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The Case Against Russell Brand
When the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial concluded a year or so ago, I thought we were done with accusations of sexual misconduct against middle-aged men who dress like they are in an Aerosmith cover band. Apparently not. This week, Russell Brand finds himself on the receiving end of a report by a coterie of British publications alleging that Brand committed sexual assault against four women, one of whom was sixteen, between the years 2006-2013.
The charges are not particularly surprising considering Brand’s reputation for, shall we say, licentiousness. Over the years, he has been publicly accused of being a sexual predator by his former Roast Battle co-star Katherine Ryan, as well as by fellow comic, Daniel Sloss, who accused Brand of raping a friend. The singer Danii Minogue, after appearing on Brand’s MTV show 1 Leicester Square in 2006, “He is completely crazy and a bit of a vile predator. I certainly don’t think he has cured his sex addiction, that’s for sure. He wouldn’t take no for an answer.” Brand’s former wife, Katy Perry, has also made cryptic comments about him, saying about their divorce “I felt a lot of responsibility for it ending, but then I found out the real truth, which I can’t necessarily disclose because I keep it locked in my safe for a rainy day.”
Before the accusations were aired on the Channel 4 show called Dispatches, Brand put out a video statement “absolutely refuting” the charges. He acknowledged his promiscuity during those years but insisted that any relationships he had were “absolutely, always consensual.”
I have no idea what the truth is, although I’m biased towards believing the charges given what is already publicly known about Brand. I was, however, surprised to see so many people immediately jumping to his defense. “Crimes of that kind of nature should be investigated by the police, not media outlets,” said one man in a video posted to Twitter, “You’ll have to forgive me for not trusting what they say.”
And that seems to be the crux of Brand’s defense, articulated by Brand himself who questioned: “Is there another agenda at play? Particularly when we’ve seen coordinated media attacks before like with Joe Rogan when he dared to take a medicine that the mainstream media didn’t approve of… I’ve been aware that you guys have been saying in the comments for a while, ‘Watch out, Russell, they’re coming for you, you’re getting too close to the truth.’”
What truth is Brand getting too close to that “the mainstream media” is trying to silence him with bogus sexual assault charges? If you’ve spent any time at all watching clips of Brand’s show online, you know his politics are a conspiratorial vichyssoise of anti-government, anti-corporate, anti-globalist beliefs that sometimes drift so far left that they loop around and join hands with the fringe right. His fan base seems to overlap with much of the alternative manosphere who get their news and opinions from people like Joe Rogan, Andrew Tate, Jordan Peterson, and Brand himself.
To believe that the British media is out to destroy Brand, one has to believe that they care enough about what he’s saying to feel threatened. The problem is, he’s not saying very much at all. Don’t get me wrong, Brand never seems to shut up, but none of it amounts to very much. There’s no coherent Brand philosophy or Brand political movement or Brand agenda. Brand isn’t leading any sort of popular uprising. He’s not saying anything particularly novel or incendiary. To believe Brand is a threat to anything or anybody apart from the women he is left with alone in a room, one would have to feel threatened by an aucioneer Jim Morrison because that is what Brand most closely resembles. He’s just a guy in leather pants saying a lot of words that don’t add up to much.
This is a typical Brandian run-on sentence from an intro to a show he hosted about a month ago:
“You know what we’re interested in is bringing people together, having conversations that are difficult with people that you don’t agree with on everything but you do agree with on some things, respecting alternative views, finding news to cooperate and collaborate to bring about the maximum amount of freedom for the maximum number of people, respecting the opinions of people you disagree with and finding ways that we can work together.”
That’s a lot of whipped air. Brand is very good at filling space with words but he’s not very good at articulating anything substantive or long-lasting. Hardly the type of person one would think the British media would conspire together to bring down.
What’s interesting to me about this case isn’t the nature of the charges. What interests me is that Brand is co-opting the familiar “They’re trying to destroy me because they’re scared of me” defense made popular in recent years by Donald Trump. It’s an appealing argument because, through rhetorical alchemy, it spins previous misdeeds into acts of martyrdom. “I may have committed some minor transgressions in the past,” this argument goes, “But whatever my sins may have been, they pale in comparison to the power of the sinister forces arrayed before me now. If they can take me down, what hope do you have, Joe Sixpack, when they decide to come for you?”
One can understand the appeal of this type of argument. After all, haven’t we all done things for which we are not proud? Haven’t we all screwed up in one way or another? Haven’t we all occasionally stepped outside the bounds of propriety and good taste? Haven’t we all said or done things we wish we could take back? With Big Brother watching everything and everybody, how long will it be before they come for me, just like they’re coming for ol’ Rusty Rockets (Brand’s Twitter nom de plume)?
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Despite his hand-waving and necklace shaking, the truth is, very few celebrities have had their careers ruined – or even derailed – by accusations such as these. If anything, these sorts of charges have become something like a rite of passage among those in Brand’s current set, kind of like when Henry Hill first gets sent to prison in Goodfellas.
The sad truth about #MeToo is that, once victims began to feel more empowered to speak up against powerful men, the shock value began to wear off and, for many, the long litany of complaints began to feel like Chicken Little warning of the falling sky. People stopped paying attention. And so it will mostly likely go with Russell Brand. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the charges only enhance Brand’s standing with his new audience. Nobody’s out to get you, Russell. Nobody cares about your warmed-over Chomsky bullshit. The papers just want to stir things up and put a couple bucks in their pockets. Just like you.
As for the women, they will most likely be tossed aside when this news cycle dries up. And the band plays on.