Jimmy Savile has damaged us all

A society that turns a blind eye to sexual predators or condones a culture that cynically exploits young people’s sexuality is facing a crisis. Who is to blame? A hard-hitting article in the London Review of Books points the finger at a public that uncritically accepts light entertainment’s salacious offerings.

It’s a difficult subject. Everyone in Britain is avidly (and self-consciously) following the revelations surrounding the ever obnoxious Jimmy Savile, wondering who knew what and why nothing was said or done to stop him. It is the wisdom of hindsight. The story becomes even more sickening when one reads journalist Andrew O’Hagan’s account of child abuse and the British public (“Light Entertainment”, LRB, Vol. 34 No. 21, 8 November 2012).

Forget tabloid speculation and made-to-entertain-rather-than-inform television specials. O’Hagan delves into the seedier and corrupt aspects of the entertainment culture of British broadcasting from the late 1940s onwards, raising more questions than he lays to rest. For, who’s to say that what we are witnessing now is not just the tip of the iceberg? That behaviour once concealed in and by a great British institution is not still lurking there and elsewhere today?

O’Hagan comments, “Whatever else it has been in the past, paedophilia was always an institutional disorder, in the sense that it has thrived in covert worlds with powerful elites. Boarding schools and hospitals, yes, churches certainly, but also in our premier entertainment labyrinths.” That list is surprisingly short. What about the worlds of politics and finance, the armed forces, the education system, and patriarchal societies and communities both North and South – where power perverts in every sense?

O’Hagan probes the relationship between deviancy and the kind of personality on which the light entertainment industry appears to thrive. He delves into “the Pandora’s box of British popularism” and the provocative role played by some mass media. “Why is British light entertainment so often based on the sexualisation of people too young to cope? And why is it that we have a press so keen to feed off it? Is it to cover the fact, via some kind of willed outrage, that the culture itself is largely paedophile in its commercial and entertainment excitements?” It’s a serious question.

Nothing can condone or mitigate Jimmy Savile’s actions. The man was a vile predator who abused his position in the world of light entertainment for sexual advantage. He was protected and cheered on by producers and editors who, in some cases, shared his perversions. He was feted by a public unwilling to question the prevailing ethos.

“There’s something creepy about British light entertainment and there always has been. Joe Orton meets the Marquis de Sade at the end of the pier, with a few Union Jacks fluttering in the stink and a mother-in-law tied in bunting to a ducking-stool. Those of us who grew up on it liked its oddness without quite understanding how creepy it was. I mean, Benny Hill? And then we wake up one day, in 2012, and wonder why so many of them turned out to be deviants and weirdos. Our papers explode in outrage and we put on our Crucible expressions before setting off to the graveyard to take down the celebrity graves and break them up for landfill. Of course. Graffiti the plaques and take down the statues, because the joy of execration must match the original sin, when we made heroes out of these damaged and damaging ‘entertainers’. We suddenly wish them to have been normal, when all we ever ask of our celebrities is that they be much more fucked up than we are. And what do we do now? Do we burn the commemorative programmes, scratch their names from the national memory?”

Indeed. What shall we do now? Brush it all under the carpet, make a cup of tea, and pretend it never happened? Or do some genuine soul-searching and root out what are deeply ingrained attitudes that harm us all?

Andrew O’Hagan’s article “Light Entertainment”can be found here.


3 comments on “Jimmy Savile has damaged us all

  1. You’re posting is really well written and informative…
    Do you not think this whole thing has turned into a bit of a ‘witch-hunt’ though?
    To vilify the whole of the light entertainment industry also seems rather excessive.
    the fact of the matter is that sexual abuse of all kinds exists within our society as an unfortunate deviation from universal norms and values. However, we are all aware of its presence and for the most part it does not effect most of our lives…
    While there are no circumstances in which it should be tabooed and swept under the carpet, should the media cling to scandal and sensationalism and blow all things out of proportion.
    While we may never know what exactly went on with Jimmy Savile, it does seem to me farcial to imagine that over 300 victims were silenced for this long.
    Please read my blog about media ethics and the framing of this case and let me know what you think.

    • Philip Lee says:

      Thank you for commenting. The essay and the thinking behind it are, of course, provocative. But the question seems to me legitimate. If the media serve or meet the demands of the audience, what is it the audience wants or is willing to put up with? If we get at least some of our values and worldviews via the media, are there questions of responsibility and accountability that need addressing? A witch-hunt, maybe, but perhaps a necessary and timely one.

  2. Kristine Greenaway says:

    If we believe reading good literature helps shape us in a positive way, is it not then equally true that reading sordid, voyeuristic articles will shape us negatively?

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