Friday, 26 October 2012

Now Then, Now Then, As It Happens

International visitors to this blog, of whom I glad to say there are quite a few, will not recognise the allusion in the title of this post.  British readers over the age of 40 will.  Where to begin?

Back in the Dreamtime of British pop, when the Rolling Stones and the Beatles were still one-minute wonders, it was decreed that there should be a TV programme dedicated to the "hit parade", and that it should be broadcast unto the nation at tea-time on Thursday nights. And the BBC laboured mightily, and it was so.  Lo!  And they called this programme Top of the Pops.  And it was good sort of OK.

The first broadcast, on New Year's Day 1964, featured the Rolling Stones ("I Wanna Be Your Man"), Dusty Springfield ("I Only Want to Be with You"), the Dave Clark Five ("Glad All Over"), the Hollies ("Stay"), the Swinging Blue Jeans ("Hippy Hippy Shake"), oh, and the Beatles ("I Want to Hold Your Hand"), that week's number one hit.  Not a bad week.

So.  That pop chart show ran for 40 years, and was presented by an assortment of strange men, the strangest of whom was an ex-wrestler and dancehall manager turned DJ called Jimmy Savile, famous for dyeing his wig-like hair a different colour each week, smoking large cigars, and for his oddly mannered delivery of various catchphrases that were a gift to impressionists, as it 'appens, guys'n'gals.  His self-branding was tedious and shallow, but as authentically British as a Kiss-Me-Quick cowboy hat, and he went on to become a national institution, presenting "family" TV programmes and running marathons to raise money for charity.

His charitable efforts had a particular focus on hospitals caring for children and the vulnerable, inside which institutions -- remarkably -- it has recently emerged that he had been given private rooms and a full set of keys.  Eh?  To anyone with a real interest in pop and rock he was nothing but a self-promoting parasite, but he was tolerated and encouraged by the Establishment, because the British like to think they like eccentrics, because charity fund-raising is the ticket-price of "honours", and because since 1964 the old folks have felt continually anxious about not being down with the kids.  He was knighted in 1990, as it 'appens (oh, stop it).

Well, it seems Sir Jimmy was being rather more down with the kids than anyone had thought.  In recent weeks, a year after his death, a wave of hysteria (nay, a "tsunami of filth", according to Lord Patten) has broken over the British media, as the long-standing rumours about Savile's dodgy sexuality have finally been confirmed, and the finger-pointing has begun.  How could this happen??  How come no-one guessed that this creepy guy who sought, and was granted, private rooms and unrestricted, unsupervised access in children's hospitals was -- of all things -- a paedophile!

Who knew? Well, quite a few people knew, of course, in the most direct and upsetting way possible.  The trouble was, no-one wanted to believe them when they said what they knew.  Or, more culpably, knowing what they were told to be true, people in positions of authority chose to turn a blind eye.  Worse still, it seems they spiked various attempts to expose him.

Why? Ongoing investigations may reveal the details and the extent of the cover-up and perhaps uncover some other very prominent figures, but the invulnerability of powerful people -- all right, powerful men -- to retribution for their illicit sexual activities is hardly news.  That people  -- all right, men -- are dowright bad when led primarily by their genitalia is also old news. If you're feeling strong, this article by Nick Davies reveals the extent of child abuse in Britain.  It's pretty shocking.

Now, taboos exist on a spectrum which is constantly shifting.  Morality, legality and reality are rarely in alignment.  Consider that in England homosexual activity was illegal until 1967. In establishment and entertainment circles, an awful lot of blind eyes must have been turned to an awful lot of sexual activity which was, simply, illegal.  Humanely, most of the time, of course.  How unfair, how humiliating, for friends or colleagues to be forced to hide their emotional life "in the closet"!  But then one reads of drugged guardsmen being raped as entertainment at show-biz parties in the 1920s, and the humanity of it seems to diminish.  A blind eye tends not to judge the relative morality of what it chooses not to see.

There is a difference, where sex is concerned, between illegal behaviour, behaviour which is "frowned upon", and agreeably naughty behaviour, but you could be forgiven for thinking that difference is negotiable, especially if you are turned on by transgression. Did you know that the age of consent in Germany and Italy is 14, and in Spain is 13?  Surprised?  I am.  But, knowing that, it is not hard to imagine how, back in the ferment of moral change of the 60s and 70s, a decent person might have been tempted not to to expose -- or even to protect -- a powerful, predatory celebrity for acts which might, for all anyone knew, be legal in few years.  You wouldn't want to look foolish, or to lose your job over something which, it would be easy to persuade yourself, was a purely private matter.

The key word, of course, is "consent".  Feminists have fought a long battle to establish that "no always means no".  A tough fight indeed, given that men have always been encouraged to regard "no" as simply a bargaining position.  Check out those songs in the first TOTP broadcast:  I wanna be your man, I wanna hold your hand, please, won't you stay?  I only want to be with you!  They are all pleas for a change of heart, romance as negotiation.  Do you recall any Top 10 songs that went, "Oh, all right then. Never mind. Sorry!"?

But tweak those lyrics just a little, and suddenly the spectre of Jimmy Savile and his ugly like is conjured:  I'm gonna be your man, I'm going to hold your hand, you are going to stay...  Add a locked room, a feeling of helplessness and confusion, and a powerful, famous, implacable man, and you have a nightmare, where "consent" is a word without meaning.  As it happens.

At moments like this, someone usually wheels out these words of Lord Macaulay:  "We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodic fits of morality".  This time, not so much.  This time, it's "Dig him up, scatter his ashes to the four winds, erase his name from the book of life". Perhaps some other words of Macaulay may be more appropriate to the way the wind seems to be blowing:

"The highest proof of virtue is to possess boundless power without abusing it."

The question is, can anyone now in possession of power even remember what virtue is?


Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...

Well written, sir.

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Bron.

I imagine this guy was utterly unknown outside Britain? You have enough talentless creeps of your own, I'm sure, to bother with importing ours.


Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...


Never heard of him.

Yes, we have plenty of our own, though they do possess a talent for hiding in open view. Our most recent, a college athletic coach, was engaginig in his monstrous acts quite visibly.

And let's not mention the Roman Catholic Church, nor his evilness, who covered it up. We'ed be here for weeks.


Mike C. said...

Curiously (or maybe not) Savile also picked up a "papal knighthood" the same year he scored one from the Queen.