Artificial Intelligence

Outside the Box: Is Russell Brand a Victim of Groupie Culture?

In our weekly feature “Outside the Box,” we solicit ChatGPT to help us better understand both our culture and the behavior of artificial intelligence (AI) itself. This week we asked AI for insight into how to deal with the ambiguity of the Russell Brand affair that now involves government, media, celebrity and supposedly shared social values.
Russell Brand joins March

London UK – NOVEMBER 5 2014: Anonymous & Stop Mass Network held Million Mask March that started in Trafalgar square. Russell Brand joins March as violence breaks out between police and protesters © Elena Rostunova /

September 25, 2023 05:16 EDT

I began by submitting this question for ChatGPT’s consideration:

“Russell Brand has had several different moments of fame in his career, as an entertainer, a comedian and more recently a political pundit and activist. He has always cultivated a style of being outrageous in his language and demeanor. Though it has drifted from narcissism to social punditry, the glibly outrageous style behind it works and he exploits it for profit. While polite society frowns upon the kind of excess Brand has always displayed in his public behavior, it also celebrates it when it leads to financial success. Even more so, when it turns someone into a celebrity.

Celebrities as diverse as Donald Trump, Elon Musk or Russell Brand play on their ability to provoke strong and opposed reactions: adulation on one side, hatred and condemnation on the other. They inhabit a cultural zone that we call hyperreality because it is an environment in which they are exempted from the rules and expectations we apply to ordinary people who understand their duty to comply  with social norms.

Russell Brand is now being shamed, cancelled and demonetized for his behavior in the past as a celebrated outrageous personality. The motives behind his public shaming are ambiguous. His defenders claim they are political. This makes sense, given the fact that Brand has publicly confessed to being guilty of the hyperreal behavior everyone now condemns. He formally abjures this behavior as aberrant.

The British establishment, including the BBC, happy to profit from Brand’s outrageous behavior at the time, is now, according to The Guardian, actively seeking to prevent Brand from  being “able to profit personally from his content on the platform” he uses to reach his public. The platform is Rumble. He has already been demonetized by YouTube, which is notorious for demonetizing without explanation voices deemed “undesirable” by anonymous parties, including governments. Rumble expressed its indignation at the government pressure for censorship, noting ” the absence of any connection between the allegations and his content on Rumble.”

The real question in the background which nobody seems to be asking is this: Does it make sense to materially punish individuals for behavior that was tolerated and even encouraged in the past when social expectations seemed to be very different? The secondary question is just as important: Is the appetite to cripple Brand economically related to concern for the alleged victims or is it the hypocritical exploitation of a pretext for punishing someone who is now focused on opposing the political and economic establishment?”

ChatGPT’s breakdown of this question turned out to be balanced and helpful. AI does a good job of summarizing questions that others have already publicly debated. Here it is in full:

“The situation you describe involving Russell Brand and his recent experiences with being shamed, canceled, and demonetized raises several complex questions about the evolving standards of public behavior, accountability, and the motivations behind such actions. Let’s unpack some of the key points and questions raised:

Changing Social Norms: One of the central issues is the evolving nature of social norms and expectations. It’s true that in the past, certain behaviors that are now deemed unacceptable or controversial might have been tolerated or even celebrated. Societal norms do shift over time, and what was once acceptable may no longer be so. The question arises as to whether individuals should be held accountable for their past actions based on current standards.

Hyperreality and Public Figures: Public figures like Russell Brand often occupy a unique cultural space where they can push boundaries and provoke strong reactions. Their ability to do so can lead to both fame and criticism. This phenomenon is not limited to Brand but has been observed with other figures like Donald Trump and Elon Musk. The concept of “hyperreality” suggests that they operate in a realm where conventional rules may not apply in the same way.

Motivations for Shaming and Cancellation: Determining the motivations behind shaming and canceling individuals can be complex. Some may argue that it is driven by genuine concern for addressing past wrongs or harm caused. Others may believe that it is driven by political or economic motives, especially if the individual in question has shifted their focus to opposing the establishment. Distinguishing between genuine accountability and politically motivated actions can be challenging.

Reformation and Accountability: The case of Russell Brand’s reformation and condemnation of his past behavior raises questions about whether individuals should be given an opportunity to reflect, change, and make amends for their past actions. Is it reasonable to hold someone accountable for actions they have disavowed and actively worked to change?

Platform Policies and Censorship: The role of online platforms like YouTube and Rumble in demonetizing or restricting content creators is another contentious issue. These platforms face pressure from various stakeholders, including governments, to moderate content. Decisions about demonetization are often opaque and can raise concerns about free speech and censorship.”

It concluded by reflecting on the importance of “examining the motivations behind actions taken against public figures”where it is crucial to determine “whether they are genuinely driven by concerns for justice and accountability or are influenced by other factors.”

Encouraged by this I followed up with another question.

“One of the factors concerns a trend that came to prominence in the rock culture of the sixties: the groupie phenomenon. Although Brand was not a rocker, he cultivated the reputation of an impertinent long-haired, drug-addled promiscuous sex symbol. Consequently, like any famous rocker, he was constantly approached by young women wanting to share a moment of intimacy with a hyperreal sex symbol. The permanent danger is that this could easily lead to misinterpreting intentions or supposing intentions that didn’t exist. Although Brand says every relationship he had was consensual – and he probably believes it –  he may well have been misreading the situation with some of the women he met.

Addressing the very real damage done from such incidents is traditionally carried out through the legal system, not the media. It typically leads either to acquittal for lack of material evidence or settlement. In Brand’s case, more than a decade after the events, the British government and media have put pressure on social media not to defend the interests of the victims or bring Brand to justice, but to deprive the man of his livelihood. Does this well-organized campaign demonstrate that the motives are essentially political? Unlike Harvey Weinstein, Brand stopped claims to have given up his evil ways years ago, when he discovered spirituality and denounced his own hedonism. Can the best explanation be that the establishment sees a critique of its values from a spiritual position as even more suspect than a purely political opposition?”

At this point, in a much longer response that contained reflection on general principles, ChatGPT made this significant observation:

“It’s possible that Russell Brand’s transformation from a hedonistic lifestyle to one focused on spirituality and critique of establishment values has made him a target for political or ideological opposition. Critics may see his critique as a challenge to the status quo and respond by attempting to undermine his influence.”

I then asked another question to clarify the social and political meaning of the Russell Brand affair.

“Would it be fair to see in this affair a discernible trend that demonstrates a growing impatience in our society with the very notion of due process? Governments are increasingly using the media, including social media, not only to censure but even to punish non-conforming individuals who acquire a power of influence.”

In ChatGPT’s typically verbose and waffling response, it offered this predictable but fundamentally anodyne advice:

“Balancing the need for accountability with the principles of due process and fairness is a complex challenge in the digital age. It’s essential for individuals and society as a whole to engage in thoughtful discussions about how to strike this balance and ensure that judgments and consequences are fair, transparent, and based on a full understanding of the facts. Additionally, the role of governments and media in influencing public discourse and the treatment of individuals is an important topic for scrutiny and debate.”

I then threw out this question:

“My point is that when the authorities in a democracy demonstrate their own impatience with due process, shouldn’t we take that as a sign that democratic values themselves have been compromised?”

Chat GPT expressed what I can only call its “sympathy” in the form of a reflection on the proper uses of democracy.

“Democracies thrive when there is a commitment to these values, and any deviation from them should be a matter of concern and scrutiny by the public and institutions responsible for maintaining the democratic framework.”

*[Artificial Intelligence is rapidly becoming a feature of everyone’s daily life. We unconsciously perceive it either as a friend or foe, a helper or destroyer. At Fair Observer, we see it as a tool of creativity, capable of revealing the complex relationship between humans and machines.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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