Jonathan Seidler is an Australian author, father and nu-metal apologist. You may have read his memoir, caught his compelling live performance at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, or noticed his distinct eyebrows on the street. He has some interesting things to say about music, fatherhood, Aussie culture, mental health and the social gymnastics of group chats. This is his column for Esquire.
I’M IN THE UK at the moment visiting my in-laws and all anyone can talk about is Russell Brand. Those startling eyes, bare chest and silly long scarves leap out from the front pages of every newspaper, of which there are still a fair few published in this country. With each passing day since a damning joint investigation alleged Brand is almost precisely the sort of sexual deviant he’s been playing on screen and radio for years, the hits keep coming. The BBC is investigating him for using their company car to cruise for school girls. The Metropolitan Police have received further reports of sexual assault from unnamed sources. His agent has dropped him. Youtube has restricted his ability to derive any revenue from his daily vlog.
It’s not a fun time of year to be Aldous Snow.
But the question on most people’s lips here is not so much whether Brand is guilty, but whether anything in the culture will substantially change as a result of his fall from grace. In the months and years leading up to this moment, Brand had already put in the ground work establishing himself as a martyr of the mainstream. Self-styled and self-publishing from his extraordinarily lush mansion in Henley-on-Thames, he’s the sort of new celebrity who has very much set himself up to thrive while being shunned by society. Now, he joins the likes of Andrew Tate, Piers Morgan and Donald Trump–public figures who have found that cancel culture can quite easily be remixed as, well, counter-culture.
When former Mr Hollywood, aka Harvey Weinstein, became the first major scalp claimed by the #MeToo movement some five years ago, the general understanding was that men discovered to have been using their power to subjugate others—especially sexually—were immediately considered persona non grata. Certainly that was the case for Weinstein, who’ll likely spend the rest of his natural life in jail. But curiously, more recent transgressors seem to have bounced back in record time.
A new film about comedian Louis C.K asks a question that has been bubbling closer to the surface until finally people have genuinely begun asking; is cancellation less like a lifetime ban and more akin to time out in the sin bin?
Curiously, more recent transgressors seem to have bounced back in record time.
It now seems like it’s up to the individual accused to decide when they return to the flock. In C.K’s case, that was less than a year, and despite his wildly gross sexual behaviour being well-documented, he’s back selling out shows at Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, the music media is breathlessly awaiting the new album from noted anti-semite Kanye West. After lashing Megan Markle so relentlessly that he broke the record for viewer complaints, Piers Morgan was given his own TV show by Rupert Murdoch, almost like some sort of a reward. Last year, he interviewed Cristiano Ronaldo.
One has to wonder what message this is sending to other men and boys. In Australia, where conversations around sexual assault and rape continue to reverberate long after the headlines, the idea of optional cancellation can’t be helping the cause.
Over on Rumble, aka MAGA Youtube, Brand continues to broadcast his show Stay Free unimpeded to over a million people, many of whom are shelling out to support him. He accuses legacy media of conspiring to silence him, despite having made millions writing a best-selling memoir for a major publisher as well as being a paid commentator for The Guardian for years.
The message sent by this renaissance of cancelled men seems crystal: it doesn’t matter what you do, your time on the bench will be short and, depending on how you play it, will likely leave you in a better position than when you left. While this mostly empowers those with lots of power, the trickle-down effect should not be discounted. It’s brilliant that Australian schools have recently implemented consent education from Years K to 10, but this progress is taking place as some of our culture’s most influential young male role models refuse to express zero contrition and are minimally impacted when accused of non-consensual acts. That’s not ideal.
The Brand saga will likely continue to unfold for some weeks yet, but a statute of limitations on his personal cancellation period seems almost guaranteed. The fact that this no longer even shocks us should send alarm bells. But it might be we’re just too beleaguered by inaction to care anymore.
Jonathan Seidler is an Esquire columnist and the author of It’s A Shame About Ray (Allen & Unwin).
Like all proper columns, this one will be back next week. You can see every one of Jonno’s columns for Esquire here.