ruling class and not only predicts, but guarantees, that the "disenfranchised, disillusioned underclass" created by the current economic and political system—both in the UK and worldwide—will rise up in popular revolution against the failings of the current corporate-controlled paradigm.
Paxman questioned why a comedian such as Brand, especially one who doesn't vote, should be trusted to offer his views on the political system.
"I don't get my authority from this preexisting paradigm which is quite narrow and only serves a few people," Russell responded, himself questioning why voting or not voting in a corrupt lopsided system should provide moral or intellectual authority. "I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity."
Additionally, he said: "It is not that I am not voting out of apathy. I am not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations," said Brand.
In response to Paxman asking if he saw any reason for hope, Brand jumped at the question "Yeah, totally. There's going to be a revolution. It's totally going to happen," he said. "I ain't got a flicker of doubt. This is the end—it's time to wake up."
The interview is worth a complete viewing:
Asked to outline the possible revolutionary scheme, Brand explained: "I think a socialistic egalitarian system based on massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations, and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies exploiting the environment. I think the very concept of profit should be hugely reduced. [British PM] David Cameron says 'profit' isn't a dirty word. I say profit is a filthy word, because wherever there is profit there is also deficit. And this system currently doesn't address these ideas."
Further pressed for specifics on the mechanics of this post-revolutionary world, Brand called out Paxman for the ridiculousness of the demand. "Jeremy, don't ask me to sit here—in a interview with you in a bloody hotel room—and devise a global utopian system."
"I'm merely calling for change," he add. "I'm calling for genuine alternatives."
Later, Brand acknowledged there were many brilliant people in the world offering wonderful and specific solutions to humanity's problems, but that those voices and their ideas are repeatedly excluded from popular debate and ignored by elected officials.
Best known in the United States for his roles in film comedies such as 'Get Him to the Greek' and 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall,' Brand has increasingly emerged as an astute observer of both politics and culture. An admitted (but recovering) drug addict, in his sobriety Brand has been passionate and insightful in his comments about celebrity culture, substance abuse, and a growing number of other social issues.
As Adam Taylor, at the Business Insider, points out:
Brand's transformation from an outrageous comedian know for puerile jokes, a history of drug abuse, and one-night stands with Hollywood starlets to one of the U.K.'s most popular essayists was certainly an unexpected turnaround.
However, recent writings on events personal (the never-ending fears of relapse for a former addict) and political (the death of Margaret Thatcher) have won a lot of plaudits.
And The Independent's Simon Kelner (no sympathetic left-winger himself) gave the political and philosophical sparring trophy not to the establishment journalist Paxman, but to the revolutionary-minded comedian:
Brand, who sounded like the love child of Stanley Unwin and Will Self, was goaded to genuine anger by Paxman's patronising assertion that he was “a trivial man”. Whatever Brand may be, he's not trivial. His call for revolution may be Spartist nonsense, but Brand definitely articulates a strain of thinking among a growing number of young people who feel disenfranchised, disenchanted, disengaged and, most important, disinterested in the idea that politics can change the world.
Most politicians don't lay a glove on Paxman. Brand made him look uncomfortable and faintly ridiculous. And his retort to Paxman's consistent sneering was priceless. “Jeremy, you've spent your whole career berating and haranguing politicians,” he said, “and when someone like me says they're all worthless, and what's the point in engaging with them, you have a go at me for not being poor any more”. A bit of verbal slapstick it may have been, but there was just the sense, when Jeremy met Russell, that some of the old certainties may be shifting.