Yes, Criticising Russell Brand for Supporting the New Era Estate is Snide, and if He is a Hypocrite, We All Are
To ask a person how much their apartment is worth (as Channel 4 reporter, Paraic O’Brien, did to Russell Brand yesterday), or how much they pay in rent when they are attending a march in solidarity with less fortunate and more marginalized people is manipulative and dishonest, and, yes, it does make you a ‘snide’. It was an attempt to surreptitiously undermine the actions of Brand and paint him as a hypocrite simply because he happens to be richer than the people he is trying to help. This type of logic suggests that anyone who is rich either cannot or should not use their position of power to help people who have found themselves at the wrong end of a grossly inequitable social and economic system.
Today, the front page of The Sun, which carried the headline ‘Rants about high rents and tax avoidance, but pays £76k a year to tax-dodge landlords. HYPOCRITE’, is just ridiculous. Luckily, though, people have picked up on the logical fallacy, which has been followed by numerous satirical tweets under #TheSunLogic .
I have been confronted in similar ways regarding my own attempts to understand the various issues surrounding climate change and how this affects the people who are most at risk from its impact. Usually, it starts with someone asking me why I am in South America, which is followed by me attempting (and usually failing) to summarise my research goals. This is often followed by a response along the lines of ‘Well, if you really cared about the environment you wouldn’t even be here, do you know how much carbon trans-Atlantic flights produce?’ (yes, I do, and here is a New York Times article about it). Sometimes people seem to think that because I can afford a high quality laptop or don’t live in a hovel that I can’t really care that much- the indication being that I should give all my money to poor people.
Unfortunately I don’t have as much money as Russell Brand, but comparisons can be drawn between the two criticisms. Brand summarised it well while being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman (who has also been criticised for not voting) last year when he pointed out that ‘When I was poor and I complained about inequality people said I was bitter, now I’m rich and I complain about inequality they say I’m a hypocrite. I’m beginning to think they just don’t want inequality on the agenda.’ What is implied when people question Brand’s right to ‘complain’ about social injustices is that you can only do so if you are a faultless person and/or are willing to give all that you have to people who have less. By this logic, almost everyone living in Europe is a hypocrite. We make up less than 10% of the global population, yet control over 25% of the world’s wealth.
The argument is absurd, not least because having privilege is precisely the reason some people’s voices are louder than others. It is because Russell Brand is rich and famous that he is able to force the otherwise deaf ears of the political elite to listen to (or at least acknowledge) people who are being forced out of their homes. As Lindsey Garrett from the New Era Estate (you can find out more about the campaign and sign the petition here), who leapt to Brand’s defence during the short interview outside 10 Downing Street, stated ‘at least Russell is prepared to help people, David Cameron isn’t. At least Russell Brand is standing up, regardless of how big is house is and is coming down here and helping ordinary people. Let’s see if David Cameron is prepared to do that’.
When the ‘intelligent’ critiques of Brand’s attempt to do something positive fall short (as they often do) criticisms tend to descend into personal attacks. It seems like every time he appears in public the media picks one thing he has said or done, takes it out of context and uses it to try to humiliate and discredit him, which simultaneously diverts attention from the real issues. When he criticized the role of voting in a ‘democracy’, suggesting that people not vote (this isn’t a new idea, and there are valid reasons to question the way in which voting legitimizes a system that is really not democratic at all), he was treated like a pariah (and called idiotic by John Lydon) and more recently he was attacked for appearing in an old photograph with Julien Leblanc, who happened to become a famous misogynist.
Paxman’s interview in 2013 started with the question ‘Who are you to edit a political magazine?’, the sentiment of which is the crux of the argument used by numerous people against Brand. These range from those that take a generally patronizing tone (such as this article by Hadley Freeman) to more extreme examples such as a Fox News ‘debate’, where presenter Sean Hannity described Brand as a ‘D list actor, better known for his failed marriage to Katy Perry’ and ‘dumb and ignorant’, while one of Hannity’s panel said ‘he looks like he cooks meth and sleeps in his car’.
Another recent post on the Independent’s website entitled ‘Official: Russell Brand Now Worse than Jeremy Clarkson’ showed a graph (Brand doesn’t have time for graphs, as he pointed out in his second News Night interview) that claimed Brand’s contribution to political debate is perceived by 46% percent of the British population as ‘negative’, while only 41% saw reason to be concerned by Jeremy Clarkson’s political opinions. The writer of the article (Dina Rickman) also deemed it important to point out that only 29% of the public think Russell Brand is funny. Though this might say more about the general public than it does about the man himself, I am not convinced it is a fair representation of either. #TheSunLogic shows that people see how illogical the criticisms really are, and if you go to any of the articles on major news sites that attempt to undermine or ridicule Brand, the comments appear to be overwhelmingly in defence of him, with many people commenting that he has inspired them to take an interest in politics. To my mind, this can only be a good thing.
Of course, I am not saying that Russell Brand is perfect and he, like everyone, should not go uncriticised (there are many interesting articles about his views on women and feminism, for example). But what is refreshing about him for me is that he seems to be aware of this too. In the Paxman interview he stated that ‘It’s easy to attack me, I’m a right twerp, I’m a junkie and a cheeky monkey, I accept it, but that doesn’t detract from the incontrovertible fact that we are living in a time of huge economic disparity and confronting ecological disaster.’ And this is why he is inclined to defer to the knowledge of others, such as guests on his Youtube show, The Trews, that include George Monbiot, Naomi Klein and Helena Norberg-Hodge, and instead he focuses on using his fortunate position to draw attention to some of the most important social and political issues that we face today.
To those who dislike Russell Brand’s public persona, I suppose that is just a matter of taste. But to people who work in the mainstream media and continue to go out of their way to try to remind Brand (and anyone who is inspired by him) that he is just some idiotic, uneducated celebrity, a plebby web that has no place in politics, your time could be much better spent. Why not instead criticise those wealthy celebrities and powerful politicians, or the business elite that lurk behind them, those who go through their lives ignoring the inequality and injustice that surrounds them? Why not ask yourself what you have done recently to use your position of power or privilege to do something positive? As for Russell Brand, I would say keep doing what you are doing. If you are rubbing this many people up the wrong way by pointing out that there is something wrong with the current political system, you are all right by me.
This really reads like the #notallmen movement.
You’re more wealthy and privileged than most folks, don’t let your thin skin make you criticize those less fortunate than you.
Thanks for the comment. I am not sure what you mean exactly, though. What do you mean about criticising those less fortunate than me? I didn’t intend to do that at all. Could you explain what you mean by it sounding like the #notallmen movement? I will do my best to respond.
The #YesAllWomen movement was created to voice the concerns of women who were victimized by men in their lives.
The #NotAllMen movement was an attempt to derail the dialogue by saying “You’re wrong because not all men victimize women.”
You mimicking the exact same conversation, except instead of women, you have poverty. Its incredibly problematic, to say the least.
I don’t think it is the same thing, although I still haven’t had time to have a proper look into what the #YesAllWomen movement or the #NotallMen response. Does the #YesAllWomen criticise all men who identify as feminists, saying that they can’t try to stand in solidarity with women because they are men? If so, that seems problematic to me, too. So, I would like to ask you again what you would have Russell Brand (and everyone else) do? Should individuals who have more money than the global average give what they have to other people?
“Does the #YesAllWomen criticise all men who identify as feminists, saying that they can’t try to stand in solidarity with women because they are men? If so, that seems problematic to me, too.”
They believed any supporter who would bring up “hey I’m not like that” to be tone policing. Which is what you seem to be doing right now.
A lot of liberal people and activists do believe in the redistribution of wealth, if that’s what you’re asking.
living in a mansion isn’t the same as taking a public carrier to a climate change meeting. when true humanitarians make a vow to help the poor they commit themselves to it. don’t recall seeing m. theresa or ghandi retreating to their mansions after a half hour photoshoot in the slums like brand does.
Yes, you are right, it isn’t exactly the same thing. My point was that the criticism is illogical in both instances and in this case it was being used to make Brand look bad, which in turn discredits the cause he is involved in. In a perfect world, yes, ‘true humanitarians’ would make a total commitment to the people they work with, but that is a lot to ask of anyone. Nobody is perfect (not even Mother Teresa, many of her activities have been criticised both during her life and posthumously).
Are you saying that if a person is not willing to give up their own wealth they should not be allowed to use their position to try to help people who have less wealth? If Russell Brand did do that, he would lose his ability to do what he is currently doing. If all wealthy people who are unsatisfied with the world gave up their money, they would also give up a significant part of their influence. The result would be that the only rich people left would be the ones who thought that a severely inequitable society was just fine. Thus, all of the money (power) would be concentrated in a small group of people who have no interest in equality or social justice. What do you think he should do?
Exactly. The focus is shifting from “redistributing wealth” to “changing the system”.
If wealth and privileges flow in-equally, you can take a bucket and redistribute occasionally. It might be a better idea to work on a fair system where everybody can participate.
You do not have to give up all you own to work on a fair system. And the current system is hurting the planet.
great piece George. Attacking Brand’s wealth is an obvious attempt at distraction, and is so blatant and flimsy that I’m sure people will see through it. Interesting that the Sun ran with that on their front page on the same day that George Osborne announced a further, massive shrinking of the State back to 1930s levels.
Exactly. His response on his Trews episode was really good too. I it he pointed out that the attacks on him are an attempt to distract from the real issue, which is systemic, not personal. It is worth a watch. The Sun has no interest in addressing these issues (such as teh shrinking of the State etc), only selling papers.
“anyone who is rich either cannot or should not use their position of power” – you admit right there that from your perception money = power, therefore you are assuming Brand is powerful? He’s a charlatan with a book to sell! He is compliant and spineless and just another sleb stirring it up for the Star Suckers.
I don’t ‘admit’ anything here. I say quite clearly that I think money translates to power. Yes, Brand has a book to sell, the profits from which will apparently go to “creating social enterprises that are not for profit” and that “represent an alternative to some of the systems that we currently labour under”. I am not sure how true this is, and no doubt Brand will make some money from it. But I ask you the same question as I asked Mike. What would you have him do? Do you think he should give up all of his money to people who have less? Do you think everyone should do this and, if you do, does that extend to all of Britain giving all of its money to Sierra Leone, for example? Or do you think it should be limited to Russell Brand giving all of his money to less wealthy people in Britain?
Also, I don’t really know why you linked to that sleazy article from 5 years ago… in The Sun, obviously. What did you hope to achieve by doing that?