The Emperor’s New Clothes documentary review: working-class wonk

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The Emperor's New Clothes green light

Russell Brand’s angry-funny rant about the current system of widescale economic injustice is concise, comprehensible, and newly infuriating.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

In the funny-angry rant that is The Emperor’s New Clothes, comedian and activist Russell Brand reminds us that “Hans Christian Andersen didn’t say what happened to the cheats” who pulled a fast one on that emperor with the nonexistent clothes they made for him. But we know what happened to the banksters who crashed the global economy in 2008: Nothing. Well, nothing bad. They’ve continued to pay themselves enormous bonuses and live like the rules don’t apply to them. Because the rules actually don’t apply to them, not like they apply to you and me.

As Brand (Despicable Me 2, Rock of Ages) says as his entertaining tirade opens, this film — written and directed by Michael Winterbottom (The Face of an Angel, The Look of Love) — doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. But it does assemble the facts of our current system of widescale economic injustice in a way that is concise, comprehensible, and newly infuriating: How “free market” ideology has failed by making selfishness and greed the basis for the capitalist economies of the U.K. and the U.S. How our governments prop up corporate profits over human needs by subsidizing low pay with welfare benefits (and then how right-wing politicians encourage us to see our fellow citizens, and not those corporations, as slackers and scroungers). How the minimum wage hasn’t kept pace with CEO pay. How CEO salaries are clearly disconnected from performance (even though we’re encouraged to believe those CEOs deserves their outrageous paychecks). And on and on and on, a litany of economic unfairness that we are all desperately familiar with these days.

If you’re not a fan of Brand, this movie won’t change your mind about him: it is positively afire with his outsized personality, though he is at least self-deprecating. But as he travels from his hometown in working-class suburban London — which has always been, he says, “a bit of a dump,” though it’s even more impoverished now than when he was a kid — to the seats of power in London and New York, he brings a caustic passion to his insistence that “things can change, things do change”… but we have to work hard to push back against those in charge. Brand has gained a new notoriety in the U.K. recently for his revelation that he does not vote and does not think it does any good — and seeing how unwilling our leaders are to work for anyone other than the corporations, he makes a provocative point. He avoids that personal opinion here, but he does say — and he’s definitely correct about this — that voting alone isn’t enough. “People power,” by which he means marching in the streets and being publicly, vocally pissed off, is required. There are solutions to our economic problems that are not controversial and were at work during our most prosperous times ever, the 1950s and 60s — high tax rates on the rich and “boring” transparent banking, for example — but they’ll never happen again unless we push for them. Hard.

That’s a far more provocative stance to take, in an era when — as The Emperor’s New Clothes depicts — everyone who isn’t rich is overstressed, overworked (if we’re lucky to have a job), and exhausted. Who has the time or the energy for protest? But find the time we must.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of The Emperor’s New Clothes for its representation of girls and women.

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Fri, Apr 24, 2015 2:57pm

The workers’ revolutions didn’t start among the workers: they knew what they had to lose. They started among the idealists who hadn’t thought that far ahead.

When a million people marched in London against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, nothing happened. How big a march will it take for notice to be taken of it?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Sat, Apr 25, 2015 12:23pm

Yes, I wonder about these things too.

Thu, Apr 30, 2015 6:43am

““People power,” by which he means marching in the streets and being publicly, vocally pissed off, is required.”

I absolutely agree with this statement. That’s why I support the Tea Party movement which emerged due to anger over government bailouts like the Occupy movement. It’s a funny day when the actions taken by the government (privatizing profits while socializing losses) manages to outrage socialists and free market libertarians.

As for Russell Brand, he is busy distinguishing himself in his levels of douchebagery. He argues against the concept of profit while enjoying a salary several times larger than the gaffers who work longer hours on his films (talk about income inequality!). He supports the anti-Semitic BDS movement and denies the fact that Hamas uses children as human shields (Even though Hamas leaders themselves have readily admitted to doing this). His constant tendency to make gnomic statements about things he doesn’t understand. Pretty much the only thing about him that I like is the fact that he doesn’t vote.

Here’s a funny video where a reporter calls him out on his hypocritical bullshit:

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  David
Thu, Apr 30, 2015 3:12pm

He argues against the concept of profit

No, he doesn’t.

And pro-Palestine is not anti-Semitic.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sun, May 03, 2015 7:15pm

The BDS movement and supporting Hamas is not pro-Palestinian; it’s anti-Israel. There is a difference. I’m not accusing Russell Brand of being an anti-Semite, I’m saying he’s an idiot sticking his nose into a situation he knows nothing about.

Here is a direct quote from an interview between Brand and Jeremy Paxman on the BBC: “Brand: “I think the very concept of profit should be hugely reduced. David Cameron said profit isn’t a dirty word, I say profit is a filthy word. Because wherever there is profit there is also deficit. And this system currently doesn’t address these ideas.” source:

This childish and simplistic notion that one person’s success diminishes others is ridiculous. Wealth is not a finite resource that we all have to fight each other over. it’s a produceable quantity. If housing’s too expensive, build more houses. If healthcare’s too expensive, hire and train more doctors and nurses. If Russell Brand wants to help out the poor, he can use some of his money to build some homes or send some poor kids to college, but instead he’s decided he’s going to guide the little people in a revolution that he thinks he’ll be insulated from. This is the same mentality as celebrities urging us to reduce our carbon footprint while flying around the world in private jets. Personally, I don’t feel the need to be lectured by people who live their lives in a bubble about how things work in the real world.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  David
Sun, May 03, 2015 10:29pm

Brand is from a working class background. He knows how things work in the real world. And it takes only a quick Google to discover that Brand does, in fact, give away lots of money to charitable concerns.

Wealth is not a finite resource that we all have to fight each other over.

I would suggest that this view is the simplistic one. It’s a nice idea, but this is not how things work.

Pablo Martin Podhorzer
Pablo Martin Podhorzer
reply to  David
Tue, May 12, 2015 1:41am

Wealth is not correlated to “success”. Wealth is correlated to ownership of means of production, whoever is the owner, a simple-minded 18 year old kid that inherits a vast conglomerate is wealthy, but I would not call him successful.

Rak S
Rak S
reply to  David
Sun, May 03, 2015 8:00am

LOL… It’s Brand who calls the reporter, and the elites that don’t really give a sh*t about ordinary people. The reporter tries to blindside him with a totally irrelevant question, rather than discuss the plight of the people who were threatened to be thrown out of there homes!