Has Noam Chomsky found a portal into Brand’s brain and wrested (occasional) control?
Several recent interviews with TV host and comedian Russell Brand have taken a strange turn.His usual schtick revolving around his sexual antics and observations on pop culture has always been peppered with sharp political and cultural satire. But the balance has shifted. Gone are the anal sex gags (well, not quite). In its place comes a new obsession with the dark underbelly of the mainstream media. In an interview this week with the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman, Brand went further, making an extraordinary call for a global revolution to oust who he sees as a parasitic and corrupt global elite.
Like the film Being John Malkovich, it is as if Noam Chomsky has sought control of the Brand host and is now wrestling with the levers. A sentence that begins with a recount of Brand’s former addiction to heroin is now likely to segue into an attack on the media’s obsession with celebrity to finish with a direct reference to “the manufacture of consent”. I expect Chomsky is wandering, disoriented, on the verge of the New Jersey turnpike at this very moment.
Chomsky’s strategy is brilliant. For decades he’s treaded the margins of the media, ignored by the mainstream press and TV. His ideas have never been exposed to the masses. Now, through the Brand host, Chomsky is mainlining his messages into the filthy heart of the beast.
The mainstream media is utterly baffled.Watch this now infamous interview with the Brand host on US breakfast show Morning Joe. On live TV he deconstructs the charade of US news shows while the show’s anchor attempts, and fails, to retain her dignity and reputation. The interview begins to get ugly when all efforts by the Brand host to chat about anything on a level above superficiality — clothes, hair, beard, sex — are met with blank stares and clever navigation back to — clothes, hair, beard, sex. This occurs even though the Brand host was invited on to discuss his new show “Messiah Complex”, a global tour that tackles religion and religious leaders.
With both the Morning Joe and the Paxman interviews the cameras capture the moment Chomsky enters the Brand portal and pops into his consciousness. A glint appears in the Brand host’s eye before a monumental battle ensues as Brand attempts to articulate complex sociological and political ideas, which seem to be forming before both the viewer’s eyes, and Brand’s own. All the while, the Brand host manages to keep up a steady stream of lewd and lascivious patter.
Brand is clever. On TV he always appears the brightest person in the room. Of course, this is not hard when most rooms you walk into are full of morons — in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. He is über-sharp, curious and engaged. He reminds me in some ways of Bono. When Bono was asked why he does all the extra stuff beyond the Rock God thing, he replied with a rugby metaphor. He said it was like he had been passed the ball and now he just wanted to hold tight and run as far as possible until someone brings him down.
But when Brand talks about revolution and the end of the old world order he is wrong to dismiss democracy (He told Paxman he had never voted). As Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of governance apart from all the others. Or, put another way, Homer Simpson once said that alcohol was the cause and the solution to all our problems. If Homer swapped “alcohol” for “democracy” he’d be closer to the truth.
Brand argues that we are destroying the planet while the rich get richer. He argues, rightly, that corporations dominate political decisionmaking and that this is accelerating inequalities and environmental destruction (See this interview with academic Richard Wilkinson on global sustainability and inequality). Meanwhile, the media, resting in the palm of the corporations, ensure the public remains in the United States of Unconsciousness. But while this line has merit it is only half the story. Democracy is failing because democracy stops at national borders and corporations do not. That needs to change. Maybe we do need a revolution. The revolution is in our mindset: we are all citizens of the world and we need to vote on that basis from now on. That is the new world order. Is that worth voting for, Russell?
This article first appeared in Medium.