On Russell Brand and lazy sexism: be wary of jumping on the Brandwagon

So there’s a new vehicle in town: let’s call it the Brandwagon. It’s been built from the unquestioning adulation for a stand-up comedian who is developing a voice as a popular social commentator. And it’s something that people should be wary of jumping aboard.

I should say here that I am very, very, very pleased that Russell Brand is raising so many of the issues that he is raising. He is addressing inequality of opportunity and the stale centrism of mainstream politics in a manner that is compelling, accessible, entertaining and crucial. His is a voice that resonates with many. His prose and media appearances are always thoroughly engaging, and frequently brilliant.

I should also say that it is not Russell Brand’s fault that the Brandwagon exists. It is not his fault that he has stated opinions which speak directly to the concerns of many, and that he is currently one of the few figures in British public life whom people feel that they can rally behind.

But, but I think that Russell Brand is still learning, and refining, his craft as a political advocate. I say this because of the torrential horror on my Twitter timeline from several people alarmed that he is apparently being placed upon the podium of left-wing political comment. Their horror stems from what the writer Sarah Ditum has identified as his “lazy sexism”, evident both in his celebrated MSNBC appearance and in the opening line of his New Statesman guest editorial. Right there, beneath a sub-heading which states that “before the world, we need to change the way we think”, Brand writes that “When I was asked to edit an issue of the New Statesman I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me.

See, here’s the thing. I and others will run the risk of sounding like killjoys for pointing this out, but if you’re advocating a revolution of the way that things are being done, then it’s best not to risk alienating your feminist allies with a piece of flippant objectification in your opening sentence. It’s just not a good look. Plenty were turned off by that introduction, which might seem churlish to some, but to me seems entirely logical: it confirms their concerns that, on this front, he has not made sufficient progress.

With all that said, I would rather end this on a positive note.  As I become increasingly familiar with his work, I see that he is someone who is open to examining his own views on various issues, and his self-assessment is often caustic.  Moreover, I am extremely glad to see that Brand is out there and vividly questioning so much that is broken in our politics.  He has energised the debate and has created the space for other people to state their cases for social change, towards a fairer, more equal society. But he’s still got some way to go himself: and, in that context, for left-wingers to hitch themselves to the Brandwagon seems premature.

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