I have read some really, really bad reviews of this book. Poisonous, nasty reviews that tended to leave me suspecting that a) Brand’s latest book wasn’t very good, and b) some people really hate his guts. It was the gut hating that tended to weaken the reviews actually, and made me suspect that the book wasn’t quite as bad as it was being made out to be.
His writing is atrocious: long-winded, confused and smug; filled with references to books Brand has half read and thinkers he has half understood.
Nick Cohen, The Observer
It’s that tone. Do you hear it? “Russell Brand fancies himself as an intellectual but he’s just a moron that morons like.” That tone.
It may surprise you but I’ve never met Michael Moynihan – the man who wrote the review at the top of this post – so it seems a little rough for him to call me a moron because I bought a book by someone I like. Michael Moynihan’s review reads like an intellectual pissing competition in which he seeks to prove that Brand is a moron and that he is cleverer than him. He may be, but Moynihan also makes errors and tells half-truths so I suppose it comes out about even. I blame the Nazis. Michael, Shmichael, Smikey, Pikey-Malarkey gets his own facts wrong when trying to make fun of Brand for saying that Goering was the founder of the Gestapo, and then gives us this:
how about when he was ejected from a Hugo Boss event for a spittle-flecked rant about Hugo Boss’s complicity with the Nazi regime, never recognizing the irony of his triumphant escape in a black Mercedes?
This is quite an odd thing to say because a) Brand’s rant at Hugo Boss was fucking brilliant, and b) in Chapter-bloody-One Brand says, of his Mercedes:
Amidst the guilt and anger I feel in the back of the Fuhrer-mobile there is hope.
A Mercedes. The anaesthetic of privilege.
Which is sort of like “recognizing the irony”. In fact, I think Brand is hyper-aware of his own contradictions. Of, for example, his desire to transcend materialism and his competing desire for fame and personal adornment. It’s a very appealing quality. Unless you hate his guts.
Moynihan has things to say about Brand’s writing itself:
…in print, Brand writes like this: ”This attitude of churlish indifference seems like nerdish deference contrasted with the belligerent antipathy of the indigenous farm folk, who regard the hippie-dippie interlopers, the denizens of the shimmering tit temples, as one fey step away from transvestites.”
These are sentences that stupid people think are smart.
Speaking as a stupid person I thought that sentence was not “smart” but another example of how much Russell Brand loves language, and how language gushes out of him in a playful, passionate, idiotic, heart-tugging stream. But then I’m a stupid moron so what would I know?
Moynihan complains that Brand overuses phrases but the phrase he whinges about – bejewelled bus – is only really used in one chapter of the book. He complains that the jokes aren’t funny and quotes some quite funny jokes (if mucking about with language and making juvenile puns counts as funny, which I think it does). He complains that Brand is actually an authoritarian who condones violence when Brand specifically says – all joking aside – that all violence is wrong. It’s not really a review, more of a contemptuous flick through: can’t read, can’t write, not funny.
Brand isn’t a writer, no matter how much he fancies himself one.
Michael Moynihan, Daily Beast
If I were giving a brief review (which I’m not, I’m rambling on at great length) I would say that Revolution is uneven. Much of it is, unfortunately, bad. By that I mean badly written and simplistic. In the middle of the book he often fails to hit the target and sometimes he flirts with ideas that are better left to the fringes such as 9/11 conspiracy theorists. The clarity of execution on the sections where he is explaining someone else’s ideas usually leaves a lot to be desired, and I often found myself wondering what the point of it was. Do I need Brand to explain Chomsky to me? Probably not. It would have been better to ask some of the thinkers he admires and has met to contribute short essays between some of his chapters. When he is doing the explaining-other-people’s-ideas shtick it only ever really works when he is handling those ideas autobiographically. It is when he is autobiographical that Brand is good.
Almost all of the sections where he is telling a story from his life are golden. His visit to his home town of Grays, and his adventures on a US Marine assault course are wonderful, like most of his narratives are. His pieces for the Guardian about Margaret Thatcher, or the GQ Awards, or the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman are brilliant pieces of writing. When he’s on form he is a fantastic writer who can scoot between laugh-out-loud and lump in your throat effortlessly. Bookywook, as it happens, is also excellent.
Many reviewers didn’t see this however; they felt a greater need to pick him up on things.
The systemic change that means the most to Brand is an embrace of meditation and pantheism. The greatest villain of Revolution is not a super-rich financier but Richard Dawkins. Brand denounces him as a “menopausal” proponent of “atheistic tyranny” because Dawkins denies the existence of the supernatural.
Firstly, “greatest villain of Revolution” is wrong, secondly Dawkins is actually like that quite a lot. I am an atheist myself and find Brand’s ramblings about yogic meditation reducing crime eyebrow raising, but I have very little time for Dawkins because he’s such a bully.
[Brand] pulls a succession of shabby tricks to bolster his claim that religion does not authorise oppression. Anyone who claims that Jesus, Allah, Krishna or the fountainhead of any other religion endorses homophobia instead of the “union of all mankind” is “on a massive blag”, he says. Brand has to ignore Leviticus’s edict that the punishment for men who sleep with other men is death.
Nick, Wick, Blickity-Chick, is actually talking about one of my favourite parts of the book here (and one of the funniest). Brand’s point is that homophobia is not really the focus of either the Old or the New Testament, and aside from a tiny handful of mentions (such as the one in Leviticus) it would be quite wrong to say that it is the focus of Christianity. Brand’s point is that often these religions have had their central messages hijacked. As he says in his actual book:
[religions] have become tools for oppression, segregation and conflict. The aspects of these ideologies that testify against oppression, segregation and conflict, which would seem to be the most vital bits, are consistently ignored.
Never mind, Nick. Why let reading the book get in the way of a review, eh?
Brand has a lot of interesting things to say about spirituality and our connection to the cosmos. Things that I have become increasingly aware of as I get older. Not so much the desire to pray to God via a chap nailed to a piece of wood, but to the idea that we are connected to things much larger than ourselves and that we can only know those things through the narrow windows of our senses.
Brand wants to close all large and many medium-sized businesses. Food production must be localised and organic – which means Brand wants hyperinflation, starvation and the bankrupting of African food exporters. And personal debts should be abolished – which means that Brand wants to crash the credit system and return us to a barter economy.
You could be right, Nick, but you may not be. Quite a few of us have been told by patronising “experts” in the past that what they are doing is sensible and any other course would be insanity. Those patronising experts are wrong a very high proportion of times. Not that it tends to impact them too much because they are usually fabulously wealthy, but their “ideas” often have quite serious effects on the population in general, and are devastating to the vulnerable.
A lot of these reviewers remind me of when National were in opposition: they sneer at everything and propose nothing themselves.
A common theme among the reviewers is that Brand isn’t a “proper” commentator or thinker. One way you can tell he isn’t is because he makes fun of people’s names. He calls Chomsky, Chompsky. Now I know that we are supposed to worship at the altar of academia in silent reverence, but we really shouldn’t. It’s a waste of time. Better to undercut any kind of title and pomposity with a fart joke. It’s crass, but we get the message. I might also add that rooms of people sitting around in suits talking in sound bites and exchanging political buzz words might be what we think of as “proper” political discourse, but it is usually in fact sheer bollocks.
And now it’s over to Tinky Winky off Teletubbies for his thoughts on global warming.
Craig Brown, Mail Online
How droll of Craig. To compare Russell to a Teletubby. Because as we all know the grown ups – not silly tossers like Russell Brand – have really begun to seriously tackle global warming and are powering ahead on concrete actions which will help to limit the catastrophe ahead. You could ask David Cameron, John Key or Tony Abbot about climate change, but it would probably be more informative to ask Tinky Winky (imagine being stuck in that Teletubby suit in rising temperatures).
On the vexed subject of fracking, he writes, ‘Out of nowhere one morning, probably a Thursday, or a Wednesday, one of the days, The Sun, apropos of nothing, announced with twitching enthusiasm that fracking is great.’
Which of the words in that 28-word sentence is necessary?
Certainly not the first 15. Rambling on and on about nothing may seem impressive in the O2 arena but in a book it is just a nuisance.
Once again a reviewer has become annoyed at Russell’s gushing enthusiasm for language. Once again a reviewer has taken something out of the book which is connected to a whole lot of other things to score a point. The point, if I remember, is that allegiances between media, and corporations, and politicians can be very dangerous things for, in this case, the planet.
Craigy-Waigy wonders why Brand has published his book with a major publishing house, and not a small, local collective. I love this kind of thing. Ostensibly pointing out hypocrisy – if you’re so Green why don’t you sell you car/refuse to fly/wear sack cloth/live in the bush? (I think Judith Collins did it to Metiria Turei) – it is actually just an attempt to silence people. You rarely hear the opposite: if you’re so Christian why don’t you stop accumulating wealth/condoning retribution/wearing fancy clothes (consider, Judith, the lily of the valley)? Not to mention, if anyone is going to be aware of the ironies of all this it is going to be Russell Brand.
Not only does Brand hate the man, but in a recent interview with the Financial Times he tidily summed up his ideology: “Do you know why I think the people of Scotland should have voted yes? Because Cameron wanted them to vote no. Do you know why I think we shouldn’t be bombing the Middle East? Because they want to bomb the Middle East. Any single thing they tell me, I disagree with absolutely 100 per cent.”
This is Brand’s revolution. As long as they are for it, he’s against it. It almost makes you want to root for the establishment, doesn’t it?
No, Michael, it doesn’t.
I think – if you’ll excuse the ramblings of a stupid moron – that what Brand is trying to tell us is that establishment politics is so under-representing what most people would really want, and acting so much more in the interests of business – which is destroying the basis of all life on earth – that we should stop voting for them. That we should begin to look for some alternatives to the corrupted, non-representative system instead of playing the election game. Many of Brand’s borrowed ideas seem a bit silly, and possibly a bit lethal to a happy society, but many of them are not, and are worth tossing around a bit.
It’s a shame Revolution is not a very good book – the high points are wonderful but there aren’t enough of them to compensate for the troughs – not because it gives reviewers the opportunity to have a crack at Russell, but because we actually do need to have a bit of a revolution around here.