After his sudden, saddening death last month, I started watching some clips of Rik Mayall. It seems poignant that this issue’s theme should be one of rebellion. There have been few actors who did more in their careers to stick two fingers up at the Johnny Oxbridge coterie which, more often than not, has formed the core of British comedy. Every inch the ‘post-punk’ actor (at least that’s what Wikipedia tells me), his roles in Young Ones and Bottom stank of cider-drenched teenage rebellion. As Flashheart (in Blackadder), he would swagger onto the scene, shout, inevitably twist someone’s bollocks, and exit, leaving the audience to remember that some of the greatest comic actors of a generation were still present.
Just as Rick’s and Flashheart’s refusal to behave as expected speaks to 2014’s ‘LAD’s and ‘Buzzfeed rebels’, it seems that Mayall’s grotesque MP, Alan B’Stard strikes a note with self proclaimed non-conformists on the right. Drained of satirical venom and excreted into reality, Mayall’s comic creations are the art which British counterargument now imitates. Their names are Nigel Farage and Russell Brand. Which of the below was said by a 2014 ‘rebel’, and which was said by a Mayall creation? Does it matter?
“To become a minister these days, all you have to do is put an ‘X’ in the box marked No Personality…”
“Definitely no killing. I’m against that; I’m a vegetarian, I think we’re all equal. I’m not saying smash people’s stuff up, and definitely no killing…”
This may seem like an effort to squeeze a couple of last drops from two of the most exhausted stories of the year, but when viewed through the lens of alleged rebellion, Farage and Brand take us to new depths of head shaking despair. Both are figureheads for groups of people equally yet differently disaffected by what they call ‘the political class’ – a term so overused and increasingly meaningless it could be this year’s ‘Live, Laugh, Love’. The anger of their ‘people’s armies’ at the elitism of politics is genuine and justified, but those armies could not have asked for more short sighted generals. Farage and Brand share more than their lip service to change.
What first catch the eye are the veneers which make the jobs of political cartoonists that much easier. Since the dawn of British political branding (arguably under New Labour), the rationally deduced functional value of political figures has become bound up with an emotional value which taps into the mood of the electorate (John White and Leslie de Chernatony). Farage and Brand, with their respective audiences have exploited the latter far more effectively than the former, and have harnessed the anger of Britain’s disaffected youth and or white, middle aged middle-Englanders with reassuring half-memories of a past that never existed.
Nigel Farage (whose mouth hangs agape like a tumble-dried Kermit the Frog) is a pin-stripe wearing public school alumnus who made millions in the City; a rebel whose main appeal is his alleged mundanity. Unlike the massaged images of his rivals, Farage has his own origin story, having cheated death three times. The pints and the fags give him an air of authenticity, whereas in reality, like ‘distressed’ Dad jeans from Next, he’s just as store-bought as every other politician. He is a hypocrite – politically speaking – criticising the lack of policies of his rivals without setting up more than one or two objectives of his own – and personally – biting the hand that feeds him. How else would Farage have paid for his bottles of Chinon other than by riding the EU ‘gravy train’ and siphoning off funds to fuel candidates who are at best threats to an inclusive vision of Britain. In interviews, he looks like he’s laughing at a joke that nobody else is in on. The punchline is that in a nightmare scenario whereby he wins any sort of meaningful representation, the mirage of his rebellion would disappear. It’s very easy to criticise without offering an alternative suggestion.
Which, incidentally, is exactly what this year’s other shimmering revolutionary does:
“I don’t get my authority from this pre-existing paradigm which is quite narrow and only serves a few people. I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity. Alternate means, alternate political systems.”
Quite what this other alternate political system is, Brand never really tells us. He’s proven to us this year that politics is no longer showbiz for ugly people. As if Mayall himself were starring in a Tim Burton wet dream, Brand’s I-don’t-vote-and-neither-should-you shtick is counterintuitive to any spirit of change or mass intelligent action. Brand lurches between rococo grandiosity and adolescent fury. He combines the sentence structure of a Cockney child with lots of big clever words to bamboozle his audience into buying his messiah complex. Like Nigel Farage he has a crowd and he knows exactly how to work it – mugging at the camera like moustachioed noir villains – they somehow manage to be twee and pompous at the same time.
Born again into the churches of themselves, they have both suffered falls and improbable resurrections. Farage and Brand blur the line between demographic and followers. Through dextrous sleights of hand they’ve managed to garner huge popularity for their causes (whether political or apolitical) on foundations of conveniently put together words rather than cogent ideas. It speaks volumes about the state of debate in the UK if these two figures best demonstrate serious mutiny, all whilst behaving as though they are deserving of our respect. To get a bit young fogyish here (but hey, in for a penny…) populist British ‘rebels’ can be summed up by the Edgar Allan Poe line that “invisible things are the only realities”. Alan B’Stard and Rick (and Flashheart) were a lot funnier when they weren’t real.
Bio: David Hodari is 22 and is currently studying for an MSc at the London School of Economics. From August he’ll be taking a Journalism Masters at the University of Southern California. He’d like to get a job when he grows up. You can follow him @davidhodari