Russell Brand has again made the headlines, The actor and comedian has a new film coming out entitled "The Emperor's New Clothes" telling a familiar old story; the ongoing saga of western society's struggle for more equal distribution of wealth. The title of the film, working off of an old fable penned by Hans Christian Anderson, only uses the title for effect.
The film includes a series of publicity stunts, including one, where Brand attempts to shame the Royal Bank of Scotland for "abuses against society" standing in front of the wrong building, another angle where Brand accosts bank employees for "crimes against humanity, and another angle, among many, where Brand attempts to gain access to Lord Rothermere's home, to discuss living in the UK and paying taxes. Somehow, despite his real stature as a person of considerable means, Russell Brand is increasingly being seen by many as a model of the new social justice warrior.
The main ideas Brand and his director promote, using documentary techniques similar to Michael Moore, are the familiar old "poor vs. rich" narrative, and a call for altruism. Brand is a very clever individual in communicating these ideas. His cockney accent, promoting the idea of "self-sacrifice", "unselfishness", and that greedy folk of wealth are the sole reason for societal ills as a result of the financial collapse of 2008, is infectious though very subjective. It provides an easy scapegoat for the first generation of western civilization dealing with the end of the "Post World War Two Boom" era.
What makes Russell Brand so popular is his willingness to ultimately play the non-sensible role of white knight. Never before, since perhaps a younger Bono, has pop-culture produced an individual willing to adopt so many popular positions regardless of how half-correct, or incorrect, they are. Throw in the transcendent language of the Tibetan guru and one is left wondering if this caricature might ever be off any real use to humanity. As it is he is, for now, the "flavor of the moment" and those around him may never use the platform his "Cult of Celebrity" provides and fashion a real egalitarian movement. Why? They're too enamored with the man himself.
The best comparison to the Russell Brand phenomena comes from the now classic film Forrest Gump -- the story of an unremarkable man's journey through life as a member of the Baby Boomer generation. Distraught over the departure of his l'affaire d'coeur Jenny one sad morning, Gump decides to take up running in an attempt to reconcile his feelings. The running becomes an obsession as Gump runs to the end of the driveway, the borders of his county, state, and then to either shore of the land. Along the way he attracts the attention of the press who write a puff piece promoting his accomplishments. Soon people who see Gump passing through their towns approach him for his views on life or to endorse their products.
Many people, observing the seemingly intense demeanor of Gump, come to their own assumptions about why this man is running and begin to follow him. Soon an entire flock has accumulated for their own reasons, running behind a man they knew little about but assumed his reasons and theirs were somehow one -- this, despite the fact, that Gump admits several time that he just felt like running. In the end, in the middle of a desert somewhere, Gump stops, turns to the crowd, and tells them, to paraphrase, that he is done running and is going home. He unceremoniously departs leaving a perplexed group of followers behind wondering, "What to do now?"
And therein lies the trouble with the "cult of celebrity". People too quickly are willing to blindly attach themselves to something getting more caught up in the symbolism rather than taking the time to examine the substance in order to see if this really applies to them. As humans we do crave association and unification with other humans for noble purposes, or to simply feelgood, and that urge sometimes can be irrational. This desire can often be exploited by people who are simply promoting themselves, or a group of individuals with other ulterior motives. Thus one should always be naturally skeptical as history often teaches us.
One has to ask to be a little more skeptical when celebrities adopt activist positions especially if, upon examination, their sudden thirst to cure societal ills seem to involve selling product. This is not meant to discourage celebrities from using their platforms for noble purposes, but to encourage people to discern between the selfish interests of celebrities interested in helping and those who simply see helping as a business opportunity. One can only speculate what Russell Brand's true motivations are but those following him should be at least a little wary, and should seek to spin off positive movements, from the current momentum surrounding him, should he prove to be insincere.
As for the film, it is entertainment. Ultimately, the "in your face" sequences, cutting commentary, and the Moore-esque publicity stunts, all repackaged in a lush BBC styled documentary format is relatively unimaginative and trite. But it is something that audiences will gravitate towards because the chain of soundbytes reaffirm the covetous nature of the more idealistic among us and especially those on the leftward end of the spectrum. It is likely that the documentary, directed by Michael Winterbottom best known for his docudrama "24 Hour Party People", will inspire more activism, as Moore's work did last decade, but, unlike Moore's work, it will not inspire a healthy intellectual curiosity which renders the work, in general, an unforgivable sham.