Is Russell Brand an ideology?

The question of whether Russell Brand can be an ideology was brought up by one of my students in media studies one day, several years ago, when we were discussing the ideology. In order to help and bring you into the picture, ideology is a set of beliefs hold by an individual, group or society taken as granted, but which might not be true at all.

For instance, to give you an example, when I was born, on the 10th of July (which is a month of cancer) during the year of Dragon (I prefer to keep my age as a secret), it was in the socialist country of the Soviet Union, which was busy building communism at that time. I wasn’t questioning the ideal, of course not, because it was and still is, the best system that a society can have in utopia. To each, according to their needs, as Marx would say. In reality, however, this system is the absolute opposite of truth, since humans are too greedy to be able to ever make it happen, and some make more efforts than others, and thus, do deserve more. But everyone should have an equal chance, yes, certainly so!

Moving back to the UK, or most other countries in the west, we live in the capitalism, which is presented to us as the prefect structure, since we can all try to make money, appear on the X-Factor (in theory, of course) and try to lure beauty industry into believing that we are the next top model. Do you understand? We are sold some kind of utopian dream, that is hard to find in the reality of our daily lives.

And so, when the student asked me about Russell Brand and whether he can be analysed as an ideology, I have to say, I was smitten and for a couple of seconds even lost my voice.

My first (internal dialogue) reaction was: WHAT? Followed by (still internal dialogue), I have no ‘f’ clue, and then arriving at the obvious conclusion that most of my students are simply geniuses.

I mean, who could ever think of Russell Brand as an ideology? He is a Brand, not an ideology!

But, that question had been chasing me for the whole week then, to an extent that I researched it rigorously. The thing is, I was curious about Russell Brand before, because I remember that day when I was skipping some boring presentations at a conference, and since no other interesting shops were in the proximity I went to the local academic bookshop. And here it was, that ‘Revolution’ book by Russell Brand, occupying the most prominent place, at the centre of the shop, storing hundreds of copies.

In all honestly, I was surprised to see it because I knew of Russell Brand as a comedian, and seeing him getting into politics with some hint at Marxism, stopped me on my track and I almost bought the book, but then remembered that I had to go back to the conference and a bag of purchase from a bookshop would betray me as the biggest procrastinator.

However, I did subscribe to his channel on Youtube and watch him occasionally, because I do find him funny and he has quite refreshing and interesting view on politics. As quoted from Wikipedia, “British commentator Joan Smith dismissed Brand as the “canny self-publicist” who indulges in “waffle about ‘revolution'” as “one celebrity, I’m afraid, who’s more idiot than savant.”

But I disagree with such criticism! It might be that Joan Smith is an idiot herself. For instance, if Russell Brand actually voted (he encouraged sabotaging elections for a number of times), he could indeed become an ideology, especially if he delivers on his promise ‘We’ve got to do something’ and does shake up the current prevailing thinking that we live in some sort of democracy. He is also a very nice and kind man, and all the money from the book (Revolution) went to charity. And looking at his date of birth, 14th of June 1975, he has all the chances to become a politician. His year of birth is the Rabbit, and according to the Chinese, rabbits can make great career in the political sphere. His month of birth represents Gemini, who are natural leaders and end up with a lot of followers.

So, yes, let’s watch this space in terms of Russell Brand becoming a leader of some new political party.

I do strongly advise you to listen to him on his Youtube channel, and especially his views on the current Corona crisis, are intelligent and well-thought. It is also funny to listen to him, because he does remind us of the obvious truths that we can simply observe, when we aren’t sure about the facts, distorted to us by the current media landscape. On the question of whether there is a climate crisis, Brand subtly reminds us that ‘’it is getting a bit hot for January’’.

I like Russel Brand.

Living like a Warrior of Light

‘’The warrior of light is a believer’ tells us Paulo Coelho in his great book ‘Manual of the Warrior of Light. The warrior of light, he recounts and teaches us, often encounters darkness, and fights with evil and various demons, but at the end of the day, he always chooses light, and searching for light and maintaining one’s faith, is the ultimate sword of every warrior of light.

The book is full of wisdom like many other books of Paulo Coelho, because he tells us a story of the fight between the good and the evil. He began this marvelous tale in his book ‘’The Alchemist’’ and since then continued to tell us this beautiful narrative in his many other various book, with the last one being ‘’The Archer’. In it he tells us a very important thing, such as ‘’Join with those who sing, tell stories, take pleasures in life, and have joys in their eyes, because joy is contagious and can prevent others from becoming paralysed by depression, loneliness, and difficulties.’’

These are great words that, especially, appeal to us now, in the current Corona crisis. People feel despaired, – you can feel it on a global scale. Lockdowns are almost everywhere, and people are tired, desolated and lonely. Sitting in the same routine day after day and not seeing faces behind the masks in the shops- this is something that can provoke depression in the most resilient human being. I can see it all around, the signs of depression, in the strongest individuals possible.

It’s precisely now that we need to channel our inner warrior of light. It’s a super-human effort but it can be done. It’s now that the priorities can be changed: instead of a trip to the gym that is closed, start enjoying the nature. Instead of a restaurant that is closed, think of a nice meal to prepare at home and enjoy it with nice classical music in the background. It is now the time to discover and rediscover the great books, the joy of reading, the gift of great music, and the gift of friends that still visit us or that we are able to visit.

The depression can only be combatted with light. Everyone is capable to be a warrior of light. It is fighting for goodness, and for goodness for all. If each of us radiates this light, the world will be a better place. All crises eventually stop, and goodness always prevails over the evil. If you don’t know what to watch during the lockdown, I advise you to watch ‘’Once Upon a Time’’ on Netflix, it’s a great series that remind us of that great wisdom, and they also remind us about forgiveness, another important aspect that Paulo mentions in his books. In the current crisis, especially if we feel unwell, we might feel that it’s because we did something wrong, that it’s the punishment for our past mistakes.

But everyone makes mistakes! Everyone stumbles! Everyone makes something in their lives that later they regret. But Everyone can be also forgiven. ‘’My dear, everyone makes mistakes. You’re forgiven, but I cannot force that forgiveness on you. It’s your choice.’ The True warrior of light accepts that forgiveness.’’ As Paulo Coelho tells us on page 115 of his ‘Manual of the Warrior of Light’.

Christian faith teaches us the same profound wisdom. We all deserve forgiveness (Christ said it) and we can all channel the inner radiant light. Listen to your inner angel, he is always to help you and guide you. He will never abandon you. Turn to him, and surround yourself with little bit more joy on a daily basis.

Because joy can be so simple: a song of a bird, a nice fresh piece of bread, a hug from a friend, laughter over a nice joke, or reading a great book.

Start living like a warrior of light, because it’s a life full of meaning, even during the most challenging times.

Pyotr Mamonov as holy fool? (Holy-Foolishness in Russian Culture: Part Four)

Both ‘Taxi-Blues’ and ‘The Island’ movies (refer to my post on holy-foolishness here, here, here, and here)  acquire an additional meaning when one learns about the life of the main actor who played Lyosha and Anatoly, as one can rightly argue that in both movies the actor played himself.

As the character of the movies, Pyotr Mamonov had and has an unusual life, marked by extravagancy, creativity, unusual and weird behaviour, and a deep spiritual search for meaning and for Christian faith.

He was born in Moscow in 1951, and was expelled twice from a secondary school because he was constantly organising ‘a circus’. He loved dancing, music, and was showing quite remarkable talent in the way he danced. He came across some Western music, including the Beatles, and it marked him profoundly, pushing him to explore different musical genres and performance. While being considered a hippy, he used to distance himself from the group and would often find himself in a conflict or even a fight. In one of such fights he was very badly wounded by a knife, and almost died, but was saved by the doctors and recovered after spending days in a coma.

His behaviour was exuberant and bizarre, he could sometimes walk around with a handle from the toilette seat, or pretend that he would run at full speed and collude with a wall, just to lie down and watch people assembling around him.

His professional path was also very unusual, where in a matter of ten years he changed numerous jobs, and attended a university but without finishing it. He worked as a typist, as a corrector in a journal ‘Pioner’, as a massage therapist, elevator operator, moving man, as well as a translator of poetry from English, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish languages. He experienced moments of desperation and loneliness, when he would be without any job or any money. During sad periods of his life, he would write his own poetry, and would later use it for his songs.

In the 1983 Pyotr launched his music group, called ‘Zvuki Mu’, which immediately attracted controversy due to unusual, and often absurd lyrics, playfulness, and quite dramatic presence on the stage by Pyotr. He would dance, make weird gestures, exhibit eccentric, artistic behaviour. The fact that many of his songs seemed to reflect the absurdity of that times, the total chaos at the political and economic levels, only attracted more attention to the group. For instance, in his song and video clip ‘Coyz pechat’, Mamonov clearly makes fun of the political uncertainty then, but in a subtle, provocative way. He tells us about going to ‘Kiosk’, which could refer to both a small shop selling newspapers, but also to small shops which started to appear at that time, reflecting the ideological switch from socialism to capitalism, selling everything from Mars chocolate bars to cigarettes and spirits. He sings with a background of Saint Vasilii The Blessed Cathedral, as a sign of trying to find new meaning among instability and uncertainty of the years which preceded the collapse of the Soviet Union and immediately after. Interestingly enough, Mamonov, by positioning himself in the background of the most notorious Russian Orthodox Cathedral dedicated to the most famous Russian Holy Fool, foresaw how he would be perceived later in his life, where he is often referred to in Russia as a ‘holy fool’ (Ruvinsky, 2011).

In 1988 Mamonov made his first appearance in movies by playing a drug lord in ‘The Needle’ (Igla), which became a cult Soviet film. In 1990 he played Lyosha, the saxophonist in Taxi-Blues, where some parallels can be drawn with Mamonov’s real life. It was a turbulent period for former Soviet Union and its people, and ordinary people struggled to find meaning in the chaos of that time. As Mamonov, his character is unpredictable, slightly ‘mad’, talented, artistic and eccentric.

Following the dismantling of his music band, Mamonov had a long period of depression, which he managed to overcome by turning to Christianity and by finding an absolute faith in Jesus. He moved with his wife to a remote village in Moscow region, where he would spend his days on farming and praying, making only very rare appearance at public. He had to be convinced several times to appear as Anatoly in ‘The Island’, where, as it is commonly agreed, he played himself.

Whether we can call Pyotr Mamonov a ‘Holy Fool’ is, of course, embedded in the current discourse on madness and at how we look at eccentricity. Many Russian Orthodox sites themselves refer to him as a true representative of Russian holy-foolishness. Mamonov is a devoted Christian, who had a highly unusual life. As holy-fools in the past, he also battled with madness, having spent some time in a psychiatric hospital, due to his problems with alcohol. He had periods of deprivation, and sadness, and where, ultimately he turned to Christian faith to find his own personal meaning in life.

Mamonov, when he makes his rare public appearances, remains a controversial figure. When he talks about faith, he often uses the same lyrical language he used in his songs. When he received the Russia’s award for best actor following his role as Anatoly, the Christian hermit in ‘The Island’, he came to the ceremony dressed in jeans, an odd cardigan, and sneakers, and proceeded to tell the public that it failed to address real problems in Russia:

“Do you expect Putin to solve these problems? Putin is a wimp, an intelligence officer, what can he do? We should do it ourselves.” (Ruvinsky, 2011).

Understanding Mamonov as a modern holy fool requires understanding of the Russian culture, and its long tradition of the unique phenomenon of holy-foolishness. Russia always looked at manifestations of weirdness and eccentricity as an obligatory trait of national character. Russian culture always had a penchant for the grotesque, for the unusual, embedded in the history which has never been linear, but characterised by changes of regimes, revolution, political and economic uncertainty. Russian people tried to find answers in searching for the meaning, where laughter and weirdness provided a respite from daily problems, gave hope and a new perspective. Ivan the Fool, positioned in Russian folklore, is one of such characters, giving us hope, but also making us laugh, but also Holy Fools, real personalities in Russian history, gave people the possibility of a different interpretation of reality, by using bizarre behaviour and talk in order to highlight the problems of the society and ruling class. The resurrection of Christian faith in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, gave a new justification and reverence for the phenomenon of the Holy Fool.

Mamonov is very popular in Russia today because he is a typical example of someone who overcame the difficulties of the change in regime and political ideology. As many other Russian people, he had difficult moments in his life, where he also experienced deprivation and periods of total hopelessness.  He resorted to Christian faith as many other Russian people, to find new meaning and hope, and uses his popularity and fame in order to tell others about God, while also using his influence to point to the short-coming of the government.

In this respect, we can argue that holy-foolishness is embedded In Russian character and culture, where it is a recognised Christian phenomenon, positioned outside the mental health discourse on madness. Mamonov could be considered as ‘mad’, but because he is Russian, where ‘madness’ is accepted as eccentricity, he managed to channel his eccentricity into a higher purpose, where his madness is used to cherish artistic talent, and educate others about faith.

As Mamonov tells us himself:

“We all choose byways. In this respect, I am a very good example; I often choose the longest way round. Thanks to God, He led me to the right spring….” (Ruvinsky, 2011).

A lost chance

I was travelling on the train from Amsterdam to Brussels, a city where I lived at that time. I was sitting in a coupe, a separate small room, reserved for those who wanted some quietness and I remember that I was preparing for one of my exams related to English. I was studying at the Institute of Translators and Interpreters and the studies were intense. I had spent a weekend at my mum near the Hague (she lived there), and was returning home – to my beloved Brussels, a city I truly loved.

The train progressed in a good, soothing pace. I was struggling to focus on my syllabus because usually while on a train I just liked thinking: staring outside the window and at the passing landscapes and just reflect. I was also young then, twenty-one or twenty-two, and my head was always in some dream state of mind. I liked thinking about life, about love, and the future as in a fairytale. I was a dreamer.

A boy of approximately my age entered the coupe and installed himself right in front of me. I had noticed him briefly looking inside the coupe before opening the doors with his daring attitude. The train was almost empty. I always travelled between 11 and 14 to avoid crowds of people. I liked the train for myself, and I enjoyed the stillness of the coupe.

‘’My name is Menthe,’’ the guy was already talking and reluctantly I dragged my eyes away from my syllabus. I did notice that he was cute and had incredible blue eyes.

‘’My name is Ekaterina,’’ I answered, not sure whether to stop at that and put my book up in front of my face, or give him a chance. At that age I was shy, terribly shy.

‘’You study languages?” The boy commented pointing towards my book, ‘’I study medicine. My stop is in Antwerp.’’

His stop would be in twenty minutes. And thus, I decided to talk. We chatted about our studies, about languages and our countries. Menthe was Dutch, I was Russian, and it was amazing that we had both ended up doing our studies in Belgium. Menthe wanted to be a good doctor, while I told him that I wanted to be a writer one day but that I wasn’t yet ready. Suddenly, five minutes before his stop Menthe said, leaning towards me and almost touching his face with mine.

‘’I think you are the most incredible girl I’ve ever met, can I see you again?’’

I blushed and leaned backwards. It was unexpected but nice. He was extremely attractive and I liked his directness in declaring his affection for me. Which woman doesn’t like it, may I ask?

We quickly made the arrangements. None of us had a mobile phone then, and so we agreed to meet a week later, on Saturday in Brussels. I would meet him at the train arriving at four o’clock.

Next Saturday he was there, emerging from the train, the most beautiful boy on the platform. We approached each other and we kissed, first on the cheek and then on the lips, and it was long and delicious.

We walked around Brussels and then we came to my flat, which was overlooking the cemetery. I was living in the most incredible place! We cooked together a simple meal, opened wine and made love all night long. In the morning he had to go and I was feeling anxious. Would I see him again? But because I was so anxious, instead of asking him that question, I withdrew into myself and my behavior became cold towards him, and I could feel that he was puzzled.

It was only when we were next to his train ready to depart for Antwerp that he asked me:

‘’But will I see you again?’’

And instead of answering with a question ‘’when’’? I shrugged my shoulders, because I was uncertain when love was screaming into my face.

The mobile phones didn’t exist then, and thus, my hesitation was interpreted as a no. He looked at me from the train until it disappeared and I didn’t see him again.

A lost chance, as they say.