Russell Brand, the man of the moment, whether he’s loved or loathed, hero-worshiped or hated, is causing quite a stir with his revolutionary hullabaloo. Everyone is having their say, from celebrities to social commentators, right-wing politicians to left-wing footballers, he’s being shot down or smothered with love from every angle. Good. Even his biggest critics can see at worst he’s encouraging debate and activity. For a long while (the Big Brother years) I couldn’t turn off the TV quick enough when he appeared with his cock-sure, overtly sexual gesticulations, which were as off-putting as the piece of shit programme he was presenting. But people change. Or some become better entertainers.
I’ve been a Brand convert for some years now, liking, agreeing and yes, being influenced by much of what he says, also coming to terms with his wardrobe and sexual grandeur, though really only the former is important anyway. Recently Billy Bragg has had his say on Brand, and his words and opinion have been backed up by socialist leftie hero Owen Jones, two men whose words I always read with interest. Their opinion? They too agree with much of his message, but appear to question his fragrant, touchy-feely delivery and some of his more conspiratorial theories.
It seems to me that for many, if Brand simply says he doesn’t trust the UK or US Governments – or any large organisation with a mutual financial tie-in – is to assume he believes everything from the Loch Ness Monster to controlled explosions to take down the World Trade Centre are truisms for financial gain for those in ‘power’, when really all he’s saying is he’s “open-minded”, about the latter anyway. To pretend that both said Governments tell nothing but the truth, are bullshit free, and act in the common interest of every individual regardless of class or status is madness. Bragg and Jones know this more than anyone. So just how strong is the stench of our Government’s shit?
Having just finished reading the ‘socialist’s bible’ – Robert Tressell’s stunning The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – it strikes me, like a razor-sharp slice of cultural clarity, that Tressell’s words which were published exactly one-hundred years ago, are as true today as they were then; it’s about the haves and the have-nots, we’re either all equal or we’re not, and we should all be equal. That description comes courtesy of Ricky Tomlinson who after reading Tressell’s classic in 1975, described it as “life-changing… no other book, before or since, has had such an impact on me”.
Due to Brand’s persona and self-imposed standing in the largely distorted and fallacious world of entertainment, he is an easier target than most, including politicians. He’s not an MP… so who does he think he is with his Trews, his vibrant vocabulary, his anti-capitalism book selling on Amazon, his red carpets, fame, fortune and celebrity, talking about being “one of us”, prancing about as Bragg describes him “an irrepressible mixture of Che Guevara and Austin Powers”. Well, his life prior to fame was no easy street and again as Bragg rightly puts it… “he may not have all the answers, but the role of the artist is to ask the right questions, to ring the changes rather than make them himself. I welcome his contribution”.
The questions that Brand is asking are, just like one hundred years ago, perfectly valid. In The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists the main character, Frank Owen, a middle-aged and working-class workman with a vision of a fairer and more just society, continually seeks to influence his fellow workers, almost all of whom like he are living in poverty whilst their masters and ‘superiors’ live in relative opulence. His attempts to wake them from their resigned complacency, through informed attacks on the greed and dishonesty of the capitalist system, are met with large doses of derision. An atheist and teetotaller, Owen was looked upon as a crank, to some as almost mad as his words were mistrusted and misunderstood.
Socialism then, as it appears to be now, was a suspicious and strangely dirty word. Easily hoodwinked by those in power, of course freedom and fairness are dirty words. During the book Owen encounters George Barrington, a fellow Socialist who instead of continuing to follow his own values, became disenchanted with his plight and resigned to take what he could for himself, joining the haves, using his knowledge and wisdom to do so through capitalist political campaigning. Attempting to justify his actions he says to Owen:
“You can be Jesus Christ if you like, but for my part I’m finished. For the future I intend to look after myself. As for these people, they vote for what they want, they get what they vote for, and, by God! They deserve nothing better! They are being beaten with whips of their own choosing, and if I had my way they should be chastised with scorpions. For them, the present system means joyless drudgery, semi-starvation, rags and premature death; and they vote for it and uphold it. Let them have what they vote for! Let them drudge and let them starve!”
The choice then was the Tories and the Liberals. The choice now is faintly different, but really nothing has changed. Is Russell Brand a more modern, dandy, famous Frank Owen? If so, good. He’s questioning authority, making people think about their choices, bringing politics to millions through his fame and celebrity. Not just either, as many commentators are misguidedly saying, to easily influenced teenagers. His words and actions are being discussed by everyone, from school kids and middle-aged lefties like me, to Evan Davis and the Mayor of London.
By the end of the book George Barrington felt sufficiently ashamed, aware of the error of his ways, that acts of benevolence and retribution were given to Owen and others struggling without. Being surrounded by capitalists full of lies and deceit, most being self-styled ‘followers’ of Christ who made the accumulation of money the principal business of their lives, he listened to the hypocritical words of their sermon: Jesus said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth, love not the world nor the things of the world. Woe unto you that are rich – it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Barrington left Mugsborough in the bitter mid-winter vowing to return in the spring, hoping to find Owen eager for the fray and ready to fight for the cause. I would love to read the sequel. If only.