It has been dubbed the “Russell Brand Revolution” by the Independent, and in their defence the man himself once proclaimed that he wants “to change the world”. So he means business. But the question is, does he really? Russell Brand is shopped around by mainstream media as the symbol of anti-establishment with his long locks, bohemian dress sense and profound manner of speech. Yet, the extent of his true commitment to alternative politics is often questioned by those from the left of centre who see his speeches as lacklustre, his knowledge as shallow and his attempts to protest as a superficial ego-trip.

Critics have emphasised the latter point especially; that this is a fading celebrity trying to extend his 15 minutes of fame by appealing to the populist voice, which happens to gain him more followers on Twitter. There is some truth in this criticism, Brand is known for his often aggressive approach to interviews and his tendency to rely on slogans such as his retort that those elites “who have got the money need [sic] to go down”. He knows that these are the phrases which the people want to hear, these are what gets cheers on Newsnight and what helps Mr Brand to maintain his image as the voice of the young, disillusioned and angry.

Yet, it is only fair to highlight that he does engage in protests, having given speeches for Anonymous during the #MillionMaskMarch last year against corruption, cuts and increased internet surveillance. However, in an act of irony, and possibly attention-seeking, Brand removed his mask during the Anonymous protest to the anger of some activists who saw this as his attempt to steal the focus of the movement. Not only his sincerity but also his coherence is questioned. The fact that Brand has said that he does not vote, nor will in the foreseeable future has been viewed by some critics as counterproductive to his “cause”. However, Mr Brand may not be necessarily encouraging complete political disengagement, but rather disengagement with what he, and many others, view as an anachronistic and inept system. Furthermore, Brand has made multiple valid points about the need for society to not be distracted from the realities of climate change and corruption by entertainment news, the need for a greater focus on collectivism and the need for discrimination and prejudices to be thoroughly tackled. In addition to this, his Youtube channel hosts The Trews which is meant to provide fact-packed and insightful media that the mainstream news agencies will not show, which is rather similar to Shout Out UK.

And so perhaps the issue with this “Brand Activism” is less his intentions but rather the fact that whilst he is quick to criticise current society he is rather slow to theorise on concrete alternatives to Westminster politics.  When asked in the now infamous Jon Snow interview what the alternative is to this “greedy, selfish and mistrusting world”, Brand replied “I’ll tell you what it won’t be like” which saw him evading questions akin to the politicians that he has been so quick to condemn. The truth may be that Russell relies more on lofty quotes about achieving our “one-ness”, sharing our togetherness and using only love, compassion and tolerance because he may not have the answers. This is where Brand receives most of his criticism.

The human rights activist Lauryn Oates argues that Brand is a “Che Activist” someone who is heavily critical of society, politics and the economy yet offers no real alternative that holds any substance. This is a poignant point made, because it raises the question of whether people at the forefront of movements need to be responsible not only for raising awareness of the issues, but also providing the blueprints for the next step. If we look back in history at the Communist revolutions, such as The October Revolution and The Cuban, both relied heavily on the plans set out by Karl Marx for the “next stage”. In this sense Brand’s lack of concrete proposals would suggest that his projection of himself to the forefront of the disillusioned movement is short-sighted and overly ambitious. However, critics of Brand often overlook the fact that, whilst he does makes statements about changing the world, he tends to place more of an emphasis on using his celebrity to raise awareness of the issues of current society rather than offering himself as the sole leader of change.

Moreover, in this evaluation of Russell Brand it may be important to highlight that this is not a one-way street of him exploiting the popularity of anti-establishment activism. Brand is certainly a celebrity in his own right, from the relatively funny film Get Him to the Greek to his 7.94m followers on Twitter, he clearly has a platform from which to launch effective activism. This is exactly what such groups as Anonymous can capitalise on. In an almost symbiotic relationship, just as Brand may highlight his presence in such campaigns, so can Anonymous project its message through Brand’s celebrity. By attracting celebrities such as Brand to their cause these campaigns receive headlines which, although focussed on Russell, provide greater coverage for their causes. Furthermore, the knowledge of Russell Brand being at a protest can also encourage greater crowds and protesters. Thus, there can certainly be a reciprocal relationship between the two that depicts Brand’s usefulness in helping to further the cause of alternative politics.

Perhaps then it is only fair to conclude in a less critical fashion than other assessors of Russell Brand’s involvement in the alternative politics movement. For, whilst we can speculate on the dubious declarations of him being the modern day Messiah for the disillusioned youth, we can conclude that his presence and activism is highly beneficial to causes and campaigns such as Anonymous.

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