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Brand X and the Absurdity of Celebrity Culture


Russell Brand is a celebrity, one of those pretty faces you see on ragged magazines at the check-out counter and think: “Who gives a flying f what he’s screwing this week?”

At one point he was screwing Katy Perry, a teeny-bopper who makes recruitment music videos for the US Army.   They were married in a traditional Hindu ceremony, near a tiger sanctuary in India – which is just so cool!  Except they divorced a year later, right after Brand, the cad, twittered an unflattering photo of Perry for all their fans to see.

Brand meditates, but prefers transcendental medication.  According to Wikipedia, he “has incorporated his notorious drug use, alcoholism, and promiscuity into his comedic material.”   And he certainly has a talent for casting himself as a rebel (there’s a poster of him floating around the internet depicting him as Che Guevara) and for shameless self-promotion: something of a serial flasher, he’s been arrested numerous times, often, ironically, for throwing punches at paparazzo.

On Facebook he is adored by millions of millennial girls for his “gorgeous beard” and for being a vegetarian, which equals a reverence for all sentient beings.   And yet, simply because he’s a celebrity, he must constantly defend himself from charges of being “trivial,” which really hurts when you’re a sensitive guy like Brand.

And he is sensitive, and has convictions, as well as arrests.  Brand has publicly condemned Israel’s assault on Gaza, and the “cruel and massive loss of life of the citizens of Gaza.”   He has taken other principled stands as well.

But he drenched himself in glitz, and acted like a fool, to get to the point where people would look at him and listen to what he says.  And that is the irony of Brand’s karma-challenged life: he suffers for the fame and fortune he brought upon himself.

Don’t you get it, Russ?  You can’t speak authoritatively against corporate and economic oppression if you’re a wealthy glamour-boy, featured regularly in GQ and Esquire.

This is the trap all our modern heroes fall into.  The first (paraphrased) words Dan Ellsberg spoke to me were: “You can’t understand me because you’re not a celebrity.  Being a celebrity changes everything.”

Danny was absolutely right.  Being a celebrity does change everything.  Ask Zimmerman, who stopped pretending to be a champion of the poor, once he became rich.

Celebrity changes everything, yes, but not like being an unwed mother changes everything.   Being a celebrity makes you publicly absurd.  It makes you another Brand X on a shelf overflowing with commodities packaged and sold by money-grubbing corporations.

It’s like a prominent libertarian using the oxymoron “billionaire philanthropist” to describe Glenn Greenwald’s sugar daddy Pierre Omidyar, and then calling on libertarians everywhere to implore their Congressional representatives (like Rand Paul?) to pave the way for ex-pat Greenwald’s safe-return from self-imposed exile.   Forget the 11 million undocumented aliens in the country (which libertarians are doing their best to deport), trying to stay here for a chance to work and exist in noble anonymity; you must expend your time and energy on one celeb who, single-handedly, is going to make “us” understand “what kind of country we’re turning into.”

Give me a break.  Celebrity-making in the hands of venture capitalists and social-service wrecking libertarians renders Greenwald absurd – like he made himself absurd for taking Omidyar’s blood money; like celebrity-seeking made devout Maherist-Lenoist Jeremy Scahill absurd; like it makes every other denizen of late-night comedy shows, hosted by millionaire racists, in a word, absurd.

In this spirit, Russell Brand has reached new heights of absurdity by predicting a coming revolution.  The poster of him looking like Che has done more damage to his brain than all the dope he pumped into his veins; but his adoring fans believe his rubbish and, for 24 hours, happily imagine themselves as revolutionaries.

They do, after all, identify with him, and his brand of consumer absurdity.   And in modern America, money and an adoring fan base are what matter.

From down here in the trenches, I wonder what Russell’s brand of revolution looks like?  A civil war, perhaps, in America, with well-armed Tea Partiers surrendering by the score?   Or will it be a worldwide uprising of the lower classes against their corporate oppressors? (Didn’t someone already suggest that?)  Will Brand’s revolution involve people killing and being killed, or simply pretending they have the courage of their convictions, assuming they have any convictions (or critical thoughts) at all?

In any case, the powers-that-be are thanking Russell Brand X for reducing the on-going struggle for freedom and justice, once again, to the absurd.

Douglas Valentine is the author of five books, including The Phoenix Program.  See or write to him at

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