Wednesday 2 July 2014

The Rolf Harris Affair compared with Jimmy Savile - relevance to understanding the real nature of the modern Mass Media


The extremely popular, (apparently) very likeable, and multi-talented veteran entertainer Rolf Harris has been convicted of a series of sexual crimes (see coverage elsewhere) - and the reports attached to this make clear that he was for decades a crudely aggressive sexual predator.

For me, this is a very big deal indeed - the implications of which ramify into many areas of life. 


Harris's behaviour is at a lower level of severity and scale than the horrific behaviour of Sir Jimmy Savile - yet in many ways the I find the revelations about Rolf Harris much more disturbing. 

Savile was very obviously a nasty piece of work - and I always found it very hard to understand why people tolerated his presence on TV, Radio and at public events. Rolf Harris - in complete contrast - was very genial, avuncular, and seemed to me like a completely trustworthy and decent man. 


(However, one item of coverage was that Savile 'arranged' for Harris to visit a women's 'special hospital' for the criminally insane, where they both watched the inmates stripping naked to be searched before bedtime. This suggests that Savile's immunity from exposure and prosecution may have been related to him fixing-up such experiences for others in his media circle - it seems Savile functioned as a kind of pimp, but that his 'payment' was to be allowed to continue his horrific long-term lifestyle of serial rapes and molestations.)


Rolf Harris was very much a part of my childhood, and someone I had a soft spot for and who I had seen over a period of several decades without experiencing the slightest glimmer of suspicion that he habitually groped and tried to kiss women and even young girls; and did this kind of thing at times in public situations, including TV studios and location TV work. (As well as various other even more wicked and sinister things that I will leave readers to research for themselves). 


The Rolf Harris (and Savile) affair tells us a great deal about what sort of behaviour is tolerated and condoned in Mass Media circles. 

It tells us that the real aristocrats of modern life, the people who can get away with sexual behaviour that would be severely punished in others (and can do this for decades - when 'everybody' knows all about it) are the popular mass entertainers. 

This fits with my thesis that the Mass Media are the rulers of modern society - the Media is the centre of real power. 


It tells us that Savile and Harris are the tip of an iceberg - because they could only have functioned in a world where this kind of grossly exploitative and aggressive sexual behaviour was normal, tolerated, condoned - indeed approved.

Presumably everybody who had power and authority was 'at it' (or benefited from it) to a greater or lesser extent.


The Rolf Harris affair also means that there is zero-correlation between what appears on our screen and what is really happening. It means we have no idea what the people in the mass media are really like. It means that our personality evaluation systems are rendered absolutely useless by the Mass Media - we have no idea at all whether someone on screen is good, trustworthy, kind - or evil, lying, exploitative.


Our instincts may be telling us one thing - loud and clear - but in these circumstances our instincts are worthless. 


In sum, the Rolf Harris affair demonstrates that we have to assume the worst about media celebrities - unless or until proven otherwise. 

The onus of proof lies with them - the lesson I have learned is that media celebrities are guilty of sexual misconduct until demonstrated to be innocent.


Here is a relevant excerpt from my new mini-book Bruce G Charlton. Addicted to Distraction: Psychological consequences of the modern Mass Media. University of Buckingham Press, 2014.

Postscript: the Jimmy Savile affair 

A significant stimulus to write this book came from the explosive revelations of the Jimmy Savile affair during 2012 and after – and my developing understanding of the implications. 

The Savile affair reveals the leading controllers of the Mass Media in particular, and public leaders in general, as being disgustingly corrupt in terms of what they tolerate and excuse.

Thus, I regard as a major national event the un-masking of the late Sir Jimmy Savile (1926-2011) as a chronic, serial, wholesale, aggressively-predatory sexual aggressor, abuser and rapist of boys and girls, men and women (including mentally handicapped, disabled, ill and hospitalized juveniles) over a timescale of more than half a century, and in reported numbers running into many hundreds (with actual numbers in all likelihood being in thousands, since many victims were incapable of understanding and reporting incidents).

The Savile affair constitutes, in my opinion, in its totality; one of the most horrifying – and horrifically-revealing – events in the history of England. And as a nation, the English have hardly yet begun to digest the implications – that is, assuming we are capable of doing-so, in such a nihilistic, shallow and distractible society as we have become.

The intense interest of this case is that Savile was, for several decades but especially in the 1970s and 80s, massively promoted by the UK Mass Media as nothing short of a lay saint, mostly due to his raising lots of money ‘for charity’ and his work in ‘helping people’.

Jimmy Savile was essentially a creation of the BBC – which is the British Broadcasting Corporation, the state-funded radio and television network and focus of the UK Mass Media. Initially Savile was promoted as a teen idol, as radio DJ and also presenter of the TV flagship Top of the Pops.

Later Savile was promoted in connection with young children; and was, for instance, featured visiting children’s hospitals on Christmas day. Later still, the BBC created a long-running Saturday evening prime time family TV series called Jim’ll Fix It (1975-1994) for Savile’s glorification as a patron of boys and girls, the sick, the crippled and the handicapped - all of which categories are noted among Savile’s known sexual victims. The purported aim of the series was to arrange for a stream of young people to come to the studios and have their daydreams fulfilled by Savile and his ‘team’. In practice, it seems that – all too often – the opposite actually occurred.

Jimmy Savile was, indeed, one of the earliest people to recognize the vast career possibilities of becoming personally very rich, famous, powerful and protected from prosecution by well-publicized charitable ‘giving’. The more Savile gave, the wealthier and more prestigious he became. Until finally ‘Sir Jimmy’ was, apparently, everybody’s friend or favourite Uncle; and his depredations were unstoppable: he was, and openly boasted of being, a-law-unto-himself.

The media, and especially the BBC, thus made Savile into the leading British representative of what it was to be a ‘good’ person, held-up as an example to others.

And not just the media. Savile was awarded a Papal knighthood to go with his British knighthood (Savile was one of the best-known Roman Catholics in public life – despite, as we discovered, openly practising assembly-line sex in the BBC studio dressing rooms with under-age-looking girls); he was also apparently a close personal friend and guest of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; and also of the Queen and Royal Family. In other words Savile was (so far as the masses could see) unanimously endorsed by the establishment at the highest possible level.

Despite being aware of his behind-the-scenes reputation, these establishment idiots nonetheless invited Savile into their own homes to meet their own families; because now we discover that many of these establishment figures had heard multiple reports and complaints, and persistent and plausible rumours of his activities; and did nothing, did not investigate, took no precautions; or else denied, and in sum certainly covered-up what was really going-on. It seems that the Establishment did not even use their insider knowledge to safeguard their own loved ones!

(It is typical of the insanity of modernity that the politically correct elite believe their own lies – even when contradicted by personal knowledge and their own experience.)

And yet, to the unbiased eye Savile was very obviously a cold-eyed, self-promoting, self-enriching, egotistical weirdo – with an embarrassingly inept persona; a man who never conversed but spoke entirely in cliches, and deflected enquiries with strange stereotypical noises and displacement activities.

The only people whom I know who had actually met Savile disliked him intensely; one knew him from their schooldays as being a nasty teenager; a woman friend reported that on meeting Savile he made an immediate, crude and sexually aggressive approach (i.e. groping) – as if it was his habit and right to do so.

A very obviously untrustworthy person.

So, on the one hand there was one’s own instinctive reaction backed by personal contacts, which said Savile was nasty; and on the other hand the Mass Media, especially the BBC, the government, the Royal Family, numerous hospitals and prison services, and (for goodness sake!) the Vatican – all united in telling us that Sir Jimmy was the nearest British equivalent to Mother Teresa (and I am not exaggerating this in the slightest).

Add to this people in the police, the legal system health service officials, educational officials who seemed to endorse Savile despite (as we have heard) numerous reports, complaints, incidents...

An outsider might ask if there was any major group that was not involved, to a greater or lesser extent, in covering-up and thereby promoting Saviles crimes?

And there we have it, in a nutshell. The necessary relationship between Media reality and real reality is not just zero, but potentially negative: the worse the reality, the more the ‘establishment’ ruling elite, promoted it. The ‘lack of discernment’ displayed by the Queen, the politicians, the Media moguls and the Pope could not have been more extreme.

This is a perverse perfection of inversion: one of the most (covertly) evil people that could be imagined, yet aggressively promoted as being one of the best. And this situation continuing for decade after decade; as the number of his victims accumulated through Savile’s long and active life...

As I said, Sir Jimmy Savile was a creature created and sustained by the Mass Media, and most specifically the state funded British Broadcasting Corporation which was the primary source.

From the late 1960s, therefore, the premier UK Mass Media organization was the origin, focus, energy, defender of the phenomenon of Savile – which can be taken as merely the most egregious example currently known of a general inversion of moral (and also aesthetic) values. The BBC, the Mass Media, took this grotesquely-unpromising raw material, and made him into the prime national moral hero, and kept this going, on-and-on, despite all they suspected, heard, had seen and knew.

So we now know (we no longer merely suspect the fact) that the Mass Media will take a truly evil person (or it could be an evil organization, or an evil set of ideas) and make him admired, dominant and invulnerable.

It has always been said, in excusing Savile (both before and after the revelations) for his boring, inept and embarrassing persona that he ‘gave’ millions of pounds to charity – some say forty million.

We now see that this charitable contribution was more in the nature of a bribe than a gift; money paid to ensure sexual access to the vulnerable children he preyed upon, and protection money to prevent him being prosecuted (just one of the hundreds of instances that have emerged would have meant Savile’s ruin and probably jail time).

If we divide forty million pounds by the constantly expanding number of probable sexual assaults over several decades; the charitable contributions may eventually work-out to be something like a few hundred pounds per sexual attack.

In other words, Savile’s charitable ‘giving’ functioned as a pay-off for Establishment status, a high salary, and political protection; also sometimes as a kind of entrance fee to get access to establishments where (as a patron) he could molest with impunity. It is likely that Savile regarded this exchange as being good value for money…

Such ‘charity’ – rewarded by depraved and criminal sexual gratification, personal wealth, and lavish official prestige is revealed as licensed evil on the cheap.

But why did this happen. Why was this all this done for somebody so wicked and dangerous as Savile? Why was so much done to enable and facilitate vice on such a vast scale? What reason could the Mass Media establishment have for doing this apparently arbitrary thing? – what did they stand to gain from it – why not be more cautious?

The immediate cause of Savile’s licence to abuse seems to have been the probable fact that in the BBC (and presumably elsewhere in the Mass Media) with respect to sexual license almost everybody was at it, to a greater or lesser extent; too many people had something to hide – and, quite likely, it was calculated that bringing down Savile would be to bring down the whole house of cards of Establishment sexual corruption.

Because, following the Jimmy Saville affair and a series of prominent prosecutions, convictions and confessions, it has become apparent that there was what would be considered by religious traditionalists a varied and widespread culture of endemic sexual transgression at the BBC.

The once exemplary British Broadcasting Corporation in London had, from about the mid-1960s, seemingly become a moral cesspool, and at times a criminal environment; involving not just the most obviously strange and sinister Savile, but also other media personalities who were more generally popular, and seemed to me and many others as if they were decent characters.

The fact that the most influential centre of UK Mass Media was quite widely known (among those in the know) as a dangerous place for children, implies that this had been an accepted fact; indeed it looks as if sexual access is likely to have been, maybe still is, a major motivational factor in those who work there.

I assume the same applies to other major media institutions, who have at least tolerated – perhaps approved of this; since otherwise the whistle would have been blown long, long ago.

The lessons I have learned from the Savile affair are that:

1. We are unable to judge the moral worth of people in public life from what we see on our screens. We think we can judge this, but we cannot. Our instincts tell us we can, but we cannot. And this applies even, or perhaps especially, to those put forward as moral exemplars. We must therefore resist reassurances that things are alright, simply because we – the public – have not been allowed to learn how bad they are. We now know things may be horrifically bad, and we are allowed to know nothing about it.

2. The moral worth of people in public life is much, much lower than we had previously supposed. Think again of all the major Establishment figures and institutions who were complicit in endorsing and protecting Savile… They knew, but did nothing.

We must therefore assume the worst of many, or most, people in public life – unless specifically proven otherwise.

3. The evils consequent upon the sexual revolution have been systematically-hidden, excused on multiple grounds, indulged, even applauded. There must surely be a lot of the same kind of things we do not know about in many other people, circumstances and institutions; especially those most subject to the changes in ethos dictated by the enforcement of the sexual revolution. It is reasonable – indeed prudent – to assume the worst until proven otherwise.

But those who do not want to learn from the Savile Affair – including the many who were complicit – will not learn from it. And they do not want the public to learn, either.

Already I detect that the whole business is going down the memory hole – because in the modern world it is only the Mass Media that keeps an issue alive, and the Mass Media has no interest in allowing the implications and ramifications of the Savile Affair to be worked-through and kept in mind.

But there are lessons; and we ought to learn them. We should acknowledge the profound foolishness and danger of immersing ourselves in the multiple influences from those depraved individuals in the Mass Media and the Establishment who control and sustain public discourse.

And, having reflected, we must each of us resolve to change our attitudes and practices in relation to the Mass Media.

To encourage such reflection, and toughen such resolution, has been the main purpose of this book.



Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - I know from my experience in clinical psychiatry that people with personality disorders are - for limited periods - *the* most convincing people in the world, the best of all 'actors': I mean women with hysteria/ histrionic personalities, and men who are psychopaths.

But in real life, it only takes a few meetings or a few hours before the other side of their nature comes-out - they cannot help it. The passive victim then the aggressive persecutor; kindly Dr Jekyll but then inevitably the savage Mr Hyde.

The mass media mimics this repeated meeting/ extended duration - so that if we see people over and again for many years on TV, and they always seem like nice people - then we come to like and trust them much as we would if this applied in real life.

But the mass media are not real life! - no matter how convincingly they simulate it. So, when it comes to mass media impressions, we cannot trust ourselves.

Matias F. said...

I can only think of poor marquis de Sade, who had much less success in his attempts to do the kind of things Jimmy Saville did.

Alex said...

The Rolf Harris affair also means that there is zero-correlation between what appears on our screen and what is really happening. It means we have no idea what the people in the mass media are really like. It means that our personality evaluation systems are rendered absolutely useless by the Mass Media - we have no idea at all whether someone on screen is good, trustworthy, kind - or evil, lying, exploitative.

I would qualify this slightly.

As a child of the '70s I would occasionally watch Savile & Harris' shows without feeling any particular warmth for them as individuals -- not in the way I did for, say, Tony Hart, Brian Cant and Derek Griffiths. And while I never had any inkling of Savile/Harris' depravity, neither was I particularly shocked when it emerged. Somehow it didn't seem incongruous. As far as I know, there hasn't been any suggestion of skullduggery on the part of Hart, Cant or Griffiths and I would be very surprised if they were guilty of anything of the sort.

The telltale difference, I think, is that Savile/Harris had very public 'larger than life' personas -- Savile's weirdness and Harris' joviality were exaggerated to the point of grotesquerie. It was clearly artificial, with well-honed visual mannerisms, stock catchphrases and props. Of course one isn't saying that all performers of this type are paedophiles, but there is the mature awareness that what you see isn't necessarily what you get. Whereas Hart/Cant/etc didn't seem to have this element of artificiality. There was no 'front', they were just ordinary affable blokes who happened to have a talent for entertaining and amusing children when they appeared on camera.

Also, Savile/Harris had a very high profile, not just in TV showbiz circles but also where those circles intersected other influential circles -- the pop music industry, nationwide charities, politicians, royalty etc. Again, I'm not saying everyone who moves in those circles is a paedophile, just that for a paedophile who does move in those circles, there is a network in place with the potential to facilitate their crimes enormously. Doors open to them. One can imagine Savile hopping into a chauffeur-driven limousine after recording 'Jim'll Fix It' and being whisked off to do a spot of DJ-ing in a nightclub packed with teenagers. Whereas you would imagine Hart/Cant driving home and putting their feet up with a cup of tea and the paper.

Finally, note that Savile/Harris' work gave them plenty of direct, physical access to children, both in the TV studio and beyond. Hart/Cant never left the studio in their capacity as performers and only interacted with other adults while performing.