Opinion: It seems that the diaphanous film of charisma has been peeled away to reveal the man beneath
The early 2000s are oft characterised along the arch of a pencil-thin eyebrow, pop starlets in low-rise jeans, and risqué reality shows. Jackass reigned supreme, cancel culture wasn’t a thing and the Kardashian concept was a zygotal glimmer in Kris Jenner’s eye.
It was in this veritable Mecca of Juicy Couture, third-wave feminism, and the fall of the dot-com boom that Russell Brand,48, burst onto our screens – a capricious, Glam Rock Christ-alike who sounded like a coked-up cabbie who had swallowed a thesaurus.
Those who bought into the ideologue of Brand appreciated his behemoth character, his clothing style, and the way he could convey both self-depreciation and egoism. His antics on-screen, including urinating on the street in broad daylight, nodding out on heroin, and engaging in ‘light-hearted’ misogyny earned him lucrative contracts with the UK’s most reputable media houses. Career progression that would take most people over a decade to achieve was handed to the Essex-born comedian faster than he could p*** his own pants in public.
Looking back on old clips of Brand, it’s easy to identify his lycanthropic nature, thinly veiled with an ‘everyman’ wit. His career has taken twists and turns, his personal rhetoric shifting to demand much like a snake would shed its skin.
Russell was a national treasure on Big Brother’s Big Mouth, told blow-job jokes onstage, and fashioned himself as the unofficial spokesperson of 12-step programmes (which officially, doesn’t have a ‘leader’); earning him several book deals in the process. The adulation-soaked larvae that were Brand soon hit the Hollywood red carpet, after a brief but widely publicised marriage to Pop singer Katy Perry. Stepping away from the glitz of Hollywood, in 2014 the actor metamorphized into a self-styled political commentator – scooping up the student left demographic and meeting with politicians. A dream come true for a man with a troubled past, addiction issues, and a CV steeped in controversy. The 48-year-old had landed – with calls for him to ‘run for Prime Minister’ and ‘sort the country out’. He could talk on any subject, debate social justice, call out corruption – a noble vocation for a man who appropriated an array of Indian traditions to make a splash at his celebrity-studded wedding four years earlier.
Currently, Russell emulates controversial yoga master Bikram Choudhury with his ‘spiritual guru’ status online- giving insights into ‘Igniting inner energy’ and ‘Fortitude, Forgiveness and Love’. Brand now denounces fame – calling it ‘ashes in his mouth’ whilst simultaneously keeping alive a platform with scores of devoted followers and well-known podcast guests.
Throughout his career, the media personality made no secret of his sexual antics, and claims from co-workers paint him as a sexually insatiable, mentally unstable predator. His stand-up comedy often took the form of lurid accounts of his many conquests. People gasp in shock
now, but a little over a decade ago Brand’s humour filled out venues, got him gigs, and kept him in the limelight. Much like a child accustomed to praise – his career reached an apotheosis with the increasing approval of the crowd. In any other setting, an individual with such a track record wouldn’t be offered a contract –let alone their own dressing room. But as observed since the advent of the MeToo movement; predators are given a gilded platform in the entertainment industry.
From the outside, it seems that actors, directors, and significant television personalities move within an ethical palimpsest – a world with morally sound shop-front dressing and a crooked interior. Women within the industry are often vilified for speaking out, and loyal fans guard
the alleged abuser with the overused adage ‘innocent until proven guilty’. It is a convenience then, that those who are proven guilty by the judicial system fall into the one per cent.
What we see now, twenty years on from the garish lighting of the noughties- is a clear pattern: perpetrators change, and corporate claims plausible deniability.
As police now launch investigations into Russell Brand’s alleged conduct throughout his career, it seems that the diaphanous film of charisma has been peeled away to reveal the man beneath it. His comedy is consumed from a fresh angle, and social media conversations show the public has aligned with their respective stance. If the podcast host really has an incurable personality disorder, could we argue that it was the duty of his employers to make responsible choices based on repeated evidence of unhinged behaviour? Brand’s agency might not hold up to scrutiny if examined too closely.
If we want to see real progress – accountability needs to be placed not only on Russell, but those who employ him, those who propel him, and those who facilitate him. Or efforts to educate and make changes won’t permeate – there will just be yet another story hitting headlines, with another set of alleged victims.