Russell Brand is dispensing childlike simplicities in a convoluted language
Opinion: If the British didn’t revolt during the Thatcher era they won’t do it now
Russell Brand: waiting for the barricades to go up. Photograph: PA
Every now and then, each of us gets that feeling of being isolated in the pop cultural universe. Unable to appreciate the latest lauded record or the current adored sitcom, one begins to understand what it must have been like for the hero of Space Oddity in his last few minutes. Major Tom Syndrome set in on Thursday morning as social media reacted surprisingly positively to Russell Brand’s largely idiotic interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight.
Mr Brand’s charms have always eluded me. It was, of course, hard not to feel a little sorry for him in the aftermath of the “Ross-Brand affair”. Yes, yes, he and Jonathan Ross were jerks to make fun of old Andrew Sachs. But the response from the mid-market tabloids could hardly have been more hysterical if the two men had flayed the former Manuel and fed his cadaver to the pigs.
None of that, however, makes his trademark miasmic combination of resplendently choleric cockney and vaunting tsunamis of leisurely larky logorrhoea any easier on the unresponsive ear. There’s something of the contemporary art gallery catalogue about his delivery: very simple, almost childlike ideas are expressed in the most convoluted language imaginable.
Brand was at it again on Wednesday night. The subject under discussion was his stint as guest editor of the New Statesman. His issue of that venerable liberal magazine includes articles by such varied social theorists as Noel Gallagher,
Gary Lineker and Rupert Everett. But Paxman wanted to hear from the organ grinder himself.
The dynamics of such interviews are now wearily familiar. As long ago as 1960, Adam Faith, the most successful British pop singer of the era, talked to John Freeman (then, neatly, editor of the New Statesman) on the deadly serious BBC show Face to Face. Faith was a deal less aggressive than Brand, but the sense of an establishment figure condescending towards “young people today” (Russell Brand is 38) remains largely unaltered.
The notion that Paxman was looking down on Brand may explain why so many commentators thought the comic’s performance a success. It is certainly true that, in the last few minutes, Russell did manage to get one over on Jeremy.
Having been called trivial by the interviewer, he brought up the notorious sequence in Who do you Think You Are? – the BBC’s genealogy hit – in which Paxman shed a tear over an impoverished ancestor. This was apparently a “moment of lachrymose sentimentality” in response to real suffering.
Brand demanded a more robust approach. But what exactly?
The most remarkable aspect of Brand’s interview was its unremarkable similarity to the average Newsnight conversation with this week’s floundering cabinet minister. Paxman began by wondering why somebody who didn’t vote was entitled to occupy such a prominent pulpit as that provided by the New Statesman. Brand offered some waffle about a “pre-existing paradigm that is quite narrow” and went on to make (perfectly sound) points about the rise of the underclass, the destruction of the planet and growing disenfranchisement from the political process. Having thus dismissed democracy – a notion millions died to protect – as some sort of elitist fad, Brand went on to argue for “alternative political systems”.
Here’s where things got irritating. Pressed to explain these alternatives, Brand did what every politician does when cornered by Paxman and answered a question he or she hasn’t been asked. Specifically, he said what his new system wouldn’t do: destroy the planet, create economic disparity, ignore the needs of the people. Even Ming the Merciless would have trouble disagreeing with that anti-manifesto.
He then confidently predicted a revolution and, after being pressed repeatedly to explain what would follow such a rising, plumped for a “socialistic egalitarian state”.
Insofar as he has any sort of lucid ideology, Brand seems to be arguing that we all do nothing and wait for the barricades to go up. He’ll be waiting a long time. If the British people failed to rise during the economic anarchy of the 1970s or the Thatcherite purges of the early 1980s, then there is not much chance of them reaching for their halberds today.
Wall of waffle
If the folk at Newsnight had invited a 17-year-old cider enthusiast onto the show they might have got fewer polysyllables, but they could hardly have encountered any less coherent political waffle. None of which matters very much. Mr Brand has not been asked to run the United Kingdom for a week. He has been asked merely to commission a few articles.
Still, for all his waffling about disenfranchisement, he has, simply by telling a few jokes and living a colourful life, earned a right to pontificate rarely granted to those who are genuinely powerless. Then again, he doesn’t seem all that keen on democracy. So that’s unlikely to bother him.