For those of you who may have missed it, Russell Brand found his way into American headlines recently. It wasn’t because of his outrageous comedy, and no, he wasn’t accused of being part of the Illuminati. This time it came by way of a video of Brand lashing out at Fox News host Sean Hannity for the brusque way in which he questioned Jerusalem Fund executive director Yousef Munayyer on a recent broadcast of his show. Though this is the first time Brand has resonated on this side of the pond as a political commentator, the Forgetting Sarah Marshall star and Katy Perry ex has been skewering the British government and the state of modern politics through his daily YouTube show The Trews—in which Brand offers “the true news so you don’t have to invest any money in buying newspapers that charge you for the privilege of keeping your consciousness imprisoned in a tiny box of ignorance and lies”—since February. The episode in which he took Hannity to task was the 111th time he recorded a unique, 5-10-minute take on the world’s various absurdities. As of writing this, the 111th episode has been viewed over 2.7 million times.
Some of us think of Brand as a cheeky British comedian and celebrity activist trying to promote world peace, yoga and Transcendental Meditation. Others, like Hannity, see him as a “skanky” looking “D-List actor” who probably “cooks meth and sleeps in his car,” which gives them reason to believe his “dufus” attacks on people like Hannity are invalid and unwarranted, as is his more general criticism of the entire political system. With his long hair and often boorish persona, it’s not surprising that people are reluctant to take him seriously, especially when he addresses serious subjects. So what’s the deal here?
For the British, Brand has become a bit like Marmite: You either love him or hate him, it’s as simple as that. His highly energetic, silly and often comically aggressive approach to sharing his opinions and wisdoms can make even the most skilled yogis amongst us to lose their zen at times. Following his debates with journalists like Jon Snow feels similar to watching father and son arguing over modern vs. classic rock. But regardless of what angle he’s coming from, one thing is for certain and that is that Brand is speaking his mind, he’s being honest and, often, he’s saying what a lot of us are thinking but either afraid or unable to articulate.
If you’ve had your doubts about Brand’s political attitudes and his own take on “Trewful” journalism, fair enough, but we can all agree that his principles are of the noble kind. Since 2009, Brand has been causing quite a stir in the world of activism: He spoke to the press at the G-20 London summit protests in 2009; he is a supporter of the Hoping Foundation and has openly stated that voting is a waste of time; and in 2012 he spoke to the Parliament Addiction Committee about his experiences with drugs, urging abstinence-based recovery and for them to view addiction as a health condition rather than a criminal predilection. He called for the issue to be tackled with “pragmatism, altruism and compassion.”
While journalists such as Jeremy Paxman see Brand’s perspective, especially in terms of voting, as rather far-fetched, it is not hard to understand what could have possibly lead Brand to his conclusions:
It’s not surprising that more and more young people overseas are rallying around what Brand has to say. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that young people are a lot more susceptible to the views of someone they can relate to, someone who speaks their language and is actually approachable. The other alternative is people in suits who offer nothing but empty promises.
Brand filmed the first episode of The Trews in February, focusing on Britain’s notorious Daily Mail newspaper. In a little over four minutes, Brand manages to explain everything that’s wrong with these types of publications. The title page announces threats of pedophile groups, but skip to the very next page and we see just how “effortlessly they jump to some superfluous fluff about hair cuts in the eighties.” Brand is quite right to note that it is becoming increasingly difficult to take a newspaper seriously when it is dedicated to spreading a fear of pedophilia on the same page it advertises family holidays.
The media is a recurring issue on The Trews, and nothing gets Brand going quite like Fox News. When Jeanine Pirro repeatedly stressed the need to bomb Iraq, emphasizing just how fanatic and religious terrorist organization ISIS really is, we thought Brand was going to lose his shit. Instead he rather calmly—for his standards—exclaimed how Fox is a “fanatical terrorist propagandist organization,” whose attitudes make them “worse than ISIS.”
Double-standards, sanctimoniousness and hysteria—what else would you turn to the news for? In The Trews, Brand picks up on details we have become so accustomed to they tend to fly by us. Either that or we happily ignore them. He has alluded to the fact that newspapers advertise a diet high in vegetables and fruits for longevity while neglecting to mention the fact that this may well be possible for people with a high income, but it’s simply too pricey for those who don’t. He also had a blast watching a recent McDonald’s commercial that made him consider the idea of branding as a whole, noting that people used to know their suppliers personally—they knew the baker they bought their bread from, they knew the man behind the newspaper stand, etc. These days, big corporations like McDonald’s are “faceless and sterile,” and by creating cheesy ads as such, they are merely trying to “recreate familiarity,” a sense of familiarity most of us will gladly buy into. Brand’s mission behind The Trews is not just to rip the media to shreds, it is about providing you with food for thought. He wants to get people thinking and to look at issues that impact our daily lives from a different perspective.
Yousef Munayyer was happy to announce that, since the airing of The Trews episode 111 on July 24, it has had more than 2.7 million views on YouTube, whereas the video of Hannity that Brand skewered is hanging back with 1.9 million. Brand’s response video was going to be more popular considering Hannity’s treatment of Munayyer was simply business as usual on Fox News, but the fact that almost three million people watched Brand’s response is a sign we are becoming more aware of people fighting the good fight, and less prone to buying into misinformation and hysteria spreading through the globe like the plague we call propaganda.
While a lot of people continue to keep a watchful, skeptical eye on Brand and his political activism, it has become more and more apparent that this raunchy but eloquent comedian and activist really does have something to say. He uses his celebrity and his experience as an ex drug addict to voice his concerns and call into action everyone who believes him to be on the right path. Even if you’re reluctant to fall in step with Brand’s mission and skew towards Hannity’s opinion of Brand as a “D-list actor” who looks like he “sleeps in his car,” his appearance shouldn’t get in the way of your ability to recognize Brand as a progressive, intelligent voice offering often illuminating criticism of the current political system and the ways in which the media influences our lives. Because he’s doing it on YouTube, he doesn’t have to answer to advertisers and he doesn’t have to worry about getting fired, allowing The Trews to be more truthful than the vast majority of what’s being fed to us. It wouldn’t hurt to start listening.