Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Jimmy Savile, the Media and Celebrity

I competed at Stoke Mandeville in the Junior BSAD [now defunct British Sports Association for the Disabled] Games between 1979 and 1986.  One of my earliest memories is of one occasion a helicopter flying over, and a buzz of excitement at a rumour that Jimmy Savile was on board.  This memory is now tarnished with the latest allegations - and with a justice system based on the precept that everyone is innocent until proven guilty we must remind ourselves that they are only allegations at this point.  I also have to admit that the allegations regarding Stoke Mandeville, whilst saddening did not in fact surprise me, as I had said only two days previously, upon recalling the helicopter 'I wonder why he would have been visiting at a time when a lot of disabled children were gathered there..'  It is unfortunate that my suspicion seems not to be without foundation if these allegations prove to be true.

However, I must at this point address another issue, that of Savile's honours.  I have seen comment demanding his knighthood be revoked, and you may imagine that as a disabled person who was a child at the time of his alleged activities I would support such a stance.  However, there are three arguments against such a move;
  • No charges have been proven as yet.
  • Savile has passed away so any such sanction would be meaningless and potentially viewed simply as vindictive and petty.
  • The reason for his knighthood was for his charity work.  He was not, for example a banker whose knighthood for services to the banking industry has subsequently proven to be misguided and revoked during his lifetime.  Jimmy Savile - regardless of any accusations concerning his private life - did carry out the charity work for which he was honoured.
Therefore I feel it would be disproportionate, and to a degree pointless, to revoke his knighthood should the allegations be proven.

[Addendum: Since posting the above it has come to my notice that provision for revoking Honours can be that the person's conduct brings the Honours system into disrepute.  On that basis I see revocation would be perfectly justified, other than my second point above vis. there being no sanction against him as he has died.]

This is however, not the first case of sexual abuse potentially involving disabled children of which I have been personally aware.  I started school at five years old and for reasons I still cannot explain 37 years later, took a dislike to one of the care staff, and gave him a wide berth.  Yet again I have to admit to a lack of surprise when, in the early 1990s, I heard he had been arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing the children at the school I had attended, over several years.  He subsequently served, if memory serves, seven years for his crimes.

I doubt there is anyone in the country who is unaware of the allegations made against Jimmy Savile, yet I am equally sure virtually nobody will have heard of the case I outlined above.  Neither case in my view is of lesser severity, and certainly not to the victims, one of whom I recall making such a fuss when he had to go to school - he was a boarder - on Monday that he was collected on Tuesday by the school minibus.  He was unable to speak so could not voice his fears.  I now know why - he was to later be confirmed as one of the victims of the abuse.

There is a simple reason for this dichotomy, and that is the media.  The media build up celebrities in the eyes of the public until they are deemed to be icons, heroes to be worshipped.  I am a Star Trek fan and one character made the observation 'She did the worst thing a person can do to another.. fail to live up to their expectations.'  This is what happens when celebrities do wrong; we expect them to obey a higher set of ideals than us mere mortals, thus when the likes of John Terry, Jimmy Savile et al fail to live up to our ideals for them, we react with outrage.

Therein lies the error.  While the media build up celebrities to be something superhuman, and we believe them, they remain what they always were.  Human.  A soccer player is a normal man, famous for having some skill at kicking a football; an actor is a normal man or woman who can deliver lines and portray characters with skill; a reality TV star is famous for... errr.. for being famous as far as I can tell (?)

The point is that while we elevate celebrities to a level which, frankly they do not deserve, we open ourselves to a stream of almost constant disappointment when they fail to meet the high standards we set for them.  It's not even necessarily their fault, they don't set the standards they are supposed to adhere to; nor for that matter do we.  We ascribe a model and standard of behaviour to the people we are told they are.  By the media.

We need to recognise that we are all human, and that nobody is special.  When we do that, and we, or at least the media, give equal exposure to the good behaviour as well as the bad behaviour of everyone we will be getting somewhere.  The celebrities will no longer feel the pressure to live up to a higher ideal that they are unable to maintain, but equally everyone else will realise they must raise their own standards of behaviour, and thus all of us celebrities included will be able to look one another in the eye knowing we all obey the same moral code.

There is a sidebar to this.  The Leveson Inquiry is currently due to report on its findings into press misconduct.  Why do the press repeatedly feel the need to intrude into the private lives of celebrities? Because it sells.  It's packaged as Public Interest.  We as the general public need to lose our adulation of celebrities and accept that they are normal human beings whose work happens to be open to public scrutiny.  Once we accept that individually they are the same as the rest of us we will lose our interest in every tiny detail of their lives.  They will attain a more peaceful existence as the media will stop hounding them, the media will be able to devote more resources to ferreting out more 'wrongdoing', and we will not have to worry that the media are probing into our lives, just on the offchance that there is a quiet news day and something we have done is salacious enough to be newsworthy.  I am not, by the way, suggesting that investigative journalism be muzzled, quite the opposite.  What I would like to see is the resources currently being wasted on stories about 'who is in bed with who' be redirected to more important stories such as corruption and misdemeanours of a more viable Public Interest.

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