The decision by YouTube to “demonetise” Russell Brand is a slightly curious one. They certainly hit him where it hurts: in his bank balance. About £1 million a year. Yet they’ve allowed his existing back catalogue of conspiracism and gobbledegook “wellness” material to remain up; and he can knock out as much self-aggrandising nonsense as he wants, provided he doesn’t make any money out of it. I think we know that the first post-demonetisation Brand video of the new era will be like: baroque, you might say.
So, he’s been sort of half-cancelled by YouTube. It’s as if the board and its advisors couldn’t quite decide what to do about him, and they opted for a messy compromise. Like all compromises, however, no one ends up satisfied. The Brand-haters will think YouTube are still offering this despicable misogynist a platform to air his unhinged views and exercise his obscene passion for self-love. Yet the Brand fanbase will conclude that “they” – the world government of fevered imagination – have ordered YouTube to do it.
Either way, things seem to be closing in on Brand commercially. YouTube, owned by one of the world’s tech giants, Google (aka Alphabet Inc on the stock markets), is itself a pretty successful enterprise, and understands commercial matters just as well as any of the so-called legacy media figures such as Rupert Murdoch or, indeed, Channel 4. According to one media analyst, Brand will be making about £2,000 to £4,000 per YouTube, plus proceeds from sponsorship and the like, and it tots up to around £1 million: The most lucrative territory is the conspiracist stuff – no surprise that Donald Trump has come out for Brand.
Brand still has about 6.6 million subscribers who he can look to for moral support, and of course he can use the platform for promotion of his other ventures, such as his gigs. Except, of course, that the theatres have started to cancel his shows – and the other work has dried up.
We all remember “Sachsgate” in 2008 that led to Brand resigning from Radio 2 and the BBC fined £150,000. He has long since been unwelcome in radio and television, and you can’t see many publishers and film makers wanting to have much to do with him.
Which leaves Brand in the care of Elon Musk, the richest man on the planet and not without power and influence. It’s ironic that Brand spends so much of his time railing against capitalism, corporate power and the dominance of the mainstream media when he is about to become so reliant on the ultimate symbol of unaccountability.
Twitter, now X, like YouTube, is well-established, dominant and mainstream. There’s nothing “alternative” about these social media platforms, except their tendency to host anti-science conspiracy theories and vile racism and antisemitism. It’s a world that Brand has drifted into for some time, because even in his days as a left hero he tended towards the irrational. Brand is a typical “horseshoe” figure politically, the sort of character who finds himself at that juncture where extreme left meets far right in a world of delusion.
A decade ago, even as Ed Miliband, then leader of the Labour Party, was trying to woo this bizarre totem of youth, Brand was moving towards a campaign of abstentionism at the 2015 general election – the first one the Tories won with a majority since 1992.
It was a stupid campaign and to me at least only proved how shallow a thinker Brand has always been, though a manipulative one and highly skilled in the arts of self-promotion. For decades, he’s been “monetising” his essential narcissism.
He is, in one sense, a very modern media phenomenon; but in my view, if there’s one thing he has always been, it’s a very old-fashioned “type” indeed – a charlatan.
With Musk as an ally and sponsor, and a loyal (if misguided) band of followers, Brand will still have some sort of a platform somewhere – likely on Twitter/X or elsewhere. We can’t know what the media landscape will look like in years to come, but Brand will be sure to crop up somewhere and make a living. Perhaps Musk might even set him up with a web platform of his own? The “Brand X” channel (to which I hereby claim intellectual copyright).
In fact, Brand will be able to do so even if he’s convicted, because there are enough people out there who think the legal systems of the world are rigged by a mysterious “them”. To those conspiracy theorists, the verdict of a jury doesn’t count anyway. Brand will survive. People like him always do.