Comedian, actor and former funny-person Russell Brand has gone on the record twice in the last week about his decision not to vote. His rant on why young people shouldn’t vote, made during an appearance on a British talk show, went viral, with Gawker’s Neetzan Zimmerman going on record to say that Brand “started a revolution” (he didn’t). Brand also recently wrote a column for British magazine The New Statesman (catchy name!), which stated the same points.
Brand spoke at length about how voting was simple “obedience” and that it doesn’t really matter anymore, and in doing so came across like a self-righteous college freshman at their poli-sci 101 class. He made entirely valid points about how many of the disenfranchised members of society were too jaded to vote, which is completely reasonable. Quoth the Brand:
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.
But then he went on to say that his grandparents (Brandparents?) were conned and that voting is entirely tokenistic:
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.
If you’ve read this far you might have guessed that I don’t agree with Brand on this issue. He’s oversimplifying not just one political system, but the entire theory of democracy and, like Brand is wont to do, he’s doing it much bigger than he should. In England, Brand plays to stadiums, which requires the performer to make big movements in order to project energy. That’s exactly what he’s doing here with his sudden outburst on voting, but dangerously so, in regards that some people might take him seriously and not make their voice heard at all.
Another British comedian, “Peep Show”‘s Robert Webb, wrote a rebuttal (also in The New Statesman) to Russell Brand. Although his rebuttal makes more cohesive sense in that he actually uses examples as opposed to Brand’s showboating, he uses his column to try and persuade the reader about voting for the Labour party, which is essentially Britain’s version of America’s Democratic party. Here, he hits Brand with his right-hook hypothesis:
You have a theoretical 7.1 million (mostly young) followers on Twitter. They will have their own opinions about everything and I have no intention of patronising them. But what I will say is that when I was 15, if Stephen Fry had advised me to trim my eyebrows with a Flymo, I would have given it serious consideration. I don’t think it’s your job to tell young people that they should engage with the political process. But I do think that when you end a piece about politics with the injunction “I will never vote and I don’t think you should either”, then you’re actively telling a lot of people that engagement with our democracy is a bad idea. That just gives politicians the green light to neglect the concerns of young people because they’ve been relieved of the responsibility of courting their vote.
But it’s perhaps the closing that lingers the most, if only because for the last few hundred words, Webb has been entirely eloquent:
I understand your ache for the luminous, for a connection beyond yourself. Russell, we all feel like that. Some find it in music or literature, some in the wonders of science and others in religion. But it isn’t available any more in revolution. We tried that again and again, and we know that it ends in death camps, gulags, repression and murder. In brief, and I say this with the greatest respect, please read some f*cking Orwell.
Will Brand reply? Probably not. But this slowly developing fight sure is fun to watch.