We’ve all seen it. Russell Brand’s interview with Jeremy Paxman this week has caused a stirring of the pants and a stirring of the bowels among social media patrons. And we’ve all seen the whinging.
Very few informed people – and those who did are deserving of praise – commented approvingly on Brand’s interview and essay in this week’s New Statesman, which the comedian also edited. That is, very few applauded on the argument’s own merits or its value in the context of global inequality and political disenfranchisement.
The first line of attack was accusing Brand of being too reductionist, simplifying vastly complicated processes of capital and social relations, as if in a 10-minute interview in which Paxman asked him two questions with discernably different content and a 5,000-word essay he is expected to coherently address the inadequacies of international capitalism. Paxman was not there to listen.
The second attack was that Brand was not an economist/philosopher/social scientist, etc, and so should not be making such arguments. Instead, it goes, he should not be getting involved unless he is an expert. Staggeringly undemocratic, this argument also claims it contrary to progress to have the unqualified talking on things they know nothing about. (This argument also took the form of poking fun at Brand’s ‘bad’ writing.)
This neatly leads to the third line of attack. Brand is an actor and therefore his opinion either has no value for the reasons above, or that he must guard against propagating any political thoughts of his own because people who listen – that is, idiots – will just gleefully and dumbly hoover up his words like they are greedily devouring truffles. As such, this argument goes, celebrities operate in a different sphere of influence to us mere lumpenproletariat and a different one again to the intellectuals, so Brand should butt out. Leave it to Chomsky and Žižek to duke it out. It is startling how often this argument is made by ‘liberals’ or ‘democrats’.
What do these arguments tell us about social media users, and thus about our political climate? It shows us that educated, mostly left-wing people are paranoid. They are paranoid that their cynicism is being undercut by a bubbling of optimism about the future, whether that be a revolutionary one or not. They are paranoid that they aren’t the only Marxist in the village. They trip over themselves to post about how Brand is a moron in order to trump up their own revolutionary vanguard status. Being well-read is a game. For many of those moans I noticed on my various timelines are from people who call themselves progressive and are quick to disassociate from Westminster but slow to support anything that looks like popular approval of the very ideas they profess to hold.
Moreover, this pattern of behaviour is linked to far wider social and cultural causes. This is the self-denial of an aborted search for meaning among my generation. We don’t know what we like so we say what we don’t like (usually whatever is popular) and get horribly sensitive when someone offers us an opportunity to find some truth, a bit of power, a gram of creativity. Hipster Marxism. For what Brand said is to be lauded in almost all possible contexts. Anyone who seriously considers themselves left-wing, progressive, socialist, Marxist, and so on, should do nought but delight in our arguments being shouted louder and louder. It is almost always a good thing. When was the last time anti-capitalist revolution was discussed on Newsnight?
The revolution is/is not coming. (Delete as applicable according to your cynicism.) But we certainly can’t pretend we aren’t heard when we try our hardest to stop people like Brand talking about it. Everyone agrees that politics is a dangerously exclusive discourse. Truly radical ideas are, at best, sneered at. By kicking Brand, you’re only making it worse.