Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Our celebrity culture facilitated Jimmy Savile's crimes

The litany of abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Savile is now becoming very clear following the reports today on a series of reviews carried out by NHS trusts into his behaviour in 28 different hospitals. This is on top of the many hundreds of instances of abuse that he perpetrated in other places including the BBC.

Like everyone who read these I was shocked and disgusted by what he was allowed to get away with and my heart goes out to all the victims. It is almost unbelievable that he was able to perpetrate these acts unpunished for many decades.

There is one aspect of this that I think warrants closer scrutiny because it goes to the heart of why he was able to get away with it for so long. It was how Savile's status as a celebrity afforded him access and respect way beyond what should have been considered acceptable or reasonable.

Time and again in testimony from victims we have heard how he was too powerful or that they were not believed when they confided in someone about what was happening. Sadly not believing victims of abuse is all too common but Savile's fame seems to have made him essentially bulletproof in this area.

We have seen a similar dynamic at play in the cases of Stuart Hall and Max Clifford both of whom also used their fame as leverage to abuse their victims.

As a culture I think we need to reflect long and hard on this. Because our celebrity culture today is worse than ever in terms of how we bestow status and privilege on those who fall under its auspices.

We see this reflected in how people who are famous for being musicians or sports people are invited onto TV and radio programmes to give their opinions on politics, whether they appear to be well informed or not. We see it in how celebrities are invited to pack out the best seats at all our major sporting and cultural events as VIPs. We see it when someone famous for being a moderately amusing dandy comedian and minor film star is treated as some sort of political savant by the media for writing an incoherent article effectively telling young people to disenfranchise themselves. We see it when people famous for nothing at all are able to earn millions of pounds just by keeping themselves in magazines talking about their love lives.

We see it in the eulogies and special retrospective TV and radio shows that the famous are granted when they retire or die (both Savile and Hall were given these in their positions as "national treasures" when they respectively died and retired).

Most industries and professions have anywhere from one to a handful of awards ceremonies each year to recognise achievements. Celebrities have dozens of them plenty of which are televised and most of which are reported on. They afford great opportunities for them to slap each other on the back for being so wonderful.

Of course as a country we have had centuries of inculcation in the art of deferring to our "betters". The monarchy down the ages has taught us this. See this recent ridiculous example where the BBC, reported on how Prince George behaved amongst other children:

"Eight-month-old Prince George appeared to remain calm even though there were tears from some of a similar age."
That's our nation's public broadcaster essentially pointing out how George is better than other children his own age already. Of course he's been a celebrity since birth.

I appreciate that me pointing all of this out might seem a bit beside the point. There are hundreds of victims who will never get justice and surely they should be the focus. Of course they should be and whatever reparations can be made should be.

But we cannot ignore how Savile, Hall, Clifford and perhaps others were able to use the shield of celebrity to commit, perpetuate and in the case of Savile within his lifetime completely get away with their crimes.

Just because somebody is famous, whatever the reason, does not been they are better than anyone else. Respect needs to be earned and nobody should ever be considered to be unlikely to be capable of terrible or criminal behaviour because of any perceived position within society.

Celebrity is not real, it's simply a construct. But the victims of these crimes are real. I hope the legacy of these cases is that the shield these men used has no power in future to hide the guilty.

We all need to make sure it does not.

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