The Lack of Accountability of the Media - The Case of Russell Brand
© James Manning
In a shocking series of revelations, the British entertainment industry has to, yet again, answer some serious questions about enabling former comedian Russell Brand to abuse and mistreat women for more than a decade.
It’s been over a week since the allegations against Russell Brand surfaced, notably introduced by the former comedian and Hollywood star himself, by vehemently denying any wrongdoing and suggesting that the “baroque attacks” were part of a conspiracy of the media.
What followed since then was the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary Russell Brand: In Plain Sight, which shows evidence of Brand’s alleged abuse, rape, and controlling behaviour towards women from the mid-noughties till 2014.
I remember feeling a mixture of emotions when the story broke, thinking: ‘Not another one!' and, ‘How on earth has this been able to go untold for so long?’. I mulled over it for most of that week, devouring every emerging article and update on the story, unsure what to do with my feelings and where to put them. I felt exhausted by the end of the week.
I’d never been a fan of Brand, neither following him on social media nor showing much interest in his career. If you’d asked me what I knew him for, I’d have said that he was married to Katy Perry and lent his voice to Dr. Nefario in Despicable Me. I also wasn’t into Radio 2, so his show, one on which he laughed about exposing himself to a woman, went past me as well. I vaguely remember a now ex-boyfriend of mine watching his stand-up show on the telly, giggling along. I thought Brand was repulsive.
Years later, during lockdown, my partner showed me some of Brand’s videos, clips of the “reformed Russell", the spiritual guru, the activist, and the challenger of political mainstream culture. Although I still didn’t give him much time, I thought that this was someone I found more palatable than his earlier version, squeezed into skinny jeans and beehive hair that resembled an unsightly fire hazard.
Still unsure as to why this story bothered me so much, I gave in and watched the Dispatches documentary. After the first few seconds, I felt sick. There are throw-backs of Brand’s stand-up shows, imitating the gagging noises of a woman giving him a blowjob, then joking that he likes it best once the mascara runs down the woman’s face. Later, in the documentary, one of his victims describes the exact same scenario of her violent sexual assault, and I wanted to turn the program off. I encountered many more of those moments during the hour-long episode. In a most stomach-churning moment, the program reports that one of Brand’s relationships had been with a 16-year-old school girl, who was regularly ferried to the then over 30-year-old’s house - in a BBC car. At what stage, I ask myself repeatedly, did anyone think that this was acceptable?
© Getty Images
In the decade Brand rose to fame, and when his team was literally pimping women from the audience for him to have sex with, I was in my early twenties and in my heyday of going out, clubbing, and dancing until the early morning hours. Slowly dawning on me why I might feel so upset by the revelations, I noticed that this was also the time when I spent endless hours in crowded pubs and bars getting touched up, pinched, and groped by strangers. It happened so often that I thought it was normal. Shockingly, according to an article by the BBC, this sleazy culture was apparently just that: totally acceptable and good enough for prime-time TV and national radio shows. This leads me to believe that those gropers, pinchers, and sex pests on my nights out were potentially encouraged by so-called role models like Brand, who made a lucrative living out of sexually exploiting women. Surely, if a celebrity like Brand can get away with telling women in interviews that they should take off their knickers, that was a green light for many of his fans to do the same.
Ultimately, the biggest culprits in enabling Brand to his obscene reign for such a long time are the same agencies he attacked in his defensive statement, who are, ironically, the same people he worked for and took money from until recently. And while it’s great to see that some of these media channels, such as Channel 4, The Sunday Times, and The Times have worked hard to uncover years of Brand’s abusive behaviour, it begs the question of why so many agencies closed their eyes and therefore enabled it. The evidence in the documentary points to facts that people on his film sets, TV show crews, and pretty much most of his team were aware of the things he did. Most shockingly, a group of bystanders witnessed the attack on one of his victims but, despite her screams for help, did not come to her rescue.
Maybe that’s why, protected by the silence of many institutions and people, Brand was allowed to indulge in his narcissistic destruction for so long. And maybe, that’s why he appears to believe that he himself is a victim. In one of his first statements after the allegations were revealed, Brand says it had been an extremely distressing week for him. True to form, any distress he had caused to his victims is irrelevant to him.
As Brand joins the league of celebrity abusers, the one hope remains that maybe we have come some way since the beginning of the millennium, and there are fewer places and organisations where perpetrators in positions of power can hide. #metoo is not over yet. And sadly, it appears, in some creative circles, it has just started.