No one seems sure of how it’s happened, but Russell Brand has become the UK’s articulate voice of youthful concerns.
Just a few years ago, Brand climbing to this position would have been laughable; considered an adept wordsmith, Brand always seemed more concerned with elaborate tales of sexual exploits than talking about anything particularly meaningful. He was most famous for his short-lived marriage to Katy Perry, notable drug habit and for turning up to work dressed as Osama bin Laden on September 12th 2001. Yet, over the past couple of years he’s transformed into something of a thinker. He barely seems to be a comedian any more: you’re more likely to see him on Question Time than Live at the Apollo.
Perhaps, in hindsight, we should have picked up on the signs that this was coming. His previous stand-up tour, ‘Messiah Complex’, toyed with icons and ideas of religious leaders, grappling with genuine religious concepts, weirdly intermingled with sex talk. In some ways this was a leap forward from his previous shows which had the sex talk, but none of theology. Either way, Brand has grown up and gained a social conscience: hanging out with single mums or helping out at food banks rather than prank calling 1970s sitcom stars.
‘The Trews’, his YouTube channel of daily videos, gained early popularity when he posted responses to Fox News’ coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict, part of his rebrand as a political commentator. This continued with his book, Revolution, last Autumn. Far from the traditional pre-Christmas celebrity trash-lit, Brand sought to offer something different, saying in the book’s blurb ‘Russell Brand wants YOU to join the revolution. We all know the system isn’t working. Our governments are corrupt and the opposing parties pointlessly similar. Our culture is filled with vacuity and pap, and we are told there’s nothing we can do - “it’s just the way things are”.’ Quite a leap from his debut publishing effort, My Booky Wook. Around the same time he made his infamous appearance on Newsnight, where, such was his disdain for the current political and economic system, he encouraged young voters to opt out rather than engage, and ignore their right to vote altogether. While we might not encourage this action, anyone seeking to genuinely and meaningfully engage young people in politics and change should be applauded and listened to.
Since then, his scope has widened. His response to Stephen Fry’s rant about a God who allows suffering saw him suggest that Fry proved that there was a God, just not the God that Fry described. In recent weeks he’s praised the Church for the work it does in the local community, particularly in relation to food banks, echoed the Church’s call for a new form of politics in the run up to the election and backed the Church’s engagement in politics. In fact, much of what Brand talks about echoes the contents of this magazine as he recently shifted his gaze towards Fifty Shades of Grey and the effect of porn on young people. And, well, perhaps he should be given the gig as this magazine’s culture writer as his deconstruction of the lies that Fifty Shades and porn offer were not only incredible, but all the more powerful coming from someone whose sexual proclivity is pretty well documented. He showed how the film trivialises sex, how capitalism had commodified sex into something else to be bought and sold and devastatingly revealed the true impact of porn on his own life and what studies have shown about its effect on young people. This feels a bit like a watershed moment; objections to porn are no longer the product of Christian prudishness, but are being articulated by the crown prince of sex himself.
All of which is a little…surprising. It seems that now, in a time of political disenfranchisement, Brand has become the voice of a generation – or at least he’s articulating the concerns of one. Much of what he has to say resonates with biblical ideas, and manages to bridge the seemingly wide gap between scripture and what the ‘youth of today’ are thinking. He’s not a hardline atheist, instead embracing the best of what the world has to offer and packaging it into a vaguely coherent, if eminently messy, ‘theology’. Part of me is desperate for him to find Jesus, but the other part of me wonders if he already has. Far from being someone to warn our young people away from, Brand might be the most important political and social figure of today, whether you want to join his revolution or not.
BRAND ON SEX
‘Our attitudes towards sex have become warped and perverted and have deviated from its true function as an expression of love and a means for procreation.’
‘Porn isn’t a problem because it shows us too much, it’s a problem because it shows us too little – it reduces sex to a physical act.’
‘When there are icebergs of filth floating through every house over Wi-Fi, it’s inconceivable what it must be like to be a young adolescent now. It’s corrupting in a way we can’t even think about.’
‘Porn is affecting my ability to connect to women, it’s affecting my spirituality.’