The thoughtful hedonist: Russell Brand on Thatcher


You probably don’t want to watch it with your mom, or with your children for that matter, but I have seen few things funnier in recent years than Russell Brand in “Get Him to the Greek.” From his first line, “I’m Aldous Snow, the rock star,” his embodiment of an out-of-control hedonist is so devastatingly spot on, you come away convinced that that is who he really is (of course, his personal biography isn’t that far distant from Snow’s).

But messed up as he may be, he’s a bright guy who can actually be fairly thoughtful (interestingly, there were flashes of that in the Aldous Snow character, tucked among the Jeffrey-induced outrages). He showed that in a piece he wrote for The Guardian a couple of days back. Excerpts:

One Sunday recently while staying in London, I took a stroll in the gardens of Temple, the insular clod of quads and offices between the Strand and the Embankment. It’s kind of a luxury rent-controlled ghetto for lawyers and barristers, and there is a beautiful tailors, a fine chapel, established by the Knights Templar (from which the compound takes its name), a twee cottage designed by Sir Christopher Wren and a rose garden; which I never promised you.

My mate John and I were wandering there together, he expertly proselytising on the architecture and the history of the place, me pretending to be Rumpole of the Bailey (quietly in my mind), when we spied in the distant garden a hunched and frail figure, in a raincoat, scarf about her head, watering the roses under the breezy supervision of a masticating copper. “What’s going on there, mate?” John asked a nearby chippy loading his white van. “Maggie Thatcher,” he said. “Comes here every week to water them flowers.” The three of us watched as the gentle horticultural ritual was feebly enacted, then regarded the Iron Lady being helped into the back of a car and trundling off. In this moment she inspired only curiosity, a pale phantom, dumbly filling her day. None present eyed her meanly or spoke with vitriol and it wasn’t until an hour later that I dreamt up an Ealing comedy-style caper in which two inept crooks kidnap Thatcher from the garden but are unable to cope with the demands of dealing with her, and finally give her back. This reverie only occurred when the car was out of view. In her diminished presence I stared like an amateur astronomer unable to describe my awe at this distant phenomenon…

The blunt, pathetic reality today is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision. If you behave like there’s no such thing as society, in the end there isn’t. Her death must be sad for the handful of people she was nice to and the rich people who got richer under her stewardship. It isn’t sad for anyone else. There are pangs of nostalgia, yes, because for me she’s all tied up with Hi-De-Hi and Speak and Spell and Blockbusters and “follow the bear”. What is more troubling is my inability to ascertain where my own selfishness ends and her neo-liberal inculcation begins. All of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people’s pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful. Perhaps there is resentment because the clemency and respect that are being mawkishly displayed now by some and haughtily demanded of the rest of us at the impending, solemn ceremonial funeral, are values that her government and policies sought to annihilate…

Rough stuff. But then there are bits like this:

When I awoke today on LA time my phone was full of impertinent digital eulogies. It’d be disingenuous to omit that there were a fair number of ding-dong-style celebratory messages amidst the pensive reflections on the end of an era. Interestingly, one mate of mine, a proper leftie, in his heyday all Red Wedge and right-on punch-ups, was melancholy. “I thought I’d be overjoyed, but really it’s just … another one bites the dust …” This demonstrates, I suppose, that if you opposed Thatcher’s ideas it was likely because of their lack of compassion, which is really just a word for love. If love is something you cherish, it is hard to glean much joy from death, even in one’s enemies…

I found it interesting because it gave me insight into the attitudes of a young Brit growing up in the Thatcher era — someone whose life wasn’t politics. I think he probably speaks for a lot of people in his generation, those who aren’t inclined to engage in the execrable “Ding-Dong” celebrations, but aren’t at all interested in fitting her with a halo, either.

I was also intrigued by the bits of communitarianism that crept into the writing of this young man best known in this country for playing a narcissist, such as “If you behave like there’s no such thing as society, in the end there isn’t.”

I share it as something from an unexpected quarter that broadened my understanding a bit.

22 thoughts on “The thoughtful hedonist: Russell Brand on Thatcher

  1. Doug Ross

    Ugh… a narcissist drug and sex addict who makes his living acting like a narcissist drug and sex addict pulls out his thesaurus for all to see and regurgitates that drivel. Poor, poor millionaire Russell Brand. If only Maggie Thatcher had done more to help him destroy and embarrass himself.

    When he dies (probably of his own doing), who will care?

  2. die deutsche Flußgabelung

    Speaking of communitarianism why is it Brad that you so admire old Milk Snatcher despite her so anti-communitarian views? Her most famous quote was “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”

    1. die deutsche Flußgabelung

      I mean you bash Sanford and the other libertarians for their views, but when it comes to the PM who slammed down a book by Hayek during a Cabinet meeting, declaring this is how they would run the county, you give her a pass.

      1. die deutsche Flußgabelung

        To quote the great Warthen:

        “Maggie was PM back when conservatives were conservatives, instead of nihilistic, anarchistic, government-hating libertarians.
        Back then, conservatives believed in the bedrock institutions of society (that’s sort of the core of what being “conservative” means), and understood that governmental institutions were no less critical than the private sector, and that they had a responsibility, if they were elected officials, to be good stewards of those institutions — not to try to bleed them to death and run them into the ground.”

        “The thing that marked [Thatcher] and Blair both was boldness…We speak of Lady Thatcher’s boldness, determination and iron will in regaining the Falklands. And that was definitely a dramatic stroke, with all sorts of overtones of history — the brave Tommies boarding the ships in England, with the band playing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” the long sea voyage, the amphibious landing, the most notable sea battle since WWI.”

        I mean the last quote sounds like it was written by the propaganda division of the MoD circa 1982. Such romanticism of war clearing you have never read Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum est”

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Yep. Then, as I recall, I called that backward-looking boldness, as opposed to Blair’s forward-looking variety.

    What, do you not see boldness in people with whom you disagree?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Also, die Deutsche, I’m especially puzzled that you see that first paragraph you quote as being admiration of Thatcher, rather than being a reiteration of one of my constant themes — my disdain for these government haters who call themselves “conservatives” these days, the “nihilistic, anarchistic, government-hating libertarians.”

      You certainly should understand the context of it. I wrote it in response to your comment that conservatives today shouldn’t admire her because she raised taxes. Basically, my response to that is that “conservatives” today aren’t conservatives. And I say it again.

      When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, I was appalled, not least because of the contemptible way in which he acted toward my man Jimmy Carter during the election. But looking back, Reagan was a far more reasonable figure than the Tea Party types of today.

      I say that without being a revisionist. I didn’t like at all the direction in which he pulled the GOP. I did not feel all choked up when he died. But I didn’t want to dance on his grave, either (and if you see me as being at odds with those who would take the “Ding-Dong” approach to Thatcher’s passing, you’re right — I see that as entirely inappropriate). I look back on his time dispassionately. I think the united front that he, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II presented did help undermine the Soviet Union. But I also know that the GOP myth that his determination to stand up to the Reds was some sort of departure from Democratic rule is wrong-headed. We didn’t have a single president, of either party, during that period who didn’t want to win the Cold War. They didn’t have to go around saying “Evil Empire” to prove it…

      1. die deutsche Flußgabelung

        First of all, I am a man and so you should use the masculine article der, not the feminine article die. So I am der Deutsche, not die Deutsche. But I forgive you, seeing as you didn’t know my gender and probably know very little about German grammar. I know, its confusing seeing as the subject (noun) in my username is feminine.

        Secondly, I apologize for misreading you feelings on Thatcher. However, I was reading your comment about Thatcher and conservatism as a defense of her policy of shifting the tax burden away from the wealthy and on to the backs of the working class. Again sorry. However the facts remain Thatcher’s governing record is more like how Mark Sanford would govern a country and less like Reagan’s actual record. Thatcher was a radical, not some milquetoast conservative. Just ask those members of Northern English and Scottish mining and manufacturing communities, who will be partying next Wednesday, how Thatcher felt about those “bedrock institutions of society.” She wasn’t what you would call a “true conservative” but one of those “nihilistic, anarchistic, government-hating libertarians.”

        Finally, do you really buy into the myth that Reagan “won” the Cold War? I believe Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, Vaclav Havel, Joachim Gauck, Lech Walesa, and countless other Eastern Europeans deserve more credit for ending the Cold War than Reagan and Thatcher do. But then again most Americans like to see the collapse of the USSR as them somehow “defeating” the Soviet Union, instead of recognizing that it was a forfeiture.

        1. Doug Ross

          I think the Cold War ended as a result of Russians being exposed via television to what was going on in the United States. They wanted their MTV, McDonalds, and Miami Vice.

          How you gonna keep ’em down on the collective after they’ve seen Michael Jackson moonwalk?

          1. die deutsche Flußgabelung

            Yeah it wasn’t Gorbachev’s policies of Glasnost and Perestroika that brought about the USSR’s end but it was Crockett’s white suits and slip-on shoes that caused the collapse of the workers’ paradise.

            You do know that the distance between the US and the USSR was too great for any Soviet citizen to have picked up American television signals. Radio was a different story.

          2. Mark Stewart

            I don’t think it was the US so much, it was western Europe and the west in general.

            When you resort to using old metal beds as barriers to keep people from being killed by decaying building cornices in the cities, everyone can see the civic failure. Russia has always looked westward toward a culture it knew it would never be fully part of but which has a pull on it anyway, even during Soviet times.

          3. die deutsche Flußgabelung

            Doug do you seriously believe that the average citizen of the Warsaw Pact when they took to the streets in 1989, were risking their lives just so they could watch Miami Vice and MTV or eat at McDonald’s? I believe it was about more basic freedoms, not rampant American commercialism that drove them to protest.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          No, I don’t subscribe to the notion that he “won” the Cold War.

          As I said, ” I think the united front that he, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II presented did help undermine the Soviet Union.” That’s not winning. It’s not even “undermining.” It’s helping to undermine. So did the arms race that the US and USSR engaged in for 40 years, which was not sustainable for the Soviets’ weaker economy. So did all sorts of things. So, indeed, did the courage of Havel and Walesa, the reforms of Gorbachev, and so forth. The collapse of the Eastern bloc came from within as well as from without.

          Reagan did his part in all of that, just as every president since Truman had done.

          A digression…

          One of the most interesting stories I saw during the 1991 Gulf War (I put it in the paper, since I was helping the national desk during that conflict, and my assignment in part was to spot the interesting, insightful stories that might otherwise be overlooked) was one that explained that the weapon systems being used to such effect against Saddam’s forces were developed through programs initiated during the Carter administration.

          A subtext of the story is that while the simplistic, lowest-common-denominator view of Reagan and Carter was that Reagan was strong on defense and Carter was a weak sister, in fact Carter was the one responsible for actually better arming our military forces. Reagan dreamed of Star Wars, but Carter put into the hands of our troops conventional weapons that enabled them to win on the real-life battlefield. It shouldn’t have been surprising that Carter championed defense R&D, since he was a Navy nuclear engineer. But it ran against the popular image.

          Sorry I’m not remembering what any of the particular weapons were, but there were a number of examples in the story (my mind tends to remember concepts more readily than details).

          In any case, the Gulf War was the first battlefield test of those weapons, and they performed well.

          Actually, I had something similar on my mind when I mentioned the Falklands War being “the most notable sea battle since WWII.” There were a lot of folks in the military-industrial complex — and I suppose some taxpayers who had paid for these things — watching that one closely because there were a number of anti-ship weapons and ship defenses being tested in combat for the first time. This was the war that made the French Exocet missile famous. The Argentines also employed some Soviet weapons.

  4. Mark Stewart

    I never would have expected that from Russell Brand.

    Surprising. He may not be a total douche after all. Or he still may be…

  5. Juan Caruso

    Priceless Margaret Thatcher humor even mothers could watch with you: “Margaret Thatcher don’t wanna jump”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I loved that! As I said earlier, I’m not really an “admirer” of Thatcher, but that one certainly is a point in her favor. “Certainly not.” Hear, hear.

      It was indeed, as she said, “a puerile thing to ask.”

      Although I would have said it “PWER-ill,” rather than “PYOO-ryle,” as she said it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *