So, it’s been a pretty miserable couple of days. In trying to provide a nuanced opinion on Russell Brand, I worry that I have shifted some attention – however small, or unwittingly – away from the necessary observations that he has made of late.
I recently wrote an article expressing what I felt was mild criticism of a couple of Brand’s public recent utterances. My concern, as expressed in the article, was that if Brand truly wishes to advocate a revolution, then his message will be all the more effective for being inclusive. Specifically, that there’s a sizeable number of women who find it difficult to get behind the terrific work that he is doing, because they feel that he is sexist. If he can mobilise their support, then he will have an even greater impact than he is already having.
For several months, I have been enthusiastically sharing all manner of Brand’s work on Twitter and Facebook: his writings on Woolwich, on Hugo Boss, on the Houses of Parliament as metaphor, and his interview on MSNBC. I think that he represents one of the most important spokespeople that we have for progressive causes. My only point was that the danger of elevating spokespeople to euphoric heights is that if they let you down then the disappointment is devastating.
Far better to acknowledge some of his problematic positions at the outset, I thought, but still support the overwhelming good that he is doing – which, for the avoidance of doubt, is my position. All advocates for social change must learn on the job. Hell, even Malcolm X had to learn on the job. Not all of us get it right first time, and my aim was not to write a hatchet job on Brand.
Advocating for social change is a work in progress, and I only meant to state that Russell Brand is a work in progress too. That’s all. I’m certainly not perfect and nor is anyone else who has publicly articulated a political position of any sort. If I could have changed anything about the original article that I had written, it would have been the title: it implied a greater condemnation of Brand’s work than appeared in the actual piece. I almost went so far as deleting the article altogether today, but ultimately felt that it would have been an act of cowardice to do so.
It’s a very important time for our society, both in Britain and far beyond that, and it’s vital that people such as Brand, flaws and all, step forward and make the arguments that they are making. There are too many people who would rather sit by and say nothing. There are too many people who don’t care and who will look for any excuse to dismiss the activism of those who do, and I fear that I have inadvertently provided them with ammunition.
A painful parallel dawned on me this morning. A day or so after Mehdi Hasan made his brilliant appearance on Question Time, a superb two-minute speech in which he excoriated the Daily Mail, that same newspaper published a pitch for an occasional opinion piece that Hasan had written to their editor, Paul Dacre. The negative effect of this publication was both to check somewhat the momentum and goodwill that Hasan created through his speech, and to arouse suspicion of Hasan’s motives in left-wing quarters. I worry that my article has already been used (albeit on a vastly smaller scale – I don’t flatter myself) to do exactly the same thing.
All in all, I think this is probably a good moment for me to take a break from Twitter and Facebook. The constant examination of what I increasingly feel was an error of tone and timing is exhausting, and for the time being I can do without it. I have a whole shelf of unread books, and I should probably begin to attend to those.
Thank you very much for reading this far; I hope that you have found it of some interest, and maybe even some benefit.