Sydney Lumet’s film Network is full of rants, replete with angry words, and they’re all spouted from a man losing his mind. He speaks truth to the masses and he does so from an increasingly popular pulpit – a TV talk show. His perspective is cynically exploited by mass media oligarchs but that doesn’t negate the truth behind the vitriol.
Regardless of how you look at it, anger and madness is sellable. It fits a need for truthfulness, a desire perhaps for righteousness. We’ve all heard the lies and the misinformation from government officials but the voice of an angry old man has less of an axe to grind and in his insanity we find some sort of accuracy.
It’s clear that angry words are important. Rage against the system, the chains, and the madness is needed if we are to ever effect change. Our prophets are often maligned, laughed at, and under appreciated. They are people that speak truths that are uncomfortable, truths that may be self-evident but under acknowledged, and truths that could shake our complacency if we’ll only let them.
But we don’t. Things stay the same, we seldom change, and society ticks on. We become our parents, then our grandparents, and then we die and the cycle repeats itself. Our unhealthy obsession with now, with the present moment, leads us to forget that life is a transition, that nothing is set in stone, and that we can effect change. Sometimes we need an insane old man to show us just how far we ourselves have fallen from sanity. Sometimes we need a prophet, someone who will challenge our complacency and hold a candle up to the contemporary darkness.
That insane old man can be found in our latest secular saint, Russell Brand –a one time heroin addict turned TV personality. The noughties were an odd decade for the contemporary rogue as he hopped from drugs to saccharine film entertainment. He married Katy Perry, a singer notable for squirting milk from her chest in an overtly sexual music video, and of course for the unflattering #nomakeupselfie captured by Mr Brand himself.
But Brand has rebranded since those early sobering days. Now he’s a man with a mission and one that he actively rams down people’s throats. He wants to see change; he spits out the dirty word of revolution in a tone of almost reverence, and he strives to better the world and leave behind a positive legacy. But we like to hate, so we assume that he’s in it for the celebrity status, for the acclaim and the fame.
This is unfair and it seems reductive. Russell Brand is a man who has come from nothing. He has fought for his health and sanity, and he has succeeded. Every day for him is a challenge, a struggle to stay on the path that he has chosen, but he hasn’t fucked up yet. Instead he campaigns tirelessly for better living conditions, the rights of the maligned, marginalised and broken, and he argues and uses his notoriety for good. But our society pushes back – we’d rather support Cameron’s austerity through inaction and quiet acquiescence than fight for Brand’s vision of change.
Where does this complacency come from? Why do forget that we are divine, autonomous beings with the ability to live lives of freedom? We accept the rules, the increasingly archaic religiosity of the past, and we live our lives based on received wisdom. This renders us inert, it ensures that we will always be the generation of the echo, the people who never shook nostalgia, and lived in the era of the never was. By living in the past we negate the present and we ignore the future too.
Russell Brand is a voice suggesting that there are alternatives. He’s no messiah (although he may claim to be) and all he is doing is providing us with a different vision of the future. It’s a future that requires active participation and it’s one that needs us. That’s the key to it all. We are the people behind the scenes; we’re just too quiet. Instead of understanding our innate power we simply live out our days as audience members letting our ‘betters’ talk over us and dictate our perspectives.
We let the political into the personal and it leaves us with a reality that has very few choices. In actuality there are as many opinions as there are people and each is just as valid as the rest. We should be championing conversation, dialogue, and challenging our preconceived notions about the world around us. We’re not Tories. We’re not red, white, or blue. We’re people and we don’t need saving. We don’t need God; we just need to find our voice.
Instead of shooting down those who speak up, we should congratulate them. Russell Brand is a man striving for something and we need to acknowledge that he is doing good, or at the very least he is trying. What are you doing with your life? Are you making things better or are you part of the problem?
Until we start to open our minds to alternative visions of reality we are collectively the problem. Our wages are too low, our futures are sold to foreign investors, and we’re priced out from our home cities. Our legacy will be as destroyers of legacies, and future generations (if they exist) will look back on us as world destroyers. An impressive title perhaps but the reality of our actions will be a destitute world, a place where the rich get richer and the poor go hungry, freeze and die.
Russell Brand isn’t a hero but what he is doing is heroic. He is a man that married a pop star but he’s also a man that protests side by side with the working class. That’s where he comes from – he understands the pain of poverty, but he also escaped it. In that, you should surely see why he’s a man that should be listened to. His testimony is one of self-discovery, self-healing, and selflessness.
Next time you feel like being cynical, target David Cameron or Nick Clegg. Their dreams of the future are literally our nightmares and their attempts to change Britain for the better have clearly not worked. Let’s give some more time to the voices that are untested, the voices that have no reason to lie to us, and let’s hear them out. Change is coming but it’s up to us to determine if it’s for the better.