Russell Brand’s Under the Skin podcast series marks another step in his reinvention as a sincere intellectual and influential cultural figure. It is a role which his truly unique gifts of perception and articulation more than qualify him for, and which make him an appropriate host of a podcast that seeks to explore what is beneath the surface of the ideas and people that define today’s society.
Brand analyses and reshapes whatever his guest says into a bewildering but eloquent and poetic diagnosis of the world’s problems and the universe’s mysteries. He is seeking to reconnect and heal the ailments of an increasingly globalised and detached world, and the podcast makes for medicinal listening in this respect, opening up discussion rather than resorting to pure pessimism.
Discussions navigate between the realms of politics, philosophy and spirituality. He often makes links to his own experiences of battling and recovering from addiction, which along with his ever forceful, rambunctious sense of humour makes sure the show never feels too stiffly academic.
The podcast is not only interested in calling out the establishment but often forces its listeners to genuinely question themselves and the existence they inhabit. Indeed, this is not just a show to indulge in self-righteous liberal outrage – Brand succeeds in provoking important, if sometimes uncomfortable, reflection.
An episode with Simon Amstel asks us to imagine what kind of childhood Trump must have had, whilst another looks at the way big corporations run the world. There is an interesting exchange about the humanity present at these top levels of business, and the show manages to demarcate the boundary between yourself and the typically easy-to –blame elite. You are forced to confront your responsibility in sustaining a world and system in which Trump, terrorism and inequality flourish.
However, Brand’s self-proclaimed narcissism can at times hinder the show. In some episodes, the guest will struggle to make themselves heard over the host’s self-indulgent ranting. The people who suffer the most from this treatment are the female guests infrequently invited to the show. It is slightly disheartening that someone so seemingly conscientious about social and gender inequality is still not capable of respecting their right to speak up.
The lack of diversity in guests is also a problem for the show. It is ironic that out of nearly fifty guests, less than ten have been non-white, despite Brand’s fascination for non-western philosophy and economic models. His narrow selection pool for guests is something of a hindrance on this quest for enlightenment.
In spite of the show’s flaws, however, Brand’s charisma and insight make addressing the world’s maladies and enigmas an enjoyable listen. Under the Skin is a stirring and entertaining tool to help us make sense of the world.
Image: Kafuffle via Wikimedia Commons