A Strange Fusion
Like many others, here at 3rd Space we have been aware of the unravelling and retreat of Russell Brand in the face of familiar, but shocking allegations of rape and sexual assault by a male celebrity. Incidents that in this case allegedly occurred between 2003 – 2013.
Given Brand’s self-confessed battles with addictions spanning drugs, alcohol, and sex, along with his controversial, provocative, ‘in-your-face’ style, it could be argued that this was a dark secret just waiting to be exposed. What drew me to write about this tragic spectacle is the very complexity of Brand himself – the strange fusion of his lurid past, the gravity of the allegations, and the fact that over the last decade he has been a very public advocate for a shift in consciousness and culture, gaining many people’s trust.
Our culture is quick to condemn or exonerate, especially on issues that are emotive. When this occurs, complexity is obscured and potential creative responses to social behaviours, even violent ones, are hard to imagine. This is why Daniel Pinchbeck’s Open Letter to Russell Brand caught my attention.
We have no deficit of moral failures amongst our leaders. But we do have a deficit of fallen leaders willing to take full responsibility for their actions.
Faith in democracy, in justice in the rule of law, in our basic institutions, is being steadily eroded through a lack of integrity so often on display. The brazen capture of power by lobbyists whose agendas threaten our societies and very future, is barely concealed. It’s hard, in fact, not to succumb to the binaries so rampant in the modern world where blame and denial thrive; where black or white judgements are swiftly passed and ‘sides’ taken, prior to the establishment of guilt or innocence.
From ‘Bad-boy’ to Social Justice Champion
There are victories, however. And although there is so much farther to go, sexual assault and rape can no longer be swept aside or ignored. The world has changed radically since #MeToo drew a powerful red line under gender violence. Breaching even the ivory tower of the rich and famous, this movement tore open the formidable bubble of misogynistic abuse inhabited by men who had been protected by power and money for generations. Russell Brand was clearly part of the not-so-comedic ‘noughties’, where breaking ‘taboos’, being publicly sexually offensive, if not abusive, was considered cool & hip. His past is littered with dark episodes of this nature.
But people change. The evolution of Russell Brand’s life and consciousness has been in plain sight for years now. How deep this actually runs will no doubt be revealed as the story unfolds. Brand’s journey from UK comedian to presenter, to Hollywood star and celebrated ‘bad boy’, to becoming a powerful alternative media personality who has championed some of the most critical social, environmental, and political issues of the day, has been prolifically documented in his podcasts, radio shows, books, and media appearances.
What provoked this u-turn in Brand’s career and personhood was a spiritual awakening. In 2012 the Dalai Lama chose Brand to host a youth event in Manchester UK; a choice apparently based on Brand’s example of “the power of spirituality to effect change in his own life”. On his side, Brand described the Dalai Lama as “an amazing diplomat, an incredible activist, a wonderful human being and an inspiration to us all”.
Since his spiritual awakening, Brand’s spirituality has been truly eclectic, embracing Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, as well as contemporary gurus like Eckhart Tolle. His political views have been largely progressive, addressing social justice issues from the occupation of Gaza to the business affiliations of Hugo Boss in designing Nazi uniforms, to the failings of democracy today. He once stated, “the relationship between government, big business and factions of the media make it impossible for the democratic will of the people to be realised”. In 2009 he attended the economic protests of the G-20 London Summit.
Over the years Brand has interviewed an array of experts, activists, scientists, and academics including Vandana Siva, Noam Chomsky, Brene Brown, Paul Kingsnorth, Yanis Vanoufakis, Jordan Peterson, Heather Heying, Bret Weinstein, Nick Estes, Iain McGilchrist and a host of others on his podcast, Under the Skin. Tackling topics such as the corporate control of industrial food systems, global economics, and the environmental crisis, he has pursued philosophies and methodologies for social transformation and cultural change.
On a more personal level, mental health has always been close to Brand’s heart. He has never strayed from remembering his background as an addict. In 2015 he announced he would use money from sales of his book, Revolution, to open the Trew Era Café, a non-profit coffeehouse in London to be run by “abstinence-based” recovering addicts. At its opening Brand explained his vision of creating a chain of self-supporting social enterprises. “….the way to change politics is not depending on the existing political class and the existing political system, but for us ourselves to start grassroots movements…” Brand later donated the cafe to the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust.
A Swerve to the Right
For over a decade Russell Brand earned the trust of progressive, liberal audiences, including those on mainstream media such as the BBC, Channel 4, MTV, and the Guardian. However, during Covid, a shift occurred in his rhetoric toward the edges of conspiracy thinking. His online following ballooned exponentially. And in 2022 Brand moved his channel to Rumble, the video platform favoured by the American far-right, and host to Trump’s social media platform,Truth Social.
A year later Finn McRedmond of the New Statesman, a British political and cultural news magazine, which Brand guest-edited in 2013, wrote a piece titled, “We have Lost Russell Brand”. He described Brand “as having now melded his “trad-socialist values” with “all the suspicions and anxieties of the new American right”.
George Monbiot went further. In March 2023, he wrote in an opinion piece, “In 2014 the Guardian asked me to nominate my hero of the year…I chose Russell Brand…He was bursting with new ideas and creative ways of presenting them. Today, he wastes his talent on tired and discredited tales: endless iterations of alleged evils.”
In September 2023, bombshell allegations against Brand emerged.
Who Is the Real Russell Brand?
We could ask ‘who is the real Russell Brand?’ or simply condemn or exonerate him. But Russell Brand’s story represents a complex mix of forces. His life has undergone a series of dramatic interventions, most notably his spiritual awakening. After which he re-directed his frenetic energies, dark charisma, and risk-taking into charting an alternate course to mainstream politics and ideology.
Does Brand’s years of energising political debate and championing social justice soften the gravity of the allegations against him, if proven true? Of course not. Nor should his apparent drift into the murky waters of conspiracy theory influence some to condemn him.
As appalling as these allegations are, whatever the truth is that emerges, I find myself resisting simply accepting the narrative of yet another fallen hero, with its feeding frenzy of cynicism and negativity.
I often wonder if the path of authentic redemption earned through genuinely facing our darkest impulses and those whom we’ve harmed, is over? Has retreat and/or taking up residence in the subterranean recesses of the internet, along with the Andrew Tates of this world, become the go-to option most will seek?
When I read Daniel Pinchbeck’s Open Letter to Russell Brand, it struck a deep resonance with me. The world does not need more moral failures, or examples of punitive ‘justice’. Neither of these will heal the deep psychic wounds and mistrust that individuals and whole cultures carry for generations, due to unredeemed acts of violence.
Instead, Pinchbeck urges Brand to use this moment to do something no male public figure, let alone celebrity, has yet done in the face of this type of serious allegation – that is, commit to “radical honesty”, “atonement”, and enquiry along with women into the complex, shadowy, sexual power dynamics still plaguing the world.
Despite the string of addictions and behaviours Brand has so far triumphed over, if he takes up Pinchbeck’s suggestion and offer of help, this will no doubt be his toughest challenge yet. But its ripple effect on consciousness would be exponential, far greater than one man’s act of contrition.