From admiration to disillusionment: My changing views on Russell Brand, writes Natasha Devon

20 September 2023, 12:58

The Guru Grift follows a clear formula: First, the man (for it is usually a man) says something both true and obvious.
The Guru Grift follows a clear formula: First, the man (for it is usually a man) says something both true and obvious. Picture: LBC/Alamy
Natasha Devon MBE

By Natasha Devon MBE

The Guru Grift follows a clear formula: First, the man (for it is usually a man) says something both true and obvious.

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For example: The way society is structured benefits only a very small percentage of wealthy people.

Having grabbed your attention, they’ll then claim that they have found a way to circumnavigate this challenge, citing their own life as evidence.

They are happy, successful, clever, wealthy, and popular and you can be too if only you listen to their message, copy their behaviours and, most crucially, give them your money.

Finally – and this is the important bit – they’ll tell their followers that everything outside of their 'community' is part of a matrix concerned with preserving itself/the status quo.

Therefore, if anyone – teachers, parents, friends, the newspapers – criticises them it’s because they are truth-tellers, threatening powerful institutions.

If you can get people to follow you through these three steps, they’re yours forever, or at least until they’ve parted with quite a lot of their time and cash. (Incidentally, this is also how coercive control works: Identify a vulnerable target; paint an unrealistic picture of how much better their life could be if they stick with you; isolate them from their support network to increase their reliance on you).

Andrew Tate does this. Donald Trump does this. And, I am sorry to have to report that Russell Brand also does this.

Why am I sorry? Well, I used to be a BIG fan of Brand. Back in 2015, around the time of The Trews, I found his analysis of tabloid media entertaining, enlightening and needed.

I have also long admired his stance on addiction - which is backed up by evidence from reputable sources – i.e., that it is an illness, not a choice and must therefore be treated as a public health issue, rather than a criminal one.

Having said that, he lost me during his relatively recent pivot to conspiracy theorist wingnut. I lamented that this eloquent man, with the capacity to do so much good, was now hawking dodgy supplements and recycled QAnon conspiracy theories to an audience of increasingly far-right devotees.

He morphed into an emblem of everything that’s wrong with the wellness industry: One that often co-opts the language of science whilst ignoring its findings completely.

What I didn’t consider is the possibility that this pivot might have been a deliberate strategy. What these types of men have in common is that their status as cult leaders brings about complete uncancellability.

Of course, they often claim they are ‘being cancelled’, but since they exist on the web, outside the rules and regulations which govern mainstream media, their following only grows.

Am I saying that mainstream media outlets are universal paragons of truth? Absolutely not. There are clearly agendas at play and, to be honest, you don’t have to be that bright to see them.

However, we can’t talk about ‘mainstream media’ as though it is a monolith. There still exists excellent reporting by individuals and organisations with a great deal of integrity.

‘Mainstream’ outlets still have certain checks and balances they have to abide by. Do they bend the rules? Certainly. Does the concept of ‘balance’ often mean two people with equally ludicrous views at opposing ends of the political spectrum are invited to debate one another in a shouty fashion for clickbait?

Absolutely (although this trend is dying out a little, I think). Do popular newspapers pick and choose what to amplify and what to ignore? Again, it’s a great big resounding YES.

Yet one can acknowledge these things without demonising all journalism which exists outside of YouTube.

I’ve watched the Dispatches programme and I’ve also read what its makers had to say about the wealth of evidence they had to harvest on Brand’s allegedly predatory behaviour during the year they researched it.

It wasn’t just flung together on a whim because Brand was getting too big for his boots, as his response video would have you believe.

Furthermore, to swallow wholesale the views of an individual claiming to be a modern soothsayer simply because they draw attention to media agendas is just as dangerous as believing everything you read in the Daily Mail.