By Andy Green (SERIOUS Creative Director)
Election time is here and one of the most referenced names is someone who seemingly argues that we should not bother and ignore the whole thing – Russell Brand – the comedian and campaigner, as he likes to brand himself.
Most media commentators seem to make snide remarks about his being politically ‘naive’, damning of his call of not to bother to vote, or condemning him as a publicity-seeking celeb.
Curiously, in my recent Brand workshops his name has repeatedly appeared as a brand that the delegates do not want to be like, or associated with.
I was taken aback by the strength of venom and dislike expressed for the man who evoked responses of being ‘fake’, ‘insincere’ and ‘superficial’.
Personally, I’m a passionate democrat, believing in fundamental principles of one person, one vote and how representative democracies need to be genuinely representative – where any member can become leader of the group if voted by their fellow constituents.
And a lot of good people have died so we can have this fundamental right. So, I will be voting in the forthcoming election and hold a different view to Russell Brand on that issue.
Yet, having witnessed two recent television appearances, on BBC 1’s ‘Question Time’, and his BBC3 documentary ‘End the Drugs War’ – on the need for drug law reform, and actually read his book ‘Revolution’, I believe there is a need to re-evaluate the Russell Brand brand, and look deeper into its integrity and favourability (or lack of).
There is, I believe, a different reality to the image of a superficial media celebrity. What I observed in his TV appearances and after reading his book is, I would argue, how we need to regard him instead as a precious asset, doing a valuable and seemingly lonely job raising political and social consciousness.
He seems to be one of the only major public figures still making a rally call to action against a group in society who seemingly have got away with their misdemeanours, irresponsible behaviours, and still culpable for many of our on-going woes: the banks and bankers.
Our politicians and political system have let them off the hook after the scandals of the financial crisis. Where are the reforms, new broom or even prosecutions of law breaking bankers?
Now, I must declare an interest here; I am a small business victim (along with I suspect 100,000 other businesses) of Interest Rate Swap mis-selling. My bank was found guilty by the Ombudsman and the Financial Conduct Authority Review of mis-selling to my business, the Wakefield Media Centre. (Do check out the Bully-Banks campaign, which I’m immensely proud of being a former director of, for background on this major injustice.)
Also, I teach in my creativity classes (using the London Underground Tube map as a metaphor) how problems can be Zone 1 – familiar, with available solutions, Zone 6 – complicated, where solutions will have some form of complexity, and Zone 10 – chaotic, systemic where there are no easy solutions.
Clearly, the question of ‘What can we do about the banks and the behaviours of bankers?’ is in the realms of beyond Zone 6 and into Zone 10 territory; it’s immensely complex, systemic and difficult.
As a result, there are no easy, simple answers. But it doesn’t mean we don’t address it, or seek to build effective Zone 1 and Zone 6 solutions and keep plugging away at a major wrong, imbalance and injustice in our society.
Who else is championing the cause and raising consciousness of the need to bring the banks to account?
For this at least, Russell Brand deserves recognition. And witnessing him in his dealings with vulnerable people with drug issues, he borders on saint-like behaviour, truly inspiring and worthy of great respect.
For people who say or re-Tweet that Brand is ‘naïve’, ‘insincere’, ‘fake’, I would counter with:
- Have you actually read his book ‘Revolution’ before you actually condemn or castigate him? It is often amusing, insightful and at the very least highly provocative to get you thinking. He actually advocates a much broader quasi-religious, philosophy to life than a simplistic nihilism of ‘Don’t vote’.
- What are you proposing instead? What actions and promulgations are you making to address the on-going ills in our world? At least he is doing something. Have an alternative first, show and lead by your own example I would suggest, before rubbishing others.
- And using the word ‘naïve’ reminds me of one of my favourite scenes in from the ‘Godfather’ film, where Kay Adams Corleone (played by Diane Keaton) accuses her husband of being naïve.
Michael Corleone: ‘My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.’
Kay Adams Corleone: ‘Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don’t have men killed.’
Michael Corleone: ‘Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?’
Who’s being naïve here? The great mass who passively accept the status quo and fail to challenge to injustice and exploitation of our existing banking system and financial regulation? Or someone brave enough to stand up and stand out and at least continue to point the finger?
In a recent blog post Russell Brand wrote: ‘Milton Friedman once said that every crisis was an opportunity. The financial crisis of 2008 should have been a chance to reform the system for the benefit of everyone. But instead, austerity for everyone throughout Britain and Europe was the price to be paid for supporting the financial sector, with £131 billion spent by UK tax payers to keep the financial system afloat, while $30 trillion in support and subsidies went to Wall Street in the US.’
On reflection, ‘Who’s being naïve?
An insightful quote from film director Terry Gilliam in the Financial Times recently contextualizes the issue of whether to vote or not: “Everything I do has a political point. Voting seems to be the least efficient way of changing things.”
The massive passives (the label I use for the inert majority in any group) equate ‘politics’ with ‘voting’. Yet, I agree with Terry Gilliam, everything we do is political; where you spend your next £5, who you show compassion to, who do you praise or bad mouth are all political acts; our behaviours cast a vote to influence and shape the world around us.
In addition to voting we can exercise our political muscles through:
- economic decisions – what brands do you support or not with your wallet?
- compassion – who do you show care for, are you the ‘Good’ Samaritan’ or ‘Good Jedi’ to calls for help from around you – or the indifferent-sorry-too-busy Samaritan or Bad Jedi ? (and if you haven’t seen the BBC3 documentary please witness Russell Brand’s Mother-Teresa like empathy and understanding in his dealings with some very vulnerable people. When did you last show compassion and care to a less fortunate member of our community?)
- stigma – an under-valued weapon and tool for seeking social change and justice. Although in numerous incidents we may lack the legal tools to implement specific changes we can exert our moral power to stigmatize, alienate and isolate those not worthy of being decent members of our group.
I was in Hong Kong last year and was privileged to witness and talk to democracy activists on their Occupy sites. One abiding image was the poster proclaiming the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Doing nothing, pretend you’re not seeing, or hiding behind having no answers is a political act; you may be comfortable in your inertia, but major injustices prevail while you can do something: Brand is at least doing something.
If I were Russell Brand’s PR and brand adviser I would suggest the following:
- Create a better, more accurate meme of ‘Don’t vote- be political 24 7 instead’
- Evolve your ‘Don’t Vote’ message to one of, ‘At the very least there should be an option on the ballot paper of ‘None of the above’ to reflect a true democratic choice.’ Other than the existing option of spoiling your paper, thus bracketing you with the incoherent, incomprehensible or illiterate. Think about it – ‘none of the above’ captures your full range of choices
- Don’t go into formal politics and become a Member of Parliament. Celebrate your independent role for inspiring political consciousness in its widest sense. Avoid being pigeon-holed as a specific representative of a group.
- Establish the ‘Russell Brand Foundation’ which should be focussed on a very specific area where you have significant legitimacy. I would suggest an area of drug law reform or dealing with victims of drug addiction.
- Evolve your ‘Revolution’ Brand, as used in the title of your book to ‘Love Revolution’. It might sound old hippyish, but there is room in the political spectrum of someone sharing the principles of ‘Love, respect and justice’.
- Build alliances and collaborations. The Dark Mountain project for example, echoes Brand’s call for a deeper consciousness ‘outside the human bubble’ to create a better way of doing. By embedding his work with greater connections Brand can anchor his philosophy in a wider and less easy to dismiss as ‘naïve’ platform.
I do hope Russell Brand keeps up being a role model and an inspiration for political action
– in its widest sense, but reflects on how he needs to evolve his focus, message, and brand.
With an election upon us, he will no doubt be in the spotlight. Let’s hope Russell Brand can use his profile and platform to nudge the political establishment into taking a more active role on issues like reforming the banks and the financial regulators, and on drug law reform.
But a bigger hope, is that you, and every one of us, recognises that we can be guilty of outsourcing political action to the solitary task of voting – and that all of us need to be political 24 7.
Oh, I did forget to declare one other interest: Russell Brand and I are both big West Ham fans – so hope Russell Brand’s political message, like our beloved Hammers, doesn’t become a lost cause!