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Bernard Keane

Russell Brand took his transgression schtick wherever the money was

Sexual predator. Groomer of teenagers. Rapist. Abuser. The extensive allegations against former British comedian Russell Brand are now the subject of multiple inquiries, including at least one police investigation relating to alleged sexual assault in the early 2000s.

As seems to be the pattern with previous cases of serious allegations made against high-profile men, we’re told that Brand’s predation — his misogyny has long been called out, to the extent that he felt the need to apologise for it and claim he’d been converted to feminism — was an “open secret” within the British comedy industry, complete with a WhatsApp group for women to warn others about him, and complaints that he used lawyers to shut down previous allegations.

Brand is being defended by various far-right figures. Accused rapist Andrew Tate. Tucker Carlson. Elon Musk. Alex Jones. And they have a conspiracy theory to go with their defence: Brand is a truth-teller who is worrying the powerful, so the powers that be are working to destroy him. In the words of Jones, Brand is being attacked because he’s fighting “globalists”.

A decade ago such figures, or their equivalents, would have gleefully seized on the allegations. Back then, Brand was an enemy of the right and the darling of the left, having morphed from a controversial comic and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it husband of Katy Perry to addiction authority, ardent supporter of the Occupy Movement and advocate for a socialist society, complete with a book titled Revolution.

“He has the intellectual capacity of a student who comes home from college at Christmas and thinks he’s smarter than his dad. He hasn’t bathed for 10 years. His lice have scabies,” was how one Fox News presenter was reported to have described him.

Since then, Brand has shifted to the right and doubled down on the wellness schtick. In an elegant demonstration of horseshoe politics, he became an anti-vaxxer, peddled COVID misinformation and conspiracy theories about the favourite targets of the far right — Bill Gates, the World Economic Forum, “globalists”, Nancy Pelosi, the World Health Organization. Inevitably he’s a Trump supporter. That’s why he’s now a favourite of the very people who would have used allegations against him as evidence of the moral turpitude of the left a decade ago.

As his earnest advocacy for “an egalitarian socialist society” a decade ago, and his current enthusiasm for conspiracy theories, suggest, Brand is no deep thinker, but is as adept at switching ideologies as he is at switching media: his business model is YouTube and podcasts — among the vast far-right online ecosystem awash with content, Brand’s name and face recognition stand out enough to earn him a good income from YouTube ads.

What has unified his career, though, the one thing he has been selling the whole time, is an image of transgressiveness — of unfiltered sexual desire (complete with “I’m Russell, I’m a sex addict” schtick), of comedy unrestrained by taste or decency, of advocacy for revolution and socialism, and now of a fighter of globalist conspiracies, a willingness to challenge the hidden cabal that, in the eyes of the right, really controls the media, politics and the economy.

Behind the transgression, however, there has never been any substance, just glib ideas cut and pasted from elsewhere, a sales pitch for a product that was never really there. If the allegations against him are proved, it will suggest that the only true substance to his transgressiveness was a willingness to abuse women as he roamed the ideological spectrum looking for where the most money was to be found.

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