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In Defense of Russell Brand

There is much to criticize Brand on - his advocacy of non participation in the current political framework is certainly contentious. But we should not diminish or dismiss what Brand has to say just because he is a celebrity with utopian beliefs and an unconventional approach.
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Say what you want about [Michael] Moore, but he picked himself up and did something, something approximating the role journalism is supposed to play. The rest of us—let's face it—are just souped-up shoe salesmen with lit degrees. Who should shut their mouths in the presence of real people

- Matt Taibbi defending Michael Moore after being attacked by Christopher Hitchens for lying in Fahrenheit 9/11

Russell Brand has a message, and whether you agree it or not, you are definitely going to hear about it. Brand, a former heroin addict and self confessed narcissist has turned away from the celebrity lifestyle in recent years to pursue social activism and his much publicized 'revolution'. Brand has made big waves by taking on the media establishment and political classes in both Britain and America, drawing huge media attention to his cause (and, some would argue, himself).

Most recently, Brand has attached himself to a cause in east London, where 93 families living in the New Era housing estate are facing eviction after their building was bought by the U.S. firm Westbrook. It is a highly valuable piece of property and could fetch roughly three times the current rent if renovated and put on the market at full rate.  Brand and other protesters handed in a petition of 294,000 signatures to No 10 Downing Street, calling on the prime minister and London mayor Boris Johnson to halt the proposed evictions.

Outside the government's offices, Brand got into a heated confrontation with Channel 4's Paraic O'Brien after the news presenter challenged him on whether the super wealthy were responsible for the housing crisis in London. "How much did you pay for your place?" O'Brien asked.

“I’m not interested in talking to you about my rent, mate. I’m here to support a very very important campaign, and you, as member of the media have an important duty to represent these people and not to reframe the argument ” Brand snapped.

When O'Brien continued to ask him about the value of his home, Brand got increasingly irate, snapping back: “It’s rented. We don’t know the value, you would have to talk to my landlord. Blessedly, I can afford my rent and I’m prepared to stand up for people that can’t.”

After a resident of the New Era housing estate vociferously came to his defense,  Brand's temper flared again and he called O'Brien a 'snide', who was undermining the cause. Brand then cut the interview off and left.

Some people may have seen this as Brand being exposed for hypocrisy, but in reality, O'Brien was exposed for conforming to the exact media stereotype Brand has been railing against. It's fairly easy to understand why O'Brien shifted the focus off of the housing issue and onto Brand, and that's because it creates controversy and makes for better headline. O'Brien got exactly what he wanted out of the exchange - an angry Brand, and everyone talking about it.

Later, O’Brien wrote on Twitter:

Good to know that O'Brien thinks he did justice to a campaign about low income families losing their homes by attacking a celebrity for living in an expensive property. Because of course, Brand and his famous pals are the ones dictating financial regulation and housing policy in London.

There is much to criticize Brand on - his advocacy of non participation in the current political framework is certainly contentious. Brand's belief that people should abstain from voting because 'there is nothing left to vote for' has been launching point for pretty much anyone looking to take him down - and some of that is justified. Brand is not vulnerable to the whims of the market after making his millions as a celebrity, so it makes no difference whether a left or right wing government is in power. That is not the case for millions of people who depend on small changes in government policy that make big differences in their lives; whether they get a good education, decent housing or access to proper health care. A revolution in consciousness is all well and good, but in the short term, people need decent schools for their children to go to and a transport system that gets them to work so they can put food on the table.

But we should not diminish or dismiss what Brand has to say just because he is a celebrity with utopian beliefs and and unconventional approach to addressing problems. His critique of capitalism is not theory - it is fact. We are in a unique point in history where the combination of rampant consumerism and environmental destruction are so toxic that much of the planet's life is under threat (and according to scientists that is no exaggeration).

Brand's attacks on the corporate media are helping uncover the myth that our news organizations are working in the public's interest, and his support of working people trying to secure affordable housing brings attention to a cause that desperately needs it. Yes, Brand can be a bit of an attention seeking wally, but he is doing something rather than just talking about it.  His star power brings a much needed voice to those without power or a means to articulate their fears. Brand grew up in a terribly deprived part of the UK, was a heroin addict for many years, then lived a life of enormous luxury. That coupled with his unusual intelligence and loquaciousness makes him uniquely positioned to flit between the different socio economic worlds and speak clearly to both. Brand refuses to bow to the British class hierarchy, or even pay attention to it, and for that he is viewed by the establishment as a threat.

O'Brien's attack on Brand was a text book version of destroying a message by destroying the messenger - a cheap trick to reduce Brand's status to that of a blithering celebrity removed from the real world, and thereby invalidating anything he has to say.

In truth, Brand is a blithering celebrity removed from the real world, but he understands this all too well and is trying to deconstruct the system that made him so. He wrote in the New Statesman.

If like the Celtic people we revered the rivers we would prioritise this sacred knowledge and curtail the attempts of any that sought to pollute the rivers. If like the Nordic people we believed the souls of our ancestors lived in the trees, this connection would make mass deforestation anathema. If like the native people of America we believed God was in the soil what would our intuitive response be to the implementation of fracking?

Little wonder then that these myths, these codes for our protection and survival, have been aborted and replaced with nihilistic narratives of individualism, peopled by sequin-covered vacuous heroes...

We British seem to be a bit embarrassed about revolution, like the passion is uncouth or that some tea might get spilled on our cuffs in the uprising. That revolution is a bit French or worse still American. Well, the alternative is extinction so now might be a good time to re-evaluate. The apathy is in fact a transmission problem, when we are given the correct information in an engaging fashion, we will stir.

But of course, his apartment...

RELATED: Counter point - Brand is completely full of shit