Russell Brand and the dangerous myth of 'cancel culture'
BY TOM LOWE
TW: mentions of SA, rape
For over four years, The Sunday Times has been investigating instances of alleged sexual abuse committed by British media personality Russell Brand, publishing these allegations on the 16th September 2023 alongside a Channel 4 'Dispatches' documentary called "Russell Brand: In Plain Sight". The allegations are shocking, with five women claiming Brand emotionally abused, sexually assaulted, and raped them between 2006 and 2013. This was followed by various other women in the media industry recalling stories of Brand’s unsavoury and inappropriate behaviour, including: Brand asking TV presenter Vanessa Feltz if he could "have it off" with her or her daughters during a broadcast in 2006; publicly urinating in a bottle in the BBC Radio 2 studio in 2007; and exposing himself to a BBC employee in 2008.
Brand, who has recently remodelled himself as an anti-establishment wellness influencer, "absolutely refutes" the allegations, describing them as "baroque" and "astonishing" in a video posted to X (formerly Twitter) the day before the documentary came out. On the social media platform Rumble, Brand has attempted to change the narrative from a genuine media/police investigation to an act of aggression by the elites (of which he argues are Big Tech, Big Pharma, and the British Government), claiming they wish to silence him for speaking out against them.
In doing so, Brand has aligned himself (on social media at least) with controversial, if not disgusting, figures such as alleged rapist and human trafficker Andrew Tate, the warrior against wokeness Elon Musk, and Sandy Hook Elementary shooting denier Alex Jones. Tate and Musk both replied to Brand’s original video, with Tate saying that the ‘Matrix’ has attacked Brand for speaking out, and Musk arguing that mainstream media companies have gone after Brand because they "don’t like competition".
Now of course, it is important to wait for the Thames Valley and Metropolitan Police to conclude their investigations before making claims as to the innocence of Brand, but this article is not about the investigation. It is the fact that Brand seems to have had a premonition of these allegations coming forward and has moved to the Right to shield himself from harm. If Brand is found guilty, he will blame it on ‘cancel culture’ and woke forces out of his control that have been seeking to destroy him, just as Tate did with his human trafficking allegations, and how former President Donald Trump has been doing with the federal indictments against him in the United States.
The case of Russell Brand is not ‘cancel culture’, as so many of his fans and supporters have been saying. It is the process of justice – a victim comes forward and reports a crime, and the police investigate it. Blaming the allegations on woke elites and cancel culture runs a serious risk of derailing the investigation’s perceived legitimacy and opens the floodgates for offenders to use it as a defence.
This situation is reflective of the increasingly concerning mythology of cancel culture that is utilised by right wing commentators and politicians to try and push bigoted agendas. For example, the writer of "The IT Crowd and Father Ted", Graham Linehan, attracted attention in 2020 for his anti-trans activism on Twitter. Likening puberty blockers to eugenics used in Nazi Germany and scapegoating trans women for putting women at risk, Linehan blames cancel culture for losing him work and ending his marriage. However, he recently released a book called "Tough Crowd: How I Made and Lost a Career in Comedy" that details his struggles with cancel culture.
This showcases the hypocrisy of those who have weaponised the idea of cancel culture and wokeness to benefit themselves. If Linehan was, as he says, ‘cancelled’, how has he been able to release a book that has been trending on Amazon pre-orders? The same applies to ‘comedians’ Ricky Gervais and Jimmy Carr, who have started an annoyingly unfunny trend of prefacing their stand-up routines saying things along the lines of "I’m not allowed to joke about anything anymore!", and then will proceed to say the jokes that they aren’t allowed to say.
How does this relate to Brand? The very notion of there actually being a cancel culture comes more from people who have been ‘cancelled’ than those who allegedly cancel them. Russell Brand has not been cancelled; he is being investigated for several serious offences, and whilst he may be innocent until proven guilty, it is crucial that we do not let such abstract concepts as cancel culture cloud our judgement or the judgement of the investigators.
Cancel culture is less a tool of those who wish to cancel people, and more a tool of the cancelled. If it can be used to protect oneself in the court of public opinion whilst being investigated for sexual assault and rape, where do we, as a society, draw the line? For too long the worries and narrative around cancel culture have been the risk of restricting free speech. Instead it should be about how cancel culture risk diluting accountability for powerful people who break the law or act in bigoted ways.
Image: Flickr/Eva Rinaldi