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Russell Brand, Mark Collett, and the eternal return

This clip is from a 2002 satellite TV program called Re:Brand. The premise is that Russell Brand, then about 26, “challenges taboos”—in this case, spends some time with Mark Collett, then leader of the BNP youth organisation (the BNP was the main far-right party in Britain in the 1990s and 2000s). This was “history I lived through” and I have to say, looking back about twenty years on, not much has changed.

The basic political positions are the same as ever they were; and, indeed, in other episodes of Re:Brand the eponymous host goes on a “dirty weekend” with a pensioner and is masturbated in a toilet by a gay man—both actually shocked me, perhaps an indication that standards are objective and that mass culture has been in the toilet (the public toilet, literally) for decades now.

In fact, a similar show could be made today and billed as “taboo-busting” because there is no historical memory in mass culture land, just a youthful narcissism that holds “nobody did that in the 1970s”, “nobody did that in the 2000s”, “nobody did that in the 2010s”. Goldfish bowl that we live in, three-second taboo-busting memory—the eternal recurrence (of broken taboos).

This little clip is great because it is a microcosm for all left-right discussions in the West down to this day; and it works because the archetypes are so extreme. You have the progressive liberal Brand, a feminised man, and you have Collett and his associate—masculine men.

The feminised man has a neurotic outburst at Collett’s views—attempts to shame him as a woman shames a man, with bluster and hysterics. “You’re destroying my planet!” What Russell really means is “you’re destroying my worldview that all races can live in harmony”—in other words, they’re destroying his narcissistic self-image as a “nice person”.

The show is unfair on multiple levels, not least since Brand is in his mid-20s and Collett is about 20. Brand is older and already a minor (very minor) TV celebrity, so he has status—oozes confidence. Collett has just finished his final exams at university and leads BNP Youth—a notorious organisation with some “bad boy” cachet but strictly excluded from media attention (except to be reviled); so insofar as he has status it’s status as a “demon”, a curious negative status. Given the status differential, it’s easy for Brand to browbeat Collett—asserting dominance over more masculine men through moralised verbal dexterity.

Indeed, they are only in this situation because Collett himself was browbeaten by two members of the public who said the BNP were “stirring up trouble in their area”. Collett didn’t riposte sufficiently and retreated—Brand then exploited his weakness. “Ordinary people hate you, everything’s fine—you’re causing trouble. Monsters!”.

Brand is, in effect, involved in flirtation with the two BNPers on the bench; and that is how all politics works: the left is like a woman in flirtation with a man; it “bullies”, intersperses threats with affection, to cajole “the man” (the right) to give up the goods (all PUAs do is reverse the psychology, act like women towards women—i.e. bully them, that’s what flirtation is). The kiss-hit dynamic can be quite effective; and you could imagine, if the cameras weren’t there, that the BNPers might hit Brand—and then he could play victim for other men, just as women incite men to hit them and then play victim.

Brand is effectively making love to the two men on the bench; he actually admires their manliness but he has self-conceived—has been rewarded for—feminine behaviour. To behave in this way has granted him a TV show, money, and positive attention—so he’s hardly going to stop, even though it’s actually disconnected from reality (his seductive bubble is sustained with drink and drugs). In his mind, he loves the world and loves everybody and everyone can get on as an individual and there are only nasty people who break up the collective love fest. Except reality isn’t like that.

Later, Brand worms his way into the affections of Collett’s girlfriend and tells the audience she’s “embarrassed” by his political activities. Again, it’s insinuating feminine behaviour—find his girlfriend, then embarrass him by saying “your girl told me she doesn’t agree”; effectively the suggestion is that he “cucked” Collett (if she tells me this about you, what else does she do with me?). Feminine men collaborate with “the girls” to show up manly men in the social arena to gain compliance. It’s how the “talker” beats the “doer”—extracts resources from someone who did something “real” through sweet talk and threats, boy-girl dynamic.

Final twist: the man to the right of Collett on the bench recruited him to the BNP. Collett’s girlfriend told Brand that Collett “hero worships” the other guy—again, this cuts Collett, nominal leader of a youth political organisation, down to size (the girl is just trying to get the men to fight over her); so Collett’s not even the “real leader”—he takes his orders from another man, despite his masculine appearance. “He just has a big man-crush, a big bromance with him.” This is the implication and women often use this insinuation to test men—imply homosexuality, since there’s always a homoerotic element in close male friendships (though not actual homosexuality). Hence the camera lingers on a moment when Collett hugs his friend for just a shade “too long” when England scores against Argentina in a football game on the telly in the pub.

Actually, Brand himself is also “making love” to the more masculine man—his outbursts are really for his, not Collett’s, benefit (everyone knows who the “real chief” is, titles aside); and the dynamic is more sinister yet. It’s quite likely that the more masculine man “runs” Collett; he recruited him to the far-right party, helped set him up as the leader of the youth organisation. Why? Because to be the leader of a far-right youth organisation is reputational poison, so the harder and more mature man will recruit a pliable younger public face to take the flak and keep his hands clean.

This is not just a far-right phenomenon, the “real leaders” in all organisations are very often hidden in this way—with a personable and manipulable guy up front to be “nice” and absorb the flak. It’s a client-patron relationship, where the “big brother” you look up to actually uses you. It’s not always entirely conscious, but humans use each other in this way all the time—particularly men, actually—and, to an extent, it’s just “how the world works”; although, that said, it often has a conscious and sinister dimension.


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