Updated: Sep 20
Russell Brand is in hot water because some girls from his past have made allegations against him. I knew that would happen, because Brand is a man who lives by his reputation—and, as a celebrity, his reputation is fragile. If he made enemies, it was inevitable the media would attack his reputation—and attack it where it was most vulnerable, which for a celebrity is “girls and drugs” (of which they have much access to).
You might say, “But Brand is such a character, he’s so outrageous—it will be water off a duck’s back.” Well, he’s not the Archbishop of Canterbury, although, with his spiritual turn, he does have some aspirations in that direction—but, even so, Brand lives by his reputation just as much as the venerable archbish.
The truth is that he doesn’t say things that are really controversial—only things that sound controversial. He’s a comedian and jokes are about timing and “the way that you tell ’em”.
If you go to a comedy club sober, you’ll find a lot of the material is fairly asinine, just mundane observations said in a funny voice or with an odd juxtaposition. Comedy clubs encourage people to get tanked because most comedians aren’t that funny and the club is really about drinking, plus some entertainment.
So when Brand was last in hot water, for a prank call to the actor Andrew Sachs back in 2008, he snapped back at his critics, The Daily Mail, that they supported Hitler in the 1930s—so how dare they criticise him? It’s a logical fallacy, of course—that has nothing to do with the fact he called the venerable Andrew Sachs (aka Manuel in Fawlty Towers) and said on his answering machine “I fucked your granddaughter” (apparently a truthful statement that, so says Wikipedia, “eclipsed the 2008 financial crisis and Obama’s election in the British media”—if you can believe that).
But the Brand response “you’re associated with the Nazis” is about as conventional and safe as you can get—and, although Brand has become more “controversial” in recent times, he remains conventional in most ways (is careful to be, has to be). His whole recent show has been, in fact, pitched as “rule-breaking” and “democratic”. So Brand knows the boundaries he can’t transgress, he might monkey around and annoy people and appear quite transgressive—but he’s very aware that he lives by his reputation, albeit perhaps not as strictly as the Archbishop of Canterbury (and that reputation is, at base, progressive).
So the recent allegations have caused him serious damage—because reputation is fragile, it can vanish overnight (and cannot be regained). One day you pop into Mamma Mia’s restaurant for your Saturday evening Margherita (without the oregano) and the owner shows you to the best table and says, “Mario, eh, lettsa hava picture, a selfie witha Mistah Brand. We printtaa it out and putta it ona da wall.”
But, next weekend, when the news breaks, the owner stops you at the door and says, “Sorrria, Russell…eh, I no a wanna you in my ristorante…you toucha the bambinas in da naughty places…itsa nota gooda fora family ristorante, capisce?”. And off you slink, into the rain, because you’ve been named and shamed by the media (even if all charges are dropped weeks later and nothing comes of it, you’re still cancelled at the theatres and YouTube doesn’t give you ad revenue and your milkman won’t look you in the face).
So Brand is reputation sensitive—he does have a brand to protect, as it turns out. He was billed as “controversial” but nobody really controversial is given media attention in the first place—nobody really taboo-breaking is put in the spotlight to begin with.
If I make a little art exhibit which shows black-clad men whipping the customers out of a burning gay bar (it’s very realistic, like a Hornby model with blackened cotton wool for smoke, a really billowy smoke cloud) and I display it and someone says, “Oh, what’s this called?” and I say, “Aids—a judgement from God (as personified in human form),” it’s just never going to be given mass media attention in the first place—even though it “breaks taboos”. But, notoriously, dunk a cross in a vat of piss and that’s “controversial, provocative art” that everyone’s interested in (or the media says they should be, anyway).
I don’t try to manage my reputation—most people do, to various extents, and especially celebrities and famous people (which is why they’re all miserable liars). Do I care about what people think of me? Yes—it would be a lie to say “no”. But I don’t care very much, I don’t make it my priority—trying to con you into the act that I’m particularly clever or pious, or even particularly bad or just “an ordinary bloke”.
The character Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind is mostly a projection of feminine vices, but his statement, “People with courage can live without a reputation,” is correct. Courage, as the ancients knew, is the foundation of all the other virtues. And moral courage is worth more than physical courage—there are quite a few physically brave men, but not many prepared to face the censure and social rejection that comes about if you violate norms and taboos (because man is a social animal, and, in archaic times, social rejection meant death).
So I refuse to manage my reputation or attempt to have a “good reputation” (or to create, like Brand, a contrived “controversial” reputation, one where you say things for the sake of it). I say what I say, I do what I do—you can consider that as stupid, foolish, perverted, brilliant, or idiotic. You can take it as you want. I’m not going to attempt to spin you a story that I’m some holy man (which seems to be the trip Brand has been on for a while) nor that I’m a particularly bad person either.
I don’t claim that I’m always right, but I say what I think, even if it sounds stupid—if I’m wrong, I’m wrong as myself, not as an act I put on to try and make you like me.
So I just say what I say and do what I do—if you can’t handle that, it’s your problem. I am not a diplomat or a politician.
Russell Brand, by contrast, although he is not a “formal” politician and would howl in protest that he is no such thing, really is a politician and diplomat in the functional sense (he lives by his audience). He really does have a reputation to manage; he has rarely, if ever, risked saying what he really thinks or feels—because if you do that you will not be popular and may well be shunned. So he’s fragile—and that’s why, when he stepped out of line a bit too far, he got whacked with something that destroyed his reputation.
I don’t have to worry about that because I don’t try to preserve my reputation or cultivate a reputation—isn’t “reputation management” the most oily term you ever heard? So insincere, so phoney. It’s better to do without the reputation—it’s an illusion anyway. Just say what you have to say and do what you have to do and let the chips fall where they may—if other people can’t handle that it’s their problem, no point in arranging your life around them (but Brand’s entire life is arranged around other people, of course).
As the Buddhists say, “Burn your reputation”.