"Celebrity male draws attention to radical politics -- supporting 'great man' narrative. Can't have it.
Comedian makes lighthearted, charming joke about beautiful woman -- can't have it.
No wonder you people never get anything done."
-- Commenter "xwozzle," perfectly responding to a headline piece by Natasha Lennard at Salon called "I Don’t Stand with Russell Brand, and Neither Should You"
Today's Stupid Salon Thing is an article you should read if you'd like a comprehensive course on why the far-left has zero political authority in this country to accomplish its goals -- why almost no one takes its demands, its methods, and its overall vision for the world the least bit seriously. Honestly, Natasha Lennard's piece which embraces Russell Brand's basic message in a recent BBC interview but then shits all over him as a messenger -- calling him essentially a symbol of the establishment, a shill for the capitalist tyranny, and a misogynist to boot -- should be put in a museum somewhere. It's that flawless a cultural artifact.
Here's an abridged version of Lennard's first couple of paragraphs, in which she recaps the Brand interview -- and makes the position from which she views it crystal clear:
In a highly public forum, Brand ran the frustrating gauntlet of explaining the very basic tenets of radical politics to a defender of the status quo. It’s a maddening position to occupy — as Brand’s intensifying eyes and harried stares at (Jeremy) Paxman evidenced — and it’s a position all too familiar for those of us who have ever identified with anarchism or a radical politics that refuses a predefined program... Like Brand, I don’t vote (I’m British, but even if I were American, I wouldn’t). Like Brand, I will not give my mandate to this festering quagmire of a corporate political system (any more than living in it already demands, that is)... And, like Brand, I refuse to say what I propose instead when badgered by staunch defenders of capitalism. Brand patiently explained to his pompous interviewer that, no, we can’t offer you a pragmatic alternative program — we’re too entrenched in the ideology of the current one... The point is, I’ve learned to leave conversations when the 'what do you propose instead?' question is posed to me qua anti-capitalist. If you had a blood-sucking monster on your face, I wouldn’t ask you what I should put there instead. I’d vanquish the blood-sucking monster.
Would you like to know why Occupy was a failure as a movement? Read that again. Over and over if necessary.
See, here's the thing: The reason intelligent people tend to ask the question of those who want to just tear down our admittedly screwed-up political paradigm, "Well, once that's done, what do you want to work for to put in its place," is that a political system in and of itself isn't a blood-sucking monster. You can live without a blood-sucking monster on your face -- society can't exist without some form of representative government. I get that anarchists don't agree with this, but guess what? They're fucking wrong. Not only are they wrong, they're children. I stopped drawing little As-in-circles all over everything about the time I turned 16 and realized that while I still loved punk records, if you want to truly make a positive difference, you have to work your way into the system then change it from within. Simply tearing it all down and leaving a vacuum -- or deciding that you'll worry about the consequences later -- is the kind of thing a fucking 5-year-old does when he gets angry because the sandcastle he's building doesn't look the way he wants it to.
What's more, being intractable in your view that everything needs to come down according to your blueprint will get you absolutely nowhere for another very important reason: a majority of people disagree with you. With that in mind, you have a choice: you can either organize, compromise, and get some of what you want, or you can, again, childishly fold your arms over your chest, pout, and get none of what you want. There is, I guess, a third option: go find yourself a nice island somewhere.
From that set-up, Lennard moves on to her issue with Russell Brand as the messenger for the necessity of a new way of looking at politics:
If we want to challenge an inherently hierarchical political framework, we probably don’t want to start by jumping on the (likely purple velvet) coattails of a mega-celeb with fountains of charisma and something all too messianic in his swagger. “No gods, No masters,” after all. Brand is navigating the well-worn conflict facing those with a public platform in the current epoch (myself among them): We have to be willing to obliterate our own elevated platforms, our own spaces of celebrity; this grotesque politico-socio-economic situation that vagariously elevates a few voices and silences many millions is what Brand is posturing against. Would he be willing to destroy himself — as celebrity, as leader, as “Russell Brand”? ... But beyond this — the general furor and excitement around famous-person Russell Brand saying not-dumb political things on TV should give us pause for thought. If we’re so damn excited to hear these ideas in (in their slightly haphazard form) from a boisterous celebrity, then clearly we have some idolatry and “Great Man” hangups to address.
Again, this is why Occupy failed. You don't need gods or masters, but you do need leaders. You need someone who will speak for you. No one is suggesting that you idolize this person or these people, only that you let them be the voice of your movement so that your message isn't lost in absolute chaos and cacophony. Lennard is willing to forgo actual progress toward getting what she and those like her -- what she calls her "comrades," stressing the word as if this is somehow supposed to be societally threatening -- want in favor of concerns that there's a greater evil in potentially elevating the words of one man.
And the fact that Brand is a man, make no mistake, is hugely important.
His framing of women is nothing short of the most archetypal misogyny. Writer Musa Okwonga... was swift to elevate feminist concerns, too often ignored in the excitement around a celebrity appearing to have good politics. Okwonga noted: "What the writer Sarah Ditum has identified as [Brand's] 'lazy sexism,' evident both in his celebrated MSNBC appearance and in the opening line of his New Statesman guest editorial. Right there, beneath a sub-heading which states that 'before the world, we need to change the way we think,' Brand writes that 'When I was asked to edit an issue of the New Statesman I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me.' See, here’s the thing. I and others will run the risk of sounding like killjoys for pointing this out, but if you’re advocating a revolution of the way that things are being done, then it’s best not to risk alienating your feminist allies with a piece of flippant objectification in your opening sentence. It’s just not a good look."
First of all, a feminist writer quoting a feminist writer who's quoting another feminist writer. For God's sake, please read Oliver Willis's most recent piece on the most important thing liberals need to know about how to change the world.
Now, I'm not sure I need to point out the obvious but just in case: Lennard, and the other writers she quotes, have such a problem with cheeky comedian Russell Brand's admission that he's a sexual being and can be swayed by someone with good looks that they're willing to pen lengthy, self-important screeds lamenting that fact and arguing that it costs him his ability to be taken seriously. To paraphrase the great philosopher Dean Vernon Wormer, smug, joyless, and intransigent is no way to go through life. It's certainly not a way to impact the people who live outside of your little bubble of true believers -- the people, by the way, that you need on your side to make a political movement successful.
Maybe to Lennard's credit, she sticks to her guns and insists that the reason she refused to rally around Julian Assange and Rand Paul was precisely because she feels that while they may be right, in her view, on one or two topics she happens to believe in, they've still exhibited sexist behavior or have taken stands that are stridently anti-women. We wrote a lot here about how many people seemed to be willing to give that kind of thing a pass, especially when it came to Rand Paul and his ridiculous drones stand, merely because they valued one particular pet issue instead of looking at the big picture. But actually, that may prove the point even further that each of the various groups that make up the far-left seems to be unable to take anything beyond its individual grievances into consideration. Natasha Lennard won't back Rand Paul, even though she agrees with his bullshit posturing on drones, because he's wrong on her pet issue. Guys like David Sirota, meanwhile, will support Rand Paul despite his anti-women positions because drones are his pet issue. Chaos reigns and not a damn thing actually gets accomplished for left-wing politics because nobody can imagine compromising -- and if you're not 100% on board with each group's political charter or conform completely to its point-of-view, you get long-winded articles written about you, attacking you from your own side, in Salon.
All of this -- this is why those on the far-left fail again and again and will continue to.
This is why all they can do is rant online and in the streets; comforted, I suppose, by the knowledge that their idealism remains unsullied and uncompromised; oblivious to the fact that it's also utterly useless.