#2. Russell Brand
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Yes, I mean the same Russell Brand you think I mean -- English comedian and actor, sorta musician, shaggy beatnik, and dude who maybe would bang your mom if he had a few minutes with your back turned. I don't mean that in a derogatory way; he just strikes me as the kind of guy who would fuck my mom.
I spent a good deal of time justifying the presence of Stephen Colbert on this list for his humorous contributions to the betterment of mankind, but I have to include Russell Brand not for his comedy, as it's hard to really support Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and instead for his earnest sincerity. I may be completely wrong, he may be a far more brilliant actor than I ever imagined and has snowed me completely, but when Russell Brand speaks, I believe him. And he speaks about things like people having value. He speaks about people deserving better than what they have.
What's remarkable about listening to Russell Brand advocate for the little guy and wax philosophical is that you can tell he's not taken seriously at first by those who give him a forum. He's a shaggy-haired miscreant who makes goofy faces and seems drunk all the time. But, agree with him or not, one only has to listen to him for at most five minutes to understand that he's not an idiot, and treating him like one is what makes him that much more profound.
In this MSNBC interview with Brand on their morning show, the three hosts clearly thought they were embarking on a puff piece with a foolish guest, but the absolute spanking Brand dishes out, the way he humiliates them with a smile on his face and good nature in his voice, is stunning. By two and a half minutes into the interview, it's clear that Brand is on another level, discussing the posthumous iconography of influential people like Gandhi, Jesus, and Malcolm X, while the morning show crew is still stuck in a realm where the color of his boots is fascinating. When they begin to discuss him like he's not in the room and then get his name wrong, he treats them like children and explains why their entire careers are pointless.
Brand routinely tries to drive home the point that what he is is not what causes happiness. He has fame and money, and that did not make him happy. He advocates for self-awareness, meditation, and an understanding of yourself and your place in the world you inhabit. But more than this, his concern is for removing old, narrowly focused power structures that only serve the minority -- he's a man who wants everyone to benefit from the policies we put in place, an idea at once so brilliant and yet so fundamentally opposed to what we accept as normal that it sounds insane, or people would derisively dismiss it as "socialist." Is it socialist (i.e., wrong) that everyone should benefit in a society? How can that be? That everyone is treated equally and fairly? Brand doesn't agree, and is using his fame and influence to try to spread that message, to get people to realize there are other ways, better ways, ways that may not even exist yet but can be created by us, because we don't live in someone else's world, we're not slaves to a greater authority. We're all citizens of the Earth, and we all deserve to be on equal footing. Amazing idea.
#1. Pope Francis
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As a devout sinner, I feel awkward singing the praises of the pope, but I can't help but admire this man. The idea of the Catholic Church being corrupt is so ingrained in us as a society, so cliche now, that to see a pope doing good things is almost stunning. You expect the pope to pay lip service to Catholic doctrine from high atop his bullet-proof Popemobile while he teeters and he totters like Jesus' forgotten Weeble. He says nothing that makes the world change, he does nothing that makes the world change. The church gets richer, people die of AIDS, children get molested, and man, there is no really proper punchline for this sentence.
Suddenly Pope Francis shows up, and what does the man do? He trash talks his own organization. Too much greed, too much corruption. Why do cardinals have expensive cars and big houses? You're supposed to live like Jesus did. Off to Detroit with you!
Pope Francis' tyrannical reign of good sense and humanity continued by suggesting that atheists can still go to heaven, because being good and being Catholic don't have to go hand in hand. You can be both, or just one or the other. Holy balls! For the first time in 2,000 years, a pope decides that maybe people of other religions are decent human beings also. Maybe people of no religion are decent. Maybe being good is just about being human and not everyone reading the same book.
"Have you read it? No? Then enjoy eternal fire in your dick hole."
While stuffy, old fart Catholics the world over reeled from Francis' proclamations, he tossed out a few more that dumbfounded everyone. He told the world the church is too obsessed with issues of gay marriage and abortion and that focusing on those puts doctrine ahead of what the church should be about, which is love and inclusion. What the hell does that mean? It means you don't have to support gay marriage, or abortion, or even condoms, but shut up about it and help the people who do support those things, because that's your fucking job. God loves lesbians, so stop being a dick and love them, too.
Now it even looks like Pope Francis leaves the Vatican at night to minister to the poor on the streets, giving them money and food while in disguise as a normal priest. He puts his thurible where his mouth is, and it's kind of amazing. This man just wants everyone to be good to everyone else. How insane is that? How can people still criticize him for it, too? It's pretty crazy, but here's hoping he's able to really open some eyes as he keeps on keepin' on.