Pee-pee envy: The hot and heartbreaking sexual appeal of Russell Brand
I am a bit late to the Russell Brand boat, I think. My brushes with current pop culture are piecemeal and oddball, and mainstream stuff tends to pass me by. Although Russell Brand is only recently mainstream, I think. At least in America.
I first saw Brand in what I believe were the commercials for his 2008 hosting of the MTV Music Video Awards. My reaction was, “Wow, that guy is really, really hot,” and I didn’t consider much more beyond that. If I think a man is hot, I assume he will also be a d-bag. This in no way reflects anything about the men I cast these aspersions on, but instead says loads about my own secret preconceptions.
So apart from random sightings here and there, I didn’t run into Brand again until I saw Hop (2011), a movie which I went to see solely because it had bunnies, and a movie which I think would’ve not worked nearly as well if it weren’t for Brand’s voicing of the main “bunneh.” I was smitten. “Who is this guy?!” I thought. Hello, Wikipedia:
Brand has been a vegetarian since the age of 14… describ[es] himself as looking like an “SM Willy Wonka…” he has suffered from bulimia, and also went through a period of self harm… Brand is a former heroin, sex addict, and a recovering alcoholic.
I was intrigued. This reflects even more about my unseemly personal fixations.
By chance last week, I ran across Brand’s 2007 memoir, My Booky Wook (the British edition, which has a much prettier cover than the American version, by the way), so I picked it up. And here is where I officially fell in love:
We all have an essential self, but if you spend every day chopping up meat on a slab, and selling it by the pound, soon you’ll find you’ve become a butcher. And if you don’t want to become a butcher (and why would you?), you’re going to have to cut right through to the bare bones of your own character in the hope of finding out who you really are. Which bloody hurts.
You might think that a memoir written by a man which has a predominant focus on promiscuous sex with women would not be relatable to a woman. And perhaps I am not a typical woman (okay, I am definitely not a typical woman), but I have rarely read writing about this particular type of sexuality that I could so thoroughly relate to. In fact, only one time did I encounter a person whose sexuality I understood more, and that time, I moved in with him.
The aspect of wanting to be needed and needing to be wanted and misguidedly searching for self-esteem through sex has been extensively chronicled in writing about women’s sexuality. But not so much the eroticism or pleasure-seeking that can sometimes exist alongside it; making the whole foray all the more difficult to navigate. With so much emphasis on how damaged women use sex as a substitute for acceptance or affection, or how casual sex is detrimental to women’s self esteem—all things which are absolutely and completely true—the visceral factor of how actual desire and libido play into self-destructive sex is somehow ignored in women’s sex studies. I don’t think these feelings are absent for women; I think they are unaccounted for. I think women don’t talk about them because 1.) Other women aren’t talking about them, and 2.) Whenever women say they might maybe, possibly be horny, they know they are opening themselves up to be a target for men who take any show of sexuality as consent for any sexual activity, with anyone. You know, even if the woman is kicking and screaming and trying to get away. Because the world is shitty like that.
But because Brand is a man who is using sex to fill the void, but also to achieve the hedonistic gratification one gleans from it, he can write in a way that is very frank and, frankly, heartbreaking. It would be sexist of me to suggest that a male has a somehow closer understanding of fringe female sexuality because he has an eating disorder and self-harm in his history, afflictions more commonly found in women. Although it may be worth examining once you realize you’re looking at the cause and effect backwards: the feelings are precursive to the behavior of these self-inflicted afflictions, not the other way around. Feelings of worthlessness and aloneness, of abandonment and wanting to be saved.
I also think it does Brand a disservice to imply that the way he experiences feelings about sex are in any way female, because his sexuality is very decidedly male (hubba!), and I don’t believe all sex motivations necessarily need to be gendered in that way. But I’m willing to bet that women who’ve had complicated sexual lives will read the things he says and go, “Dude, I feel you, man. I so do.” Which can really only serve to get him laid even more (I know he’s married now to Katy Perry—I’m just sayin’).
And from a comic aspect, Brand’s sex humor is also somehow more inclusive than many other male comedians, even though it’s no less vulgar and rude. The way Denis Leary talked about orgasms in his Lock N Load show, for instance, felt very segregating to the sexes. I don’t even mean there’s anything wrong with that; there will always be a place in comedy for that type of gender differentiating humor, both for men and women. But Brand’s routine about the differences in the pre-ejaculatory versus the post-ejaculatory mindsets in his Russell Brand: Live in New York show was so refreshingly universal. His bit about “seagulling” had me tearing up from laughter and joy, with the feeling that, “Man, somebody gets it.” It’s unsurprising to hear that Brand was raised by his mother and grew up chiefly around women. Someone who can talk about desiring women in a way that’s very base but also extremely respectful is walking a pretty impressive, modern and complex tightrope. You go, Russell—Go on my son.