Last fall, Russell Brand took a giant leap in his personal journey. He called for a full-on revolution to break humanity free from the political economic order that is currently extracting all the resources, crippling ecosystems, and forcing the world’s peoples into debt slavery.
If he is serious about this, Russell will need to become a culture designer.
We see what he is getting at. His call for a spiritual transformation of worldview and social values is an evolutionary step forward in our cultural systems. It is the place from which most “cause marketing” approaches fail to take account. Where mythic narratives are made real in the world as a manifestation of our collective perceptions. And as a source of real power if fully unleashed by the peoples movements of the world.
Russell has built his career on a series of successful “culture hacks”. He has been adeptly mashing up pop culture from his early days at MTV, on the talk shows that analyzed and deconstructed reality television, and during his stints as a comedic performer. He knows how to work with cultural elements to achieve many of his goals.
He has successfully built up a following by riding the waves of controversy around each drug-induced embarrassment—moving from a commentary on Big Brother to alignment with the messianic figures of Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Jesus Christ. These are powerful memes that make waves in culture. Russell has surfed them well and become a pop icon along the way. He knows how to create and spread idea viruses.
But culture hacking alone simply won’t cut it. He will need to do the much harder work of culture design if he wants to succeed at helping move the revolution forward. This means he will need to recognize the powers aligned against the agenda of his side. The current world order is maintained by a large number of powerful institutions that wield massive budgets to ensure the populace remains divided, confused and lacking in collective power.
Just one example, consider the company Edward Snowden worked for before becoming an NSA whistleblower—Booz Allen Hamilton. This company brings in $6 billion in revenue every year to support the military industrial complex. Their job is to engage in massive surveillance, predictive analytics, discourse analysis, and control of disruptive social movements. They contract with defense agencies and Fortune 100 companies to help maintain the status quo.
Companies like this must operate in a clandestine fashion to achieve their goals because the general public would find it appalling. The revolutionaries of the 21st Century world can operate in the open—with full transparency about what they hope to accomplish—and so the balance of power can truly flip in favor of the global majority.
Clearly Russell will not be able to act alone. How can he build a network of revolutionaries who collectively tip the scales on pop culture? This will require that the memes of revolution spread and mutate across the leading edges of business, fashion, celebrity culture, the arts, government, and activism. It will take coordinated effort and a common vision for what the new stories need to be. And it will require that each new wave of culture build on the success of what came before it.
So the question that remains is “Does Russell Brand want to get serious about culture design?” If so, there’s a lot of important work for him to do.
It will take coordinated effort and a common vision for what the new stories need to be. And it will require that each new wave of culture build on the success of what came before it. It will require a legion of culture designers.
Memes generated by:
B. Laszlo Karafiath Joe Brewer
Producer Research Director
Coming soon in this series…
Bill de Blasio — Riding the waves of Occupy in NYC