If there is someone in the public eye that has surprised me over the years it is Russell Brand. Don’t get me wrong, I have always liked him; he is an exceptionally talented comedian and I always thought he was unfairly treated by media -probably because of his addiction issues and humble beginnings.
However, it is one thing being a good comedian – there are a great deal of those after all – it is a different thing altogether being a lucid and erudite social commentator.
Of course, many will find this an exaggeration at best and a gross misjudgement at worst. In his well-known interview with Jeremy Paxman he was widely criticised for saying that he didn’t vote and encouraging others not to either. Now, as much as I understand people’s frustration when such an influential figure discourages others, especially the young, from partaking in democracy; I think that it is his other opinions that are more important and ultimately could make a difference in how people approach democracy.
Recently, he has been getting into a spot of bother with Fox News over one of their anchors comments concerning the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Brand has uploaded a series of videos on his YouTube channel criticising Sean Hannity for his overly aggressive interviewing ‘style’ and also his attempt to over-simplify events to fit Fox News’ world view.
For anyone who has watched Brand’s YouTube Channel and his series called the Trews (an amalgamation of ‘True’ and ‘News’), the concept of Brand ripping into such simplistic opinion journalism is not surprising. What I believe is significant is Brand’s reply to Hannity’s response. All Hannity’s comments in return to Brand’s criticism were ignorant, untrue and downright pathetic; of course Brand was not without his comedic side, observing that Hannity bears a striking resemblance to the ken doll from the film Toy Story 3.
This aside Brand’s integrity in the face of harsh abuse showed a level of maturity that Hannity couldn’t even dream of. One of the presenters said he looked like a meth addict and Hannity actually introduced him as a ‘d-list’ actor who was only famous for his unsuccessful marriage with Katy Perry (whilst Katy Perry’s music played in the background). Brand has been criticised before for not being serious on current affairs programmes, but in this instance his compassion in the face of cold hearted attack was moving.
Fox News’ smears quickly dealt with, Brand returned to his main point that Hannity (unsurprisingly) failed to address, Fox News’ broadcast was blatant propaganda and feeding an insidious narrative that will not lead to peace in the region. In an almost laughable aside Hannity promises to cure Brand’s ‘ignorance’. But it is, in fact, Hannity’s ignorance that needs to be addressed. His ‘facts’ concerning Hamas using human shields and starting the conflict turn out to be false according to an Israeli army report.
It is not particularly new for a comedian to become a social commentator; Jon Stewart is a classic example of an entertainer who is able to handle quite tricky issues intelligently. John Oliver, another example, managed to ridicule years of biased climate change debates with one ‘proportionate’ debate where he had one sceptic against fifty odd scientists.
What I believe makes Brand different is he is not just a man picking apart the news, many can do that; he is a man with a real agenda. This becomes clear when Brand says that he is pushing a narrative just as Fox News is, but his is one of peace. The reasons why I think Brand could be an important figure and social commentator is because A) a lot of people listen to what he says and B) his approach is one of compassion not hate.
If Brand continues this way I see no reason why he cannot continue to draw attention to more issues -such as Gaza- with grace and honesty, and widen the public debate away from biased news agendas. In the face of the growing stigmatisation within our own country against immigrants and the unemployed, it is reassuring to see at least one person seriously challenging this narrative. It is not enough for us to decry what Fox News and other hateful news outlets say. We must also offer an alternative view point, and that is what Brand is doing.