Brand has become a goofy warrior, trying to balance seriousness with comedy. This is difficult not just for the performer, but for the audience as well. In 2011, when Stephen Colbert stepped out of character while testifying to Congress and read from the Book of Matthew in defense of treating undocumented immigrants compassionately, it was both gratifying (he actually does have sensible opinions) and confusing (with that much influence and those convictions, why isn’t he serious more often?).
Brand, though, has clearly decided to wield his influence. In the Morning Joe interview, he asked his hosts to look beyond the superficial, past his appearance—long curly hair, a dark beard, and generous chest hair to match behind an open button-down shirt. He asked, basically, to be taken seriously by his hosts. All of that served to give him more credibility with a younger, alternative audience, one willing to listen to his blithe calls for revolution, despite the fact that he clearly hasn’t thought much about actual revolution. Actual revolution, after all, is stylish.
Not all of his seriousness can be easily dismissed, though, which is perhaps why he is taken more seriously than most American celebrities who dabble in politics. His Thatcher piece, for example, had the interesting insight that the Iron Lady had broken the glass ceiling for women “only in the sense that all women beneath her were blinded by falling shards. She is an icon of individualism, not of feminism.” When Brand saw Thatcher in the Temple, he saw her as a lonely old lady; and when she died, he suggests, echoing her famous phrase, society did not mourn, but a handful of individuals did.
One may disagree, but Brand makes a legitimate contribution to the debate over the sustainability of an ideology or project that emphasizes the individual above all else. His ability to analyze major figures on a personal level can be even quite good at times. But he has no ability to theorize on a grander scale. When Brand starts talking about revolution, the folly of his political ideas becomes clearer.
In his New Statesman piece, Brands reveals that he doesn’t vote, because to do so is to be complicit in a broken system. “Total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system is what interests me, but that’s not on the ballot. Is utopian revolution possible?” he asked.
The problem is that Brand gives no clue what the socialist utopia would look like. He tells us it wouldn’t be oblivion (which is where he believes society is headed sans revolution), and he told Paxman that there would have to be a “centralized administrative system ... call them the admin bods.”
That sounds horrifying. His case for change is a familiar one: Politicians are apathetic to the plight of the poor and serve only corporations; there is massive inequality and injustice; and social problems (including drug use, with which Brand is on intimate terms, or the 2011 riots in London) are a result of this injustice.