Remain Skeptical: Russell Brand, Revolution, and the Adbusted Occupy Meme

by lizard

It’s good to remain skeptical, especially when celebrities are calling for revolution.

Russell Brand is using his celebrity to speak more intelligently about politics than any of his interviewers apparently expect. You would think after he ran circles around the Morning Joe talking heads that the BBC would at least be somewhat prepared. Apparently not.

Brand also acted as guest-editor at the New Statesman, where he wrote this piece, which is worth reading. Here is an excerpt:

I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites. Billy Connolly said: “Don’t vote, it encourages them,” and, “The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever being one.”

I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance; I know, I know my grandparents fought in two world wars (and one World Cup) so that I’d have the right to vote. Well, they were conned. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for. I feel it is a far more potent political act to completely renounce the current paradigm than to participate in even the most trivial and tokenistic manner, by obediently X-ing a little box.

Russell Brand talks about being conned. He is also a supporter of the Occupy movement, which on the surface seems great. The problem with that, though, is my own increasing concern that everyone who got caught up in the Occupy movement got conned as well. Like I said, it’s good to remain skeptical.

Instead of reading Brand’s piece, which he only did “because it was a beautiful girl asking me,” I suggest reading something far more intriguing: an article that appears in Jacobin, written by Ramon Glazov, titled Adbusted: behind the bizarre ideology that fuels Adbusters.

The article focuses on the magazine’s odd support of Beppe Grillo, an out-there Italian politician described as follows:

This March, Adbusters jumped into what ought to seem like a marriage made in hell. It ran a glowing article on Beppe Grillo – Italy’s scruffier answer to America’s Truther champion Alex Jones – calling him “nuanced, fresh, bold, and committed as a politician,” with “a performance artist edge” and “anti-austerity ideas… [C]ountries around the world, from Greece to the US, can look to [him] for inspiration.” Grillo, the piece gushed, was “planting the seed of a renewed – accountable, fresh, rational, responsible, energized – left, that we can hope germinates worldwide.”

Completely unmentioned was the real reason Grillo is so controversial in Italy: his blog is full of anti-vaccination and 9/11 conspiracy claims, pseudoscientific cancer cures and chemtrail-like theories about Italian incinerator-smoke. And, as Giovanni Tiso noted in July, Grillo’s “5-Star Movement” also has an incredibly creepy backer: Gianroberto Casaleggio, “an online marketing expert whose only known past political sympathies lay with the right-wing separatist Northern League.” Casaleggio has also written kooky manifestoes about re-organizing society through virtual reality technology, with mandatory Internet citizenship and an online world government.

Adbusters could have stopped flirting with Grillo at that point, but it didn’t. Another Grillo puff-piece appeared in its May/June issue. Then the magazine’s outgoing editor-in-chief, Micah White (acknowledged by the Nation as “the creator of the #occupywallstreet meme”) recently went solo to form his own “boutique activism consultancy,” promising clients a “discrete service” in “Social Movement Creation.” Two weeks ago, in a YouTube video, White proposed that the next step “after the defeat of Occupy” should be to import Grillo’s 5-Star Movement to the US in time for the 2014 mid-term elections:

After the defeat of Occupy, I don’t believe that there is any choice other than trying to grab power by means of an election victory … This is how I see the future: we could bring the 5-Star Movement to America and have the 5-Star Movement winning elections in Italy and in America, thereby forming an international party, not only with the 5-Star Movement, but with other parties as well.

It might be cathartic to watch Russell Brand out-wit some stodgy BBC reporter, but his call for revolution, though probably well-intentioned, is, I think, very misguided. Same thing goes for the Occupy movement.


  1. I am a skeptic having been enticed into working for the Roach Motel named the Democratic Party. Thank goodness I had the gas mask of critical thinking and narrowly escaped. I am still quite encouraged by the Occupy Movement. It may have been kickstarted by Adbusters, but it also attracted the anti-globalization activists like David Graeber and then the students and then the homeless. Its diversity was empowering and encouraging and ultimately made it so dangerous to the powerful that they mercilessly and violently squashed it. (Mostly by Democratic mayors here in the U.S.).
    LIke Graeber, Brand is calling for a revolution of thinking. He is calling for a loud conversation that has been missing since the 1960s about the pseudo religious concept called “the free market”. Yes, people and movements are co-opted all the time and we must be vigilant aka skeptical. But it is good to hear these words and I encourage Brand to keep on talking.
    There is an alternative.

  2. Buzz Feedback

    I think I see why the Katy Perry thing didn’t work out.

  3. Mark Anderlik

    Thanks for writing this. Maybe disappointing, but not so much. There is no substitute for the hard work of organizing people to become the change they want to see. “Organizing is providing people with the opportunity to become aware of their own capabilities and potential.” – Fred Ross, Sr. And as Cesar Chavez said, “We organize a movement one person at a time.” If organizing isn’t at foundation of a social movement, it will go nowhere.

    • mike

      That you have a job Anderlik is uproariously funny… the farm workers union in Cali survive due to intimidation and extortion abetted by the state labor board. They force workers who have no interest in joining a corrupt UFW that cannabilizes their earnings to finance an agenda that hurts them….brilliant.

      • Mark Anderlik

        Making anonymous and false accusations only degrades our society.

  4. Revolution is never impossible. But first, one must think, imagine, try. It takes energy. From Anonymous: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-V0BofSW0o

  5. JC

    Liz, at the center of Occupy was the debate between reformers and revolutionaries. It was one of the most vital part of the whole thing. If having that debate in our (and hundreds of other communities around the country and world) was the only accomplishment of Occupy, then it was an endeavor well deserved. But of course, that was only one of many, many discussions and actions that occurred.

    How revolution occurs isn’t always in a big-bang zapatista moment. We talked about the individual revolution that occurs in each of us as we become aware of, and resistant to the status quo, and begin to take personal action.

    Russell Brand, on many levels has undergone a huge personal revolution, and has begun to use his celebrity to speak. Here, watch this piece where Brand is a witness in from of Members of Parliament talking about addiction:

    As to Occupy being conned, I really don’t think so. Doesn’t really matter who, why or how a revolution gets kicked off. Once it is underway, it is out of control — it becomes an organic, amorphous mass. Which actually terrified many people — the reformers.

    • lizard19

      I think understanding how OWS got seeded is important, especially considering this Micah White guy, who allegedly created the OWS meme, is now promoting this Italian 5-star movement after declaring OWS defeated.

      I’m feeling pretty pessimistic right now, so take that into consideration. widespread social unrest is, imo, a guarantee because the only political group producing tangible results is the tea party.

      the flip side is progressives, and we know how much fail comes from that political group. case in point, read this: A brief note on why the progressive blog movement failed.

      • mike

        I have to chuckle, liz , that you are admitting defeat in a battle you have already won. That’s unusual.

      • Mark Anderlik

        As someone who saw up close the Occupy Missoula movement I still come back to where social movements have been successful in the past – organizing. Not sexy, not easy, not quick. Other things are important too, but as our history has shown time and again that without organizing, change will not be sustained. The branches of the Occupy movement still active (including Missoula) have dug in to organize around specific issues that speak to larger problems. For example a group has been organizing in Missoula around foreclosures, another around the Citizen’s United decision. And now several groups facilitated by the Montana Organizing Project is organizing to create a partnership bank for Montana that has the potential to undermine the stranglehold the “too-big-to-fail” banks have on our economy. Hard work, few headlines, building the foundation for change. The proven way.

    • mike

      So Russel Brand is your go to guy now….you are getting desperate if that’s the case…try to occupy something other than pasting an I’m stupid on your forehead sticker. Waiting expectantly, lolz

      • JC

        “Go to guy”? Hardly. Brand is just another person and some people find he has some experience worth listening to. When’s the last time you testified in front of Congress? Oh that’s right, you don’t have anything to say that they want to hear about.

        • Not to be rude, but Congress spends a great deal of time listening to those that Congress wishes to hear from, you know, “what they want to hear about”. What makes you think that causes a difference, JC?

          Consider that and the Ad Hominem challenge of who has testified before the Do Nothings and who hasn’t appears pretty damned tawdry.

  6. mike

    Seeded is a great meme, upon inspection not so much

  7. Big Swede

    Good old Russell.

    At least he’s “doing something”.




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