Actor Russell Brand bitch-slapped the Internet into paying attention this week after a riotous and raucous appearance on “Morning Joe.” His antics careened from funny to offensive as he gave the hosts a dressing-down for disrespecting him by speaking about him in the third person and continually bringing the conversation back to his appearance. The clip has gone viral and a number of outlets, including “The Atlantic” and the “Los Angeles Times,” have applauded the job he did on embarrassing the “Morning Joe” crew (sans Joe) for their unprofessional behavior.
Missing from the conversation so far, though, is the scolding Brand deserves for the sexist tactics he employed to steal the show. Straight off the bat Brand made sexually inappropriate comments to the host, Mika Brzezinski.
“Be careful because that’s a low-cut dress,” Brand said, after Brzezinski leaned over to help realign a piece of the desk Brand had jerked out of place. “I’m only flesh and blood, I’ve got instincts.” Note to the reader: Brzezinski’s dress did not even reveal a sliver of cleavage.
“I’m sorry,” Brzezinski replied instinctively, having done nothing wrong but now appearing uncomfortable and off-kilter.
Later in the show Brand went from inappropriate to lewd calling Brzezinski a “shaft grasper,” suggesting that she was basically jerking off her water bottle and, therefore, “grasping for the shaft.” Unwilling to let go of his fictitious claim that Brzezinski was somehow inappropriately handing the water bottle Brand told her to “lose that ring” because “it means nothing to ya.”
Ill-equipped to deal with the sexual assault, because hey, that’s what it is, Brzezinski was left tongue-tied unable to successfully wrap up the show to plug Brand’s upcoming stand-up tour, the Messiah Complex.
I know what you may be thinking: This is Russell Brand, legendary Lothario and shock jock extraordinaire. This much should be expected if you invite him on the show. However, Mika claimed later she didn’t know who Brand was (I’m guessing she’ll do more homework next time).
But the thing is this — Brand went far out of his way to state that this in fact was not a comedy show where such artistic license should be permitted. He shut down guest anchor and BBC journalist Katty Kay when she asked for a 30 second preview of material from the tour and criticized the newsmakers for letting superficial items, such as his exposed chest hair, drive the agenda as opposed to real substance.
And ironically, given his liberal dishing of sexually inappropriate and offensive remarks, he complained about being casually objectified.
Brand did have a reason to be frustrated: Brzezinski and team made themselves look like idiots exhibiting an astounding lack of knowledge about their guest. Kay actually called him Willy, three times (maybe she was thinking of Willy Brandt?), until Brand himself had to point out her error. And co-anchor Brian Shactman uttered some ethnocentric verbal diarrhea about his struggle to understand Brand’s accent on the radio.
But none of that justifies making sexually derisive comments to the hosts, especially when your fundamental message is that news program needs to stay focused on the substance.
Over at “Think Progress,” Alyssa Rosenberg argues that it shouldn’t surprise anybody at this point that Brand has intelligent things to say. In the wake of Amy Winehouse’s death, he wrote a thoughtful tribute about the way society perceives addicts and how best to provide them care, she notes.
Rosenberg has it right, Brand is very smart: he doesn’t need to rely on cheap sexist tactics to make his message clear. And he shouldn’t.
Eliza Krigman is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. She writes about the intersection of technology and national politics as well as lifestyle and culture issues. Previously she worked as a staff reporter for Politico and the National Journal. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Slate and the Atlantic.