Public image no longer hides private actions
One of the oddest scenes in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous – an absurdly detoxified study of 1970s rock – finds the jolly band “selling” a groupie to a rival act. Having travelled with the Allman Brothers Band as a teenage journalist, Crowe knew whereof he wrote. The new establishment was quite as willing to abuse power as was the fusty old guard.
Here’s the good news. It does look as if much of that dangerous deference – to both bishops and popular entertainers – has belatedly slipped away. Gary Glitter received no quarter when child pornography was discovered on his computer. Jonathan King, impresario and sometime pop star, was sent to jail for sex offences. We hardly need to detail the scandals that have spread through the Catholic Church over the past decade or so.
The advent of social media has made life that bit more difficult for celebrities intent on abusing vulnerable young people. Within seconds, an accusation can be disseminated to a million hand-held devices throughout the globe. Everybody is his or her own newspaper publisher.
Maybe the downsides to that development outweigh the advantages. For every valid accusation, there are a hundred snippets of misleading gossip. One slightly disturbing aspect of the Savile affair has been the number of people who, noting Jimmy’s odd dress sense and peculiar manner, professed they “knew all along” he was a deviant. (In a spirit of full disclosure, I should own up to thinking something similar myself.)
In the current era, just being an eccentric can inspire a million Twitter users to form themselves into a digital lynch mob.
For all that, we should rejoice that it is now, maybe, just a little bit easier for genuine victims of abuse to level accusations against the powerful. Cynicism about politicians, pop stars, priests, journalists, actors and the rest of the establishment has set us free from destructive obsequiousness.
The incidents alleged in that Jimmy Savile documentary could still take place today. But they would be harder to cover up.