The comedian is asking the right questions — but will anyone listen?
“Is it right” asked Russell Brand on his YouTube channel this week, “that big tech companies, and the state, are given the power to determine whether or not you can enjoy every day freedoms?”
In the early 2010s the comedian became a lightning rod, or a punching bag, due to his political interventions. He guest-edited the New Statesman. He was interviewed by Jeremy Paxman, when he said that voting was a waste of time. Ed Miliband sank considerable political capital into getting Brand to endorse him during the 2015 election — which didn’t quite work out for either of them. Owen Jones compared Brand to George Orwell (and Brand compared Owen Jones to… George Orwell).
It was easy to be rude about Brand. Others, like the late political theorist Mark Fisher, saw in Brand’s politics a new vision of the Left that refused to moralise or scold its opponents. “Brand makes people feel good about themselves” Fisher wrote, “whereas the moralising Left specialises in making people feed bad, and is not happy until their heads are bent in guilt and self-loathing.”
The moralising Left won, and became dominant towards the end of the decade. Brand podcasted, and did more yoga. Will people listen to his intervention on vaccine passports?
“Are we moving towards ID cards by stealth?” Brand continues, “And further empowering massive, centralised authorities that we have good reason to distrust?” It’s a question that is worth asking — but one that has been ignored ever since the pandemic started.