Give Russell Brand a break – he’s no more a hypocrite than anyone else
Are you a hypocrite? Pardon my impertinence, but do you make a song and dance about green issues and sometimes fail to put the recycling out?
Or, maybe, get on an aeroplane? Do you rail about tax dodging and yet you pay your builder in cash to avoid the VAT? Is it possible in this imperfect, complicated, nuanced world to be completely, utterly true to your ideals? Maybe it is, but no one should be under any illusion about how difficult it is to live an ethically consistent life.
Specifically, I am thinking about Russell Brand. There he was, outside No 10, lending his support to protesters worried about rent increases on their affordable housing in the East End of London, a cause he has used his celebrity to publicise for some time, and a Channel 4 news reporter starts asking him questions, intent on presenting Brand as a hypocrite. He asked Brand about his own housing situation. It turns out that the comedian, who is a multi-millionaire, what with his books, DVDs and sell-out shows, lives in quite a nice flat in Shoreditch, a grungily fashionable district of London.
It is a rather stylish apartment in a converted warehouse, with high ceilings, exposed brickwork, a metal staircase and a polished concrete floor. Nothing fancy, you understand, but exactly the sort of place you'd expect someone who's successful in the media to live in. In some eyes, his well-appointed living arrangements give his views on housing problems less validity, but the point is this: can Brand bang on about the situation on a housing estate in poverty-stricken areas of London from the comfort of his velvet sofa? It seems not.
The Channel 4 reporter, Paraic O'Brien, told Brand: “You are part of the problem” [the super-rich buying up property in the capital.] And of course the more reactionary newspapers weighed in. They regard Brand, who reaches a young audience that, sadly, papers just can't do any more, as a seditious force and an enemy of the state. In a portentous editorial, The Sun said he was a “vacuous soundbite on legs”, while the Daily Mail's said his “anti-capitalist credentials” were demolished.
In which case, every well-known personage who uses his or her fame to shine a light on injustice should be branded a hypocrite, too, and their views can be easily disregarded. Is Bob Geldof's work in drawing to the world's attention famine and disease in Africa rendered because he, like Brand, is a very rich man who likes some of the finer things in life?
I understand it's all a matter of scale, and this is not to excuse those in public life who say one thing and do another. But Brand is no more or less a hypocrite than most of us. I drive a car and regularly take aeroplanes: does this disqualify me from doing my little bit to highlight global warming? Russell Brand is a man of strong beliefs, and he's not afraid to employ his fame to get his views across. And in the end, he's succeeded in getting more people - including the Prime Minister - to recognise the issues on the New Era estate. At that point, it really doesn't matter where he lives.
Belfast Telegraph Digital