Russell Brand was hard to miss when he was six feet tall and closer to seven when he got a hairspray-created beehive hairstyle. From around 2005, the comedian, presenter and wannabe politician dominated British society like a colossus in skinny jeans. He went from being a side presenter on Channel 4 to becoming a household name, presenting radio shows, writing columns and interviewing politicians. He married a pop star, broke into Hollywood and became a self-proclaimed revolutionary. All the while he boasted of an unbridled sexuality that was applauded by the press and punters.

Now several women have accused Mr. Brand of crimes including sexual assault and rape. An investigation by the Sunday Times and Channel 4 found two decades of misogynistic behavior ranging from criminality to harassment of junior staff. (Mr. Brand has not been charged and denies all allegations.) Although the most serious allegations are new, the vast majority of news coverage repeats the behavior that Mr. Brand once bragged about and was happily accepted by media executives, politicians and viewers. Mr Brand is the embodiment of a cruel, misogynistic and politically empty time that Britain would rather forget, but shouldn’t.

Enthusiastic cruelty characterized the British media in the noughties and 2010s. Mr. Brand enjoyed it. He gained national fame in 2008 after he called Andrew Sachs, who played Manuel in “Fawlty Towers,” a 1970s comedy, and bragged about having sex with the actor’s granddaughter. The recording was then broadcast on BBC Radio 2. Mr Brand was forced to resign by the BBC. He had crossed a line. “There is no line,” he wrote afterwards. “People draw that line afterwards to screw you over.”

It’s easy to see why he thought that. British television was enjoying torture at this point. “Little Britain,” a sketch show featuring grotesque caricatures, was the dominant comedy of the time. Two decades after its release, audiences now cringe at the black faces and incessant cruelty. Back then people loved it. His characters were household names. Vicky Pollard, an idiot, became the face of the British working class: fat, lazy and fertile. Cherie Blair, Sir Tony Blair’s wife, said it was the family’s favorite show. Sir Tony discussed performing for charity.

The newspapers are full of horrified references to jokes Mr. Brand made on stage in sold-out halls and on television in front of millions of viewers. In one, he bragged about his fondness for “those blowjobs where the mascara runs a little.” The jokes were praised back then. Britain was, after all, a pleasantly misogynistic country. The Sun awarded Mr. Brand the title of “Shagger of the Year” for the third year in a row. It ran for a long time on page three: topless women. Anyone who expressed criticism was persecuted. When Clare Short, a former Labor cabinet minister, complained, the newspaper photoshopped her face onto a topless woman. The headline called Ms Short “fat and jealous”. The section was only discontinued in 2015.

Among the most shocking allegations is an allegation that Mr Brand sexually abused a teenager when a BBC car picked up the 16-year-old from school. During their relationship, Mr. Brand referred to her as “the child.” When it came to women, the attitude in the media was “the younger the better.” In 2007, when another 30-year-old comedian was linked to a 16-year-old studying for her GCSE, the press gleefully portrayed it as a problem only because it might upset her father. “Soccer am,” a soccer show that peaked in the noughties, featured young women in skimpy soccer jerseys being interviewed and bombarded with innuendo. When asked their age, the audience shouted “Great age!” unless they were 18, in which case the crowd would simply cheer.

By 2014, Mr. Brand had transitioned from celebrity to wannabe politician. He published “Revolution,” a crazy manifesto that proposed banning any company whose revenue exceeds the gross national product of the smallest country (Tuvalu, at $60 million). The political debate was so empty that Mr. Brand was praised rather than rejected. Readers of the high-minded Prospect magazine voted him the world’s fourth greatest thinker of 2015. Mr. Brand was guest editor of the New Statesman (joking that he would rename it the Nude Statesman); Ed Miliband, then leader of the Labor Party, appeared on Mr Brand’s YouTube channel. It wasn’t as if Mr. Brand’s misogyny was unknown. It does not matter.

The nasty noughties

Nostalgia and amnesia combine to isolate Mr. Brand from an era he dominated. Popular memory of the noughties is reminiscent of a friendlier and more pleasant time. The economy grew. Social media was less important. “Adult” politicians have solved the issues of the day. The result is that the media bosses who coddled Mr. Brand and the politicians who grew accustomed to him are now dismissing him as an abhorrent exception rather than the norm.

He wasn’t an aberration. The audio of Mr Brand trying to arrange a meeting with Jimmy Savile, later exposed as a serial rapist, by offering him the chance to see his assistant naked sounds like a surreal parody. It was a real broadcast on Radio 2 in 2007. The decision to share it was “unbelievable”, says Lorraine Heggessey, a former BBC executive. Nevertheless, it was the spirit of the times. A few years earlier, Savile had appeared on the satirical television program “Have I Got News For You” and declared: “I am feared in every girls’ school in this country.” The audience laughed.

Putting Mr. Brand in this context is more of an explanation than an apology. Fortunately, Britain has changed a lot in the last decade. The unnecessary cruelty and casual misogyny have been dialed back. An obsession with teenage girls is now considered strange and not natural. The censorious and sometimes puritanical attitudes that prevail today are a reaction to the excesses of an earlier era dominated by Mr. Brand. Now Mr. Brand sits on the fringes of society, relegated to a modest audience on YouTube, depriving him of the right to make money from his videos. It’s comforting to remember that he was always there. But it’s wrong. ■

Source :

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *