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On Russell Brand’s Revolution

Sudbury Living Magazine June 24, 2015 Tina Siegal No Comments
Oh, Russell. You know I love you. You’re smart, and funny, and aware, and you can pull off eyeliner and chunky rings like no other man. But parts of this book really tested my devotion.

It’s not that I didn’t like it. In fact, I loved it. Sometimes. So let’s start there.

I loved how passionate Brand is about his beliefs, and how it comes across in every word.

I loved that he’s specific, that he demonstrates exactly how the current political, economic, and social systems are screwing us (he uses a saltier term), and what our options are.

I loved how deftly he weaves humour with criticism to illustrate the tragic, deadly, fun-house-absurdity of it all. 

I loved how seamlessly his voice moves from bratty, glam-rock comedian to compassionate insurrectionist to recovering addict and back.
I loved the way he distills cultural and political theories into quick-but-complete guides to the revolution.
I loved the manic cadence of it, and the bits where he gets carried away on a stream of consciousness that feels like Beat poetry. 
I loved how his sexuality and bawdy humour comes through in the metaphors he chooses, even when the context is serious. 
I love how he takes the piss out of himself.
Most of all, I loved the bits that sound like his stand- up.
If you’ve ever seen Brand perform, you know how engaging and persuasive he is. He skewers power on the tip of a well-chosen fact or statistic, and delivers it with hilarious, horrified irreverence - it’s funny and concise and intelligent and completely convincing.   

Unfortunately, that didn’t always translate onto the page.
I think Brand might have tripped over his own earnestness, here. He’s a smart man, and he understands that a lot of people view him as hedonistic and self-indulgent - not necessarily someone you take seriously. So  he spends a lot of time explaining the spiritual journey he’s been on, and supporting his arguments. 
The latter works in his favour. The former does not. 
When Brand addresses the physical world - facts, consequences, real policies and real people - he’s irrefutable. His points are coherent and well-articulated. But then he turns to spirituality. A new consciousness will spontaneously manifest, he argues, and inspire us to collectively adopt a more compassionate, progressive politics. 
Clearly, this is what motivates Brand. That’s great. The problem is that he pins the larger goal - collective and co-ordinated co-operation that ends in Revolution - on a faith that not everyone shares. We’re not all as enlightened as Brand is, or motivated by spiritual considerations. It isn’t universal, so how is it going to inspire universal action?

This takes up a lot of the book’s first half. I found it alienating and poorly conceived, and I wasn’t sure I’d get to the end. But the spiritual drum-banging lets up eventually, and things improve.
Three pieces of advice: first, give it until the half-way mark. You need that long to get past the spiritual awakening, and to settle into Brand’s manic rhythm. 
Second: read it as a series of essays - it’ll help you make sense of the intellectual chaos. 
Third: once you’ve finished ‘Revolution’, watch Brand’s stand-up. It’s all over YouTube, and nobody does it better than he does.

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