Not even we at Mediolana would contest the fact that it would be absurd for us to claim – Al Gore-style – that we ‘discovered’ Russell Brand in his current iteration, but our 10th April 2011 blog post Russell Brand 1, Richard Dawkins 0: The Impermanence of Scientific Paradigms did nevertheless note that Brand had pulled off ‘one of the most compelling reinventions of modern times’; to adduce Arthur Miller, he clearly had a second act.
The best part of four years on, the transmogrification continues apace. The now-divorced celebrity has powered into a new phase of his existence as an irresistible advocate of direct, unmediated democracy. Standing up for (global) society’s poor and oppressed via the simple act of charismatic and remarkably honest indefatigability, Brand has captured the imagination of a generation who are increasingly looking to him for political direction and philosophical wisdom.
It was therefore with some interest that we recently saw Brand featuring on the front page of the United Kingdom’s best-selling daily newspaper – The Sun – no less than twice in three days – and not for the usual celebrity-type ‘reasons’. The first cover was devoted to the tax strategy of Brand’s landlord, a matter over which he has no control; the second gave an overview of a hastily commissioned The Sun/YouGov opinion poll, which claimed that 68% of the great British public view the entertainer with a social conscience as a ‘hypocrite’, though how this conclusion was arrived at is not extensively (or logically) elucidated upon.
What does this say about us as a society? After some contemplation, we think we have a few answers:
- Out with the Old. By directing ire at a single individual who possesses vastly more social media subscribers than a publication which is part of the massive News Corporation, it could be argued that The Sun’s reaction was borne of sheer fear: most UK newspapers simply do not have the power and credibility that they did even fifteen years ago; to see one’s social role rapidly usurped by a lone, self-styled recovering junkie probably hurts.
- Know Your Place. For much of the 1990s and 2000s, celebrity culture in the UK perfected Peak Vacuity. With the credit bubble having well-and-truly burst for all but the already-wealthy and the number of people resorting to food banks now in the millions, this state of affairs has never been more palpably insane, but those in public life are still meant to keep silent and keep snorting.
- New Media Revolution? For much of the last decade or so, digital media doyens and societal analysts alike have hailed increasing Internet sophistication as the biggest leap for humankind since the Big Bang. Up to now, this has instead largely amounted to a sexier way to sell pop tarts. However, Russell Brand is showing a way forward – so what could ten Russell Brands do?