We’ve devoted a lot of our attention on this website to famous Western entertainers – from Hilary Swank and Sharon Stone to Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn – who’ve performed for various Asian or African dictators in exchange for hefty paychecks. Pretty sleazy stuff, of course, especially given that the entertainers in question were hardly strapped for cash. No, it’s called selling out.
There are, of course, other ways for celebrities to sell out.
Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1933, Louis Eugene Walcott began his career as a calypso singer and violinist, using the stage names “The Charmer” and “Calypso Gene.” But apparently music wasn’t doing it for him. He needed more. In 1955 he attended a Nation of Islam event at a mosque in Chicago. It changed his life. Not long after, he joined the Nation of Islam and became Louis X, the use of “X” in place of a last name being a Nation of Islam practice based on the premise that black Americans’ last names were slave names and that their original African names were unknown. Later, Elijah Muhammed, the Nation of Islam leader, gave Louis the Arabic last name of Farrakhan, which means “The Criterion.”
It was not long before Farrakhan was named a minister, serving first as the assistant to Malcolm X in Boston, then becoming head minister there. But Farrakhan proved himself to be a more loyal member of the cult than even Malcolm X. When the famous activist, who for most white Americans was the very face of the Nation of Islam, called out the cult’s leader, Elijah Muhammed, for sexually abusing teenage girls, Farrakhan publicly defended Elijah Muhammed to the hilt and declared Malcolm X to be “worthy of death.” A few weeks later, Malcolm X was murdered by three men with links to the Nation of Islam.
After Elijah Muhammed died, Farrakhan served as a Sunni imam under the late leader’s son, Warith Al-Deen Mohammed,who gave him the name Abdul-Haleem. Leaving Mohammed’s movement in 1978, Farrakhan established a new Nation of Islam. At its head, he routinely made headlines by calling caucasians “white devils,” calling Jews “bloodsuckers” and Judaism “a gutter religion,” and calling Hitler “very great.” Speaking of the Jews in a 1985 speech at Madison Square Garden, Farrakhan exclaimed: “Don’t you forget, when it’s God who puts you in the ovens, it’s forever!” Repeatedly, Farrkahan proclaimed that God had decreed the death of America, which he described as the most evil nation in human history. He pinned 9/11 on “the Jews.”
He was friendly with Muammar Qaddafi, who donated a billion dollars to Farrakhan’s political work, and who, speaking at a Nation of Islam convention in Chicago, said that he hoped to fund a black revolution in America. Farrakhan, for his part, called Qaddafi his “friend” and “brother.” He also befriended the leaders of Iran, Iraq, and other countries listed by the U.S. as state sponsors of terrorism.
He exchanged letters of support with Saddam Hussein, whom he praised as a “visionary.” Years later, he met with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A pretty appalling record. And yet it hasn’t kept a number of high-profile showbiz figures from gladly collaborating with him. More on Thursday.
Beyoncé! Her life has been an American Dream. In addition to every other glorious accomplishment in her career – her 22 Grammys, her two-time listing as one of the “100 most influential people” by Time Magazine, her serenading of Barack Obama at one of his 2009 inaugural balls, her lip-synching of the national anthem at his second inauguration, her #1 ranking in Forbes’ Celebrity 100 List, and her naming by Forbes this year as the most powerful woman in entertainment – she was the star of halftime at the Super Bowl in February 2016. At that event, America’s biggest TV event of the year, she repaid America’s bounteous gift to her by paying tribute. To whom? The Black Panthers.
As we wrote here a few days later, the show, which featured her new song “Formation,” was “an exercise in what one critic called ‘Black Panther chic.’” With its Black Power salutes and its slap at the police, the Guardian suggested it might be “the most radical political statement from the superstar in her 20-year career.” The audience held up “rainbow-colored placards” that read Believe in Love. “Does Beyoncé sincerely believe that the Black Panther movement has, or ever had, anything whatsoever to do with love?” we asked. “If she does, then she can only be described as a thoroughgoing historical ignoramus, and thus a useful stooge of the first order. For the fact is that the Black Panthers were, quite simply, hate set in system. They were racists, terrorists, homophobes, anti-Semites, proud disciples of the cruelest and most remorseless totalitarian despots of the twentieth century. Nothing could be more Orwellian than the notion that they were ever driven, in any sense of the word, by love.”
Perhaps Beyoncé was simply ignorant – perhaps she just didn’t know better. Born in 1981, she’s too young to have experience the evil heyday of the Black Panthers firsthand. But someone with so much power owes it to her public to educate herself. That wouldn’t have been too hard or time-consuming. All the information is out there, at her fingertips. One of her innumerable handlers and hangers-on could’ve done the research for her and handed her a file.
That, at least, is what we told ourselves after her Super Bowl fiasco. We were prepared to give Beyoncé the benefit of the doubt. But how can there be much doubt after what she did this past December 5?
The setting: the annual Sportsperson of the Year Award Show in New York. One of the awards presented that evening was Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. It is supposed to go to “individuals whose dedication to the ideals of sportsmanship has spanned decades and whose career in athletics has directly or indirectly impacted the world.” The 2014 winner was longtime L.A. Laker Magic Johnson, one of the great basketball players ever – a three-time NBA MVP, a 12-time NBA All-Star, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and of the gold-winning 1992 U.S. Olympics team. He has also proven to be a terrific businessman, with an eponymous conglomerate worth $700 million, and has been a devoted AIDS activist.
In 2015, the winner was golfer Jack Nicklaus, of whom we could supply an equally impressive résumé. In 2016, the honor was shared by a trio of glittering names from athletic history: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, and Bill Russell. This year, the prize went to Colin Kaepernick, who spent five years as a middling player for the San Francisco 49ers. Most Americans had not heard of him until August 26 of last year, when he took a knee during the pre-game playing of National Anthem. This became a habit. And it grew infectious. It spread to other football teams, and other professional sports, and even to college and youth games.
Kaepernick’s explanation for the action, as we noted a year ago, was that Kaepernick, “whose biological father was black and biological mother white,” and who “was raised in Wisconsin by adoptive white parents,” was protesting the supposedly systematic mistreatment of blacks in America. We pointed out that Kaepernick, this self-styled victim of racial oppression, lives in a mansion, and that at the press conference at which he explained his knee-taking, he wore a t-shirt featuring pictures of Malcolm X with Fidel Castro.
Now, maybe in some sense Kaepernick is a perfect winner for an award named for Muhammad Ali, because the legendary heavyweight was also a fan – indeed, a friend – of Fidel Castro and Malcolm X. But his selection was a slap in the face to athletes who are real role models, and Beyoncé’s involvement in the awards ceremony was yet more proof of her ignorance about the world and ingratitude for American freedom. Presenting the prize to Kaepernick, she said: “Colin took action with no fear of consequence or repercussion, only hope to change the world for the better. To change the way we treat each other – especially people of color. We’re still waiting for the world to catch up. It’s been said that racism is so American that when we protest racism, some assume we’re protesting America.”
On the contrary, study after study has shown that America is among the least racist of all countries. Young Americans nowadays are so ill-educated that many of them think America was the only nation ever to have slavery; in fact, its distinction is that it was the one major country that fought a civil war to free slaves. In any event, a question: in exactly which way has Kaepernick changed the world for the better? What has he done except to take the U.S. flag, a symbol of unity amid diversity – e pluribus unum – and turned it into an occasion for destructive dissension and unfounded accusation.
It is good to report that this handing over of a presumably important award by one fool to another did not go uncriticized. “They just turned Muhammad Ali’s Legacy Award into toilet paper,” said Kevin Jackson on Fox News. And another Fox News contributor, Tomi Lahren, tweeted: “Police-hating Beyoncé presents police and America-hating Kappy with a ‘legacy’ award. This is how far we’ve fallen.”
Time again, kids, for our annual top-ten list. As before, these aren’t necessarily the worst human beings we covered last year; they’re people whose deplorable activities stood out in some way or another. One more thing: this time around, we’ve decided to forego the old cranks and creeps and focus instead on relatively youthful stooges – young-to-middle-aged characters who are especially worth keeping tabs on because their most high-profile and influential stoogery probably lies ahead of them…alas. Anyway, here goes:
To quote Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Max Blumenthal“is quite simply one of the most biased, anti-Semitic, terrorist-defending, Israel-has-no-right-to-exist haters out there.” And here’s what fellow leftist Eric Alterman had to say about Max’s 2013 anti-Israel screed Genesis: “this book could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club.” The vile spawn of ethically bankrupt Clinton lackey Sidney Blumenthal (one of the slimiest operatives ever to set foot inside the Washington Beltway), Sonny Boy routinely equates the Jewish state with Nazi Germany; this year he praised a massacre of IDF soldiers by Hamas commanders. In short, he’s as low as they go – and a dyed-in-the-wool chip off the old block.
In 2016, while other fans of chavismo hid in shame as the system they’d celebrated brought the Venezuelan economy to its knees, British activist Nick Dearden was actually cheering what he described as that country’s “food revolution.” What on earth was he talking about? Answer: a new law that bans genetically modified seeds and prohibit the sale to corporations of “indigenous knowledge” in the field of agriculture. The result, Dearden enthused, would be “a truly democratic food system” that made the Bolivarian Republic “a beacon of hope.” Tell that to all the people who are eating their pets and breaking into bodegas to steal bread.
When Occupy Wall Street went bottom-up, blame focused largely on Malcolm Harris, a founder of the movement who’s been accused by fellow left-winger Mark Ames of exploiting OWS to “build his own brand.” Meaning what? Well, when leaders of Occupy Redlands in California invited Harris to give a lecture, they heard back from a speakers’ agency: the fee would be $5,000, plus travel and hotel. This year Harris wrote a piece called “Who’s Afraid of Communism?” – a call for millennials to reject capitalism and take a fresh, “nuanced” look at Mao and Stalin. When the Revolution comes, will he still be allowed to charge five grand for a speech?
In June, we met chavismo enthusiast and former Bernie Sanders flunky David Sirota.Described by Newsweek in 2003 as “well schooled in the art of Washington warfare,” by the New York Times as a guy with a “take-no-prisoners mind-set” toward Republicans and centrists, and by election expert Nate Silver as a dude who plays “fast and loose with the truth,” Sirota wrote an article after the Boston Marathon bombing expressing the hope that the perpetrator was a white American. Like Dearden, moreover, Sirota has cheered Venezuela’s “economic miracle.” Of course, the only “economic miracle” in Venezuela is that the country, despite its massive petroleum resources, now has to import oil.
On August 26, San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick protested racism in America by refusing to stand up for the National Anthem before a game. This started a trend that has spread to a variety of sports at every level. Whatever one thinks of it, one part of this episode is unambiguously contemptible: at his press conference that day, Kaepernick wore a T-shirt covered with pictures of Fidel Castro and Malcolm X. The message was clear: the U.S. is a contemptibly racist nation and Cuba a model of racial harmony. Pure Communist propaganda, of course: in reality, aside from being a totalitarian state, Cuba is a country where intense racial prejudice is still a fact of life. Too bad Kaepernick is so ill-informed – and that his ignorance has given rise to such a divisive movement.
Last year, we wrote here about a garden party held by fashion designer Stella McCartney (Paul McCartney’s daughter) at her Manhattan home. The theme was “Cuba Libre.” High-profile guests, such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, Alicia Keys, and Liv Tyler, enjoyed Cuban treats and snapped selfies with two actors who’d been hired for the occasion to dress up as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
The Hollywood Reporter, Women’s Wear Daily, Vogue, and other major media found the whole thing just adorable; so did one after another of the leading fashion websites. One discordant note was sounded by Anna Quintana, a young Cuban-American style writer, who lodged this complaint: “I find it hard to process how a designer I have long admired…could feature a garden party with walking caricatures of Castro and Che Guevara, two figures that many, if not all, in the Cuban-American community would consider to be the epitome of cruelty.”
Why, indeed, would Stella McCarthy, who has spent her entire life enjoying all the privileges afforded to the daughter of the world’s richest musician, celebrate monsters like Fidel and Che, who, if her father had been Cuban, would likely have thrown him in prison or put him in front of a firing squad?
In his classic 1970 article “Radical Chic,” which we began looking at yesterday, Tom Wolfe identified the attraction of the cultural elite of forty-five years ago to totalitarian thugs like the Black Panthers – who sought to overthrow the U.S. government and replace it with a system just as brutal as Castro’s – as an example of nostalgie de la boue. Meaning what? Literally: “nostalgia for the mud.” The term refers to the attraction of many foolish people at the top of the ladder to those at the bottom of the ladder – and not just any of those at the bottom (certainly not the hard-working, law-abiding drudges), but those whom the people at the top view as the most exotic, colorful, violent, primitive, dangerous.
At this site, we’ve touched before on the Black Panthers – and on the perverse eagerness of many decent, civilized people to makes heroes out of them.
Last December, discussing a documentary about the Panthers by Stanley Nelson, we noted that the movie was nothing less than a group hagiography, presenting the Panthers as (in our words) “an endearing crew of human-rights activists who were devoted to charity work and whose repeated clashes with police reflected not any predilection to violence on their own part but the cops’ ferocity and racism.” The film’s cockeyed portrayal of the Panthers won cheers from film-festival audiences and from reviewers for places like the Hollywood Reporter.
It was Michael Moynihan of The Daily Beast who provided a reality check, pointing out that the Black Panthers, guided by “the revolutionary works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Chairman Mao, Comrades Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Che, Malcolm X, and other great leaders of the worldwide people’s struggle for liberation,” were responsible for innumerable “revenge killings, punishment beatings, purges, [and] ‘disappearances.’” In their official newspaper, they ranted about “racist imperialist faggot honkey[s],” ran paeans to Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-Sung, and Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.
And yet the crème de la crème of New York’s beau monde invited these people into their houses and dug into their pockets to contribute to their “cause.” How to make sense of it? Tune in tomorrow.
Colin who? For those who are not fans of American football, the name of Colin Kaepernick was, until recently, entirely unknown.
That changed on August 26, when the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers refused to stand up for the National Anthem at a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers.
His explanation: the U.S. oppresses black people. Kaepernick, whose biological father was black and biological mother white, was raised in Wisconsin by adoptive white parents who took him into their family after losing two children to heart defects.
Pretty much everybody in the football world had an opinion about Kaepernick’s action. So did countless politicians and commentators. Most acknowledged the obvious fact that Kaepernick has a right to his opinion and a right to decide not to stand up for the National Anthem. Views differed, however, on whether his opinion was correct.
Some compared him favorably with Muhammed Ali, who was stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. Writing in The Guardian, Les Carpenter described Kaepernick as “a rare, strong football voice on social issues.” Others echoed these judgments.
Then there were those like Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who served in the Army in Afghanistan, and who in response to Kaepernick’s action told ESPN that the U.S. is the best country in the world. “I just know that I am very thankful to be an American. I will stand very proudly, and I will sing every single line in the national anthem every single time I hear it,” he said. “I will stop whatever I am doing, because I recognize that I have to be very thankful to be in this country.” Kaepernick’s birth mother spoke up against him, too, tweeting that “there’s ways to make change w/o disrespecting & bringing shame to the very country & family who afforded you so many blessings.”
Critics were also quick to point out that the country whose anthem Kaepernick refuses to honor has made him rich. Photographs of his 4600-square-foot San Jose mansion, which he bought in 2014 for $2.7 million, appeared all over the media. Accusations of hypocrisy and ingratitude swirled. And anger mounted among gridiron junkies. How could a man to whom his country had given so much treat its flag with such disrespect? Had he given no thought to the innumerable members of the American military who were no longer able to stand for the anthem because they’d lost their legs on the battleground fighting under that flag?
The story seemed about to die down when more information materialized. In a widely quoted story, sports blogger Terez Owens wrote that it was actually Kaepernick’s girlfriend, Nessa Diab (known popularly as Nessa), a devout Muslim, Berkeley grad, and You Tube star turned MTV personality, who had talked him into staying seated for the anthem. Football experts offered another theory: Kaepernick is a third-string QB whose performance on the field has been less than stellar; was his anthem sit-down a desperate effort to force the front office to keep him on the roster, for fear that firing him might be construed as punishment for his opinions?
Then there was the T-shirt. Kaepernick held a locker-room press conference after his fateful action. He was wearing a T-shirt. And not just any T-shirt. This one featured several pictures of Fidel Castro with Malcolm X.
Apparently, then, Kaepernick is a fan of the murderous Cuban dictator. Like a considerable number of other people in the Western world, he would seem to have a rosy – and deeply misinformed – picture of Cuban life under Castro. The preponderance of immediately available evidence suggests that he is one of many millions, indeed, who have bought the Cuban line that the Castro regime, among many other magnificent accomplishments, has created a colorblind society. Alas, that is a lie. A big one. In fact, official racism is fierce in Cuba. President Obama even mentioned it in his Havana speech last March. The other day, Mark Hemingway, in a piece about Kaepernick, cited a 2013 New York Times article whose headline says it all: “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun.”
(Of course, to the extent that the headline hints that Cuba’s revolution has benefited anybody other than Cuba’s elite, that’s a problem. But it’s also a blog entry for another day.)
So it goes. Colin Kaepernick won’t stand up for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the National Anthem of the democratic nation in which he lives and thrives far beyond the imagining of most people on this planet. But he wears with apparent pride an item of clothing celebrating a man who has oppressed an entire country for over half a century, denying its citizens even the most basic elements of freedom and human rights, all the while cruelly punishing dissenters with imprisonment, torture, and even execution.
We can only hope that Kaepernick will soon supplement his athletic skills with a more sophisticated and comprehensive understanding of the very real differences between the U.S. and Cuba. And that, if he doesn’t, the young people who look up to him as a sports hero will know better than to adopt his benighted political views.
We’ve been taking a look at the history of The Nation during the Cold War, when it was, as the phrase went, “anti-anti-Communist.” Practically speaking, to be sure, there was little if any difference between The Nation‘s “anti-anti-Communism” and robust advocacy for (or, at the very least, defense of) Communism. Routinely, The Nation‘s editors and contributors wrote about the U.S. and USSR as if their people had, quite simply, chosen different systems, just as you might order a Coke and your best friend might order a Pepsi. And while The Nation tended to dance around the question of whether the Soviet system was inherently oppressive, it had no qualms about stridently denouncing the supposedly intrinsic evils of American capitalism – and supporting America’s enemies, the more tyrannical, it sometimes seemed, the better. In the 1970s, for example, it ran Noam Chomsky‘s defense of the Khmer Rouge from charges of genocide and supported the rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Among the other postwar-era low notes reprinted in The Nation ‘s special centennial issue: in a 1988 editorial, the Nation actually endorsed world-class shakedown artist and Castro crony Jesse Jackson for president of the United States – this, in the midst of Jackson’s public enthusiasm for Jew-baiting, gay-bashing Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan (whom Malcolm X’s own relatives publicly accused of complicity in his assassination) and in the wake of Jackson’s own disgusting reference to New York City as “Hymietown.”
Then there’s gay rights. The Nation presents itself today as having always been at the forefront of the struggle for gay equality; but for years, in fact, its contributors were consistently, fiercely opposed to same-sex marriage, gays in the military, and other forms of what they considered gay “assimilation” into bourgeois institutions. In their view, the proper socialist objective was not to achieve equal rights for gay people in mainstream capitalist society, but to marshal marginalized gay people as far-left storm troopers in the battle to overthrow mainstream capitalist society. The anniversary issue reprints part of a typically jejune 1994 article by Tony Kushner that sneeringly rejects gay marriage and calls for gay people to be true to utopian socialist ideals of “liberation.” (It is instructive, by the way, to compare the complete original article – which can be found here – to the expurgated version served up in the anniversary issue.) The bottom line about The Nation and gay rights is that Kushner and other gay stalwarts at the magazine fought tooth and nail against the social changes that have enabled gay Americans to live and thrive openly with far less difficulty than they could a generation ago; yet now the magazine happily, and deceitfully, takes a big chunk of the credit for those very changes.
When the Iron Curtain fell, millions of Eastern Europeans wept with joy and rushed to embrace capitalism and democracy. But the folks at The Nation – like other stateside comrades of the Kremlin – offered no mea culpas and exhibited no shame. Quietly, they more or less dropped their longtime enthusiasm for the Kremlin down the memory hole. But they didn’t revise their poisonously anti-American attitudes, revisit their fierce hostility to the NATO policy of containment, or rethink their resounding contempt for the unapologetic pro-freedom rhetoric of Reagan and Thatcher, which they had repeatedly denounced as vulgar and dangerous. No, they just kept preaching their same old ideology, as if it had not been thoroughly discredited. They even allowed Mikhail Gorbachev, in a 2009 interview with Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel and hubby Stephen F. Cohen, to cast himself as the hero of the end of the Cold War – and to depict the whole conflict, in the same old way, as a clash between two morally equivalent regimes. Entirely removed from the picture was the monstrous injustice and intrinsic evil of the Communist system, and the fact that that system ultimately came crashing down precisely because of its injustice and evil.
And what about 9/11 and its aftermath? We’ll move on to that disgraceful chapter of The Nation‘s history next time.
During the last couple of years, the wealthy and successful British comedian Russell Brand has been amusing himself by posturing as a crusading champion of the downtrodden and a heroic enemy of The System. Last July, Sean McElwee wrotein Salon that “Russell Brand may be the most famous anti-capitalist in the world.” Last year, Brand toured with a stand-up show entitled Messiah Complex, in which, as he told Jimmy Fallon in an interview,he talked “about people like Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Gandhi and Jesus and what made them such splendid fellows.” Che, Brand elaborated, “worked very hard and did some great things for ordinary people.” Fallon, disgracefully, agreed: “Absolutely, yes! You need more people like these people.”
Yes, more people like Che, who set up Cuba’s first forced-labor camp, ordered over 500 summary executions of ideological opponents, arranged with Khrushchev to bring nuclear missiles to Cuba, and was the person most responsible for the destruction of the formerly thriving Cuban economy.
Last year Brand also came out with a book, Revolution, in which he described himself as “a big fan of Castro and Che Guevara” and called Che “dear, beautiful, morally unimpeachable.” Michael Moynihan’s review of the book for The Daily Beast was aptly headlined “Russell Brand’s Revolution For Morons.” Revolution, Moynihan wrote, is “a meandering and pretentious mélange of student politics, junk history, and goofy mysticism.”
Not long after Moynihan’s review, exiled Cuban writer Humberto Fontova weighed in on Brand’s Che-worship. Refuting the romantic notion of Che as a dedicated revolutionary who cared nothing for creature comforts or the products of capitalism, Fontova quoted a vivid description of Che’s beachfront mansion:
The mansion had a boat dock, a huge swimming pool, seven bathrooms, a sauna, a massage salon and several television sets….One TV had been specially designed in the U.S., and had a screen ten feet wide and was operated by remote control. This was thought to be the only TV of its kind in Latin America. The mansion’s garden had a veritable jungle of imported plants, a pool with a waterfall, ponds filled with exotic tropical fish and several bird houses filled with parrots and other exotic birds. The habitation was something out of A Thousand and One Nights.
Fontova said that he wouldn’t bother debunking “Brand’s idiocies on Cuba” except for one fact: those idiocies, as it happens, “perfectly mirror the ‘enlightened,’ even the mainstream, version of Cuban history, however amazing and asinine it sounds to actual Cubans who lived it or to any person who bothers to investigate the issue beyond what issues from Castro’s agents of influence, on the payroll and off.”
Among other things, Brand echoes the familiar line that Castro actually improved conditions in Cuba; on the contrary, writes Fontova, Cuba under Batista had “a higher per capita income than half of Europe, the lowest inflation rate in the Western Hemisphere, the 13th lowest infant-mortality on earth and a huge influx of immigrants.” Nor was the country anything like the wholly owned subsidiary of the U.S. government and/or U.S. corporations that Brand thinks it was (an image promoted for decades by the media, and by movies like Godfather II): “in 1959 U.S. investments in Cuba accounted for only 14 per cent the island’s GNP, and U.S. owned companies employed only 7 per cent of Cuba’s workforce.”
Part of Brand’s self-branding as a revolutionary on multiple fronts has been his clothing business. He sells his own line of sweatshirts, which, he has claimed, are made in the UK, with all profits going to charity. This now turns out to be untrue. On June 5, the Mail reportedthat the shirts are, in fact, made in Bangladesh by workers earning 25p an hour and working up to eleven hours a day, and that only £1.37 of the purchase price of a £65 sweatshirt goes to charity. And apparently what counts as “charity” in this case is the Trew Era, a “trendy East London cafe” owned by Brand himself that opened in March of this year. His lawyers, responding to the Mail‘s disclosures, describe the cafe as a “community social enterprise project.” Last year, noted the Mail, the website of Brand’s schmatta business “said the money from his merchandise would go to the Russell Brand Foundation”; this statement no longer appears on the site, and British authorities that oversee charitable enterprises have no record of the existence of any such foundation.
To be sure, it could be argued that Brand is actually doing his Bangladeshi sweatshirt-makers a service – he’s providing them with jobs, however menial and poorly paid, that are better than nothing and that may prove to be a stepping-stone to something better. And, on a larger level, the sweatshops they work in, which also produce apparel for major UK labels, may represent a step toward a stronger economy for Bangladesh. But that’s precisely the kind of argument that Brand has been shooting down for a couple of years now in his fatuous rants against capitalism and globalization.
Unsurprisingly, critics of Brand responded to the news of his Bangladesh sweatshop by calling him a hypocrite. And they’re right. If this isn’t hypocrisy, what is? Nor is this the first time he’s faced accusations of hypocrisy. Last December, for example, while taking part in a rally for more affordable housing in London, he “flew into a rage” when Channel 4 reporter Paraic O’Brien suggested that Brand himself “was part of the housing problem because the super-rich buying up property in London were driving up prices for everyone else.” His own £2 million home “in trendy Hoxton, east London,” it emerged, was “owned by a firm based in a tax haven.”
Perhaps it was British columnist Nick Cohen, writing in October 2013, who served up the definitive verdict on Russell Brand:
He writes as if he is a precocious prepubescent rather than an adolescent: a child, born after the millennium, who can behave as if we never lived through the 20th century. He does not know what happened when men, burning with zealous outrage, created states with total control of “consciousness and the entire social, political and economic system” – and does not want to know either.