Separating personality from politics

Gary Holland’s response to an earlier Nouse comment on Russell Brand’s calls for a political revolution.

There are a great many perfectly reasonable criticisms to level at Russell Brand. He throws around long words with much more interest in what they’d score in a game of Scrabble than whether they make sense in that sentence; in arguments he often tries to substitute flamboyance for substance; to be honest, the Captain Jack impression is getting old.

And, of course, we’re all familiar with his transgressions both in his personal life and while on air on BBC radio. But what Brand’s in the news for now is an interview with Jeremy Paxman in which he claimed that the current political system fails to address many serious problems in our society and calls for a revolution to topple it. In fact he doesn’t just say we should have a revolution, he says we will. “This is the end,” he says.

So what do these things I dislike about Brand have to do with the political views he’s now espousing? Absolutely nothing, obviously.

I say this is obvious, but not everybody agrees. A previous Nouse Comment article seeks to convince us to reject Brand’s revolution on the basis that he doesn’t see women as being equal to men. The evidence used to back this argument up is as follows: he broke up with his wife via text message, he left Andrew Sachs an answering machine message in which he talks about having sex with the actor’s granddaughter, and he called Mika Brzenziski a “shaft-grabber” as well as commenting on her cleavage during an interview on American television.

The first two examples are far from admirable, but I don’t think it’s fair to say they were driven by sexism or misogyny. As one commenter on the article says of Brand dumping Katy Perry via text message, “The fact she was a woman doesn’t mean he hates women any more than the fact she was a brunette means he hates brunettes.”

And I think anyone who’s seen Brand’s MSNBC interview can recognise that “shaft-grabber” was a crude joke about a bottle of water being vaguely phallic that he’d have made about anyone, regardless of their gender.

Of course, this is all moot: whether Brand is a towering great misogynist and whether those examples are particularly compelling evidence to suggest that he is are both completely irrelevant to his comments on our political system.

There are a whole bunch of reasons to disregard everything he says to Paxman— he openly admits after all that although he’s certain we should have a revolution, what should happen afterwards isn’t exactly clear—but disregarding ideas because of who makes them is not only stupid, but damaging for society.

Brand may well be right that a great change is coming. He’s certainly right about the huge numbers of disillusioned people who are coming to believe that the current system not only doesn’t work for them but wasn’t meant to … perhaps it really is just a matter of time.

And if it is, then I’d rather people like Russell Brand, who not only really care about these issues but have no problem being visibly angry about them, were listened to. If these changes were to come about then some big ideas would be needed and they’re going to come from the people who wear their hearts on their sleeves and speak passionately and unashamedly. And that’s the case regardless of what they’ve done in their past, or their other beliefs.

To disregard Brand’s politics on the basis of his sexism is to disregard John Lennon’s peace activism on the basis that he beat his wife. Do the latter make the former any less valuable? Not a jot.

This isn’t to say that sexism or violence is excusable if you’ve got some good ideas in another area. Rather, we need to learn to differentiate between a (perhaps sexist) person and their (perhaps valuable) ideas. We should always be mindful of the problematic aspects of people and things that we like or agree with an aspect of, but ad hominem attacks on someone who’s arguing for something they really believe in are lazy, disrespectful, and distracting from the real issue at hand.

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