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The English Riots According to Russell Brand

Russell Brand

The object of this post is to determine how many readers’ heads will explode in response to an item that has nothing to do with Sarah Palin.

The British actor/writer Russell Brand, who is either — depending on your taste — a comedic genius or an insufferable git (or possibly both), has written an editorial for the Guardian in which he tries to come to grips with the violence convulsing English cities. As you’ll see, it contrasts somewhat with the Peter Hitchens piece I cited yesterday.

Brand is a self-confessed ex-lout, so he brings an insider’s perspective to the spectacle of young people wantonly trashing their own communities. More than that, the piece is striking for the absolute confidence it conveys in the left’s enduring dominion over the ideas of love, compassion, and generosity of spirit.  There’s an analogy to be drawn to American politics — the received stereotypes of the Democrat as inclusive, tolerant beacon of kindness and the Republican as narrow-eyed, business-suited, other-bashing Scrooge — but the Brand and Hitchens pieces are most useful for the joint portrait they present of the two poles of British political culture. Summed up, Brand’s prescription for the unrest is love the lads more. Hitchens would likely prefer that they receive six of the best bending over a chair.

Hit it, Russ:

I should here admit that I have been arrested for criminal damage for my part in anti-capitalist protest earlier in this decade. I often attended protests and then, in my early 20s, and on drugs, I enjoyed it when the protests lost direction and became chaotic, hostile even. I was intrigued by the anarchist “Black bloc”, hooded and masked, as, in retrospect, was their agenda, but was more viscerally affected by the football “casuals” who’d turn up because the veneer of the protest’s idealistic objective gave them the perfect opportunity to wreck stuff and have a row with the Old Bill.

That was never my cup of tea though. For one thing, policemen are generally pretty good fighters and second, it registered that the accent they shouted at me with was closer to my own than that of some of those singing about the red flag making the wall of plastic shields between us seem thinner.

I found those protests exciting, yes, because I was young and a bit of a twerp but also, I suppose, because there was a void in me. A lack of direction, a sense that I was not invested in the dominant culture, that government existed not to look after the interests of the people it was elected to represent but the big businesses that they were in bed with.

I felt that, and I had a mum who loved me, a dad who told me that nothing was beyond my reach, an education, a grant from Essex council (to train as an actor of all things!!!) and several charities that gave me money for maintenance. I shudder to think how disenfranchised I would have felt if I had been deprived of that long list of privileges.

That state of deprivation though is, of course, the condition that many of those rioting endure as their unbending reality. No education, a weakened family unit, no money and no way of getting any. JD Sports is probably easier to desecrate if you can’t afford what’s in there and the few poorly paid jobs there are taken. Amidst the bleakness of this social landscape, squinting all the while in the glare of a culture that radiates ultraviolet consumerism and infrared celebrity. That daily, hourly, incessantly enforces the egregious, deceitful message that you are what you wear, what you drive, what you watch and what you watch it on, in livid, neon pixels. The only light in their lives comes from these luminous corporate messages. No wonder they have their [expletive deleted] hoods up.

These young people have no sense of community because they haven’t been given one. They have no stake in society because Cameron’s mentor Margaret Thatcher told us there’s no such thing.

If we don’t want our young people to tear apart our communities then don’t let people in power tear apart the values that hold our communities together.

As you have by now surely noticed, I don’t know enough about politics to ponder a solution and my hands are sticky with blood money from representing corporate interests through film, television and commercials, venerating, through my endorsements and celebrity, products and a lifestyle that contributes to the alienation of an increasingly dissatisfied underclass. But I know, as we all intuitively know, the solution is all around us and it isn’t political, it is spiritual. Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

In this simple sentiment we can find hope, as we can in the efforts of those cleaning up the debris and ash in bonhomous, broom-wielding posses. If we want to live in a society where people feel included, we must include them, where they feel represented, we must represent them and where they feel love and compassion for their communities then we, the members of that community, must find love and compassion for them.