Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Barack Obama vs. Jimmy Savile

No one in the UK is following the US presidential election anymore. Why? Because everyone is glued to the Jimmy Savile case. It's a double whammy. Not only has the country's long-treasured children's TV presenter, beloved national radio DJ and charity champion been revealed to be a nasty sexual predator and paedophile, but its most trusted institution—the BBC—has been exposed as a harbourer of such vermin.

First of all, who allowed Savile to get away with this behaviour for so many years? I'll tell you who: the Great British public. As a British citizen, I’ll take my share of the blame, as painful (as I will come on to explain) as that may be. The buck stops with us, not with the BBC, not even with the head of our state, whose role it is to protect us, but with the people who make Britain so great. The British public allowed a bully to win, time and time again.

The problem begins with the way we put our dignitaries on pedestals and have a long history of doing so. We do so because, ultimately, we are afraid of them. We feel they have power over us. We do not stand up to the upper echelons of our society, even when they behave atrociously. I’m not talking about our celebrities; we are nothing if not weary of celebrities, even Royals behaving badly (Fergie, Princess Margaret, Harry) are given little sympathy when they are caught with their pants down in celebrity hang outs, but we do hold an unquestioning reverence for our beloved Queen and her chosen ones. People like Jimmy Savile, who are knighted and ratified by the head of our state, are therefore afforded the same respect. How could the Queen get it wrong? How could he be a bad person? Who are you or I to question him? Herein lies the problem. Respect by default is dangerous. It is what bullies thrive on.

Sir (making a point here) Jimmy Savile was a bully. Watch any old footage of him and look closely. You will see a bully. You will slap your forehead and say, "of course". He grabs a woman in a crowd and kisses her on the lips, making a lascivious smacking noise with his mouth. He puts his arms a little too tightly around a bunch of teenage girls on Top of the Pops. He sits a young child he has "fixed" something wonderful for on his knee and grins with satisfaction. He is the original child snatcher, handing out goodies in order to have his wicked way. And we all fell for it. We're not so much angry at him, or the BBC, but at ourselves. Why did nobody say anything? (They tried.) Why did nobody do anything? (They were afraid.) As a victim of repeated bullying, emotional abuse and sexual harassment myself, let me tell you, it is the hardest thing in the world to say something, let alone do something, about it.

I don't make that admission lightly. To this day I am afraid of saying it. I am afraid you will judge me, tell me it was my fault, that I wore the wrong dress, or made a suggestive remark, that I am exaggerating, or that I couldn't take a little office banter. But it wasn't like that. A bully had me in his clutches. He was my direct employer, the proprietor of the company I worked for, who hired and fired at will, and thus directly in control of my livelihood. He knew this and took pains to remind me, every day, that if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have a job. He had me convinced that no one else would ever hire me, that only he saw my special talents, that everyone else thought I was a pain in the ass. A pain in the ass I may have been, but that does NOT give a boss carte blanche to subject me, or anyone, to months, even years, of abuse. So, as I said, I am guilty as charged. I am guilty of not speaking up and complaining. When I finally did it was a small, quick, secretive private litigation that I won. I don’t remember the exact wording of the paperwork, but I think I might have agreed, legally, never to name him. I might have agreed to that. Like he deserved protecting. 

It is, and always has been, extraordinarily difficult to stand up to bullies. Clever bullies make you think it's all your fault. They flatter (you can just hear JS: "now then, now then, now then, do you know how gorgeous you look in that dress?") and then they make it all your fault ("goodness gracious, will you look at what you're doing to me, will you look down there under my pants; how's about that, then?")

But he's not here to defend himself. He lived in an era where sex with a 14 year-old scantily clad teenybopper in a rock star’s dressing room was thought of as being about as illegal as driving at 85mph on the motorway. If you get caught, you get a ticket, but if no one catches you and no one gets hurt, no harm's done. We now know that 14 year-old girls, whether they are throwing themselves at a celebrity adult male or not, are more often than not irreparably damaged by having sex with a man twice their age; even if they think they want it. That's why the law exists to protect them. But it's more than just the age difference (she says, defending herself after being so on the fence about Megan Stammers and her teacher boyfriend). It's about power. Who holds more power in the Megan Stammers situation? She does. He has more to lose. These days, if a man chooses to get involved with an under-age girl, he knows he is likely to face the consequences. He's likely to think long and hard as to whether it is worth the risk. Is it love? Is it something he is committing to long term? Or is it for kicks. Clearly in the case of Saville – since he was never reportedly in love with any of these girls, or made a long-term relationship with one of them – it was for kicks. Which makes him a predator, not a man who has simply fallen in love with a woman who is not quite technically a woman yet.

James Savile (interestingly, an over-sexed, confident and cunning Scorpio Tiger if you believe in that malarkey) didn't just bully individuals, he bullied several institutions, he bullied a corporation, he bullied the CPS (the British justice system), he bullied a whole nation. He even—by default—bullied a monarchy. No wonder no one stood up to him. He did not allow anyone to question him. We've been told that when they did, he threatened them. He is beginning to sound like nothing short of a tyrant. And he didn't stop there. Looking at the mess that high-ranking BBC employees have found themselves in, he is clearly still bullying from beyond the grave. Surely no one now thinks it was anything other than fear that motivated poor Peter Rippon’s decision (whether or not it came from higher up); fear of standing up to a bully. What might the Queen say? The Queen who in fact, at the time of writing, has yet to say anything about all this (and you really would have thought she’d have learnt her lesson after her faux pas in not making an immediate statement following the death of Princess Diana—who, incidentally, was unquestionably the victim of bullying). The British monarchy has a rather worrying and antiquated habit of sticking its head in the sand when something uncomfortable crops up concerning “one of their own.” As long as they continue to do this, bullies will not believe they are ultimately accountable. It’s only a mere 500 years since we were allowing our monarch to behead his wives without repercussion. The king was once able to execute at will for what was called treason, but was really “disagreeing with the monarch.” And you knew what would happen to you if you disagreed with the monarch’s right to execute a person accused of treason. No wonder we have a legacy of fear. And look where it’s got us. The BBC is reeling in the aftermath of mounting revelations about sexual harassment on what appears to be an endemic scale. The whole situation has called into question the very integrity of one of the most trusted organizations in British history. What should we do now? Maybe we need to look at how our American counterparts call their leaders to account. 

The United States, while in no way a perfect society, is a young country built on a foundation of truth and justice at all costs. It is a nation that actively disenfranchised itself from its founding state of barbaric British monarchs. Accountability has always been at the heart of the US justice system; the notion that no one is above the law is at the heart of its constitution. We may still be fighting for equal rights in many arenas, but every citizen is accountable for their actions, and entitled to a fair trail when their behaviour is called into question. The American people even put their own president on trial; they were prepared to lose one of the best presidents they had ever elected because they insisted he be held accountable for his unacceptable actions. I don’t see the Queen standing trial on behalf of her knighted subject and employee (as far as he was an employee of a crown-owned institution), Mr Savile, materializing as an event any time soon. Britain may have invented human rights with the signing of the Magna Carter 800 years ago, but it was the first independent American states that suggested, almost 600 years later, that no one man (or woman) was better than another by virtue of his or her birth. Any man could become the head of state.

And any man did.

And will again.

Obama will win another term not because he got everything right the first time (he didn’t) but because he has always stood accountable to the American people. He has always spoken up for what he, as a man, believes in... such as same-sex marriage. People know they are voting for a man and not a party (or a party’s puppet). He may not have been able to fulfil all the promises he made the first time around, but he’s a decent, upstanding, trustworthy man of integrity. In fact there’s so little dirt on this man, his opponents still have to harp on about the insane notion that his birth certificate is a forgery. His opponents are bullies who rely on little other than bullying tactics to make people scared to stand up to them, lest they be cast out and end up all alone. Bigotry in numbers works best, as everyone knows.

But aren’t I being slightly harsh on the bullies here? Let’s hear it for the bullies for a moment. What maketh the bully?

Most bullies are, as we know, cowards. They are so afraid of being nobodies, of being alone, that they will covet power at all costs. They do not want to govern, they want to rule. They do not want to lead, they want to be followed. They have insecure egos that need feeding with adoration. Why? Most likely because they, themselves, were the victims of bullies. To stop it, we need to break the chain, and it needs to start at the top. We need to end the era of accepting "untouchables". Just because a person is born into a certain family, or blessed by the pope, or has raised a million for the homeless, or is running for president, does not make them a good person by default. They must be judged directly, and solely, on their actions. Indeed the actions of these people, because they are part of the elite, must be more visible and accountable than even the common man. 

Going back to Jim, I wonder if someone perhaps bullied our idolized British icon? (Incidentally, if you're American and you're reading this and you're struggling to relate to Jimmy Savile, think Jerry Sandusky and multiply by at least ten.) What exactly do we know about him? That he never married, that he lived his whole life with his mother and preserved her room as she left it when she died, reportedly even dry-cleaning her clothes once a year. Hold on! Did no one think this was a little weird? A night at the Bates Motel? Anyone? He was just a little eccentric, was he? Maybe his mother had him under her spell? Maybe it was someone else. I doubt we’ll ever know the whole truth. 

I look back at the people who bullied me. In every single case (except the last, when I broke the pattern) I thought it was my fault, that I had done something wrong, either by being not good enough, or being too good. Perversely, I even looked up to some of those bullies and yearned for their acceptance, such was the depth of my low self-esteem.

And another reason victims of bullying don’t speak out is, who the hell wants to live through the whole sick ordeal again? Being asked, “So where exactly did he put his hands? And where did he put your hands? And he pushed your head in which direction exactly? Are you sure it was at that exact angle? Did you ever actually utter the word ‘no’?” Not only that, but you’re expected to have proof as well. “Yes, there was me, him and his BMW that he pulled into an underground parking lot when he was meant to be giving me a ride home. Ask his wing mirror, it will swear it’s all true.” No thanks. I’ll just get on with my life and take it to my grave. Bullies depend on victims thinking like this. They specifically pick victims they are sure will think like this. They do not pick people with high self-esteem, they pick people who have such a lack of self worth that they even doubt themselves. Did it really hurt so bad? Surely someone else has it worse than me. If I complain, I could easily lose my job/not be able to pay the mortgage/feed the kids.

If you have even the merest suspicion that you were perhaps bullied by someone, anyone, in your past, then you were. If you have ever, vaguely, sort of, in a low moment, faintly worried that you were abused, then you were. Get over it, forgive and forget, but don’t play it down, because we know what happens to victims of bullying who bury their pain. Don’t be a victim; be a survivor. If it ever happens again, tell people. Even if they don’t believe you or nothing comes of it, just telling people will make it real for you, and make you less likely to accept it happening the next time. Because if we don’t know how to protect ourselves, as adult victims of bullying, how can we protect our children? 

The human race has a long history of abusing children. Only recently have we begun to agree that it is wrong. It is absolutely imperative that we do everything in our power and stop at nothing to stamp it out.

Last night, the BBC, desperate to prove that it is not afraid of pointing the finger inwards, that it holds itself accountable to the British people, broadcast a Panorama special about the whole affair, and today it sent its head honcho to answer questions in parliament. Day late and a dollar short, I'd say. I haven't seen the Panorama programme yet because I can't get the BBC iPlayer where I currently live (in France) but I've read reviews (on the BBC website of course), and I watched a short clip of former BBC Director-General Greg Dyke explaining how most commissioning editors at the Beeb feel they are autonomous, that their duty is to the British public before the D-G (Q.E.D. by Panorama). But it doesn't matter what they show us now, we want to know what the hell they were doing then. Talk about closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. The BBC has just been exposed as an elitist, unregulated sham of an institution. We can now imagine years and years of secretaries suffering in silence, brilliant women being passed over for promotion, talented individuals being marginalized for "not playing ball". Everyone can see it for what it is now, and it’s shaken the country to its core. 

My rose-coloured glasses, I must admit, came off a little while back.

I yearned for that elusive "Top of the Pops" ticket when I was 12, about as much as I yearned for Jim to “fix it” for me (so glad he didn’t now!) In the days before You Tube, and Facebook, and X Factor, it was the only way to get your five minutes of fame if you weren’t actually that special, to be part of something big and wonderful and glittery, always thinking, Oh, will I ever be picked?! Will I ever be good enough, or cool enough, or lucky enough to get in?! Well I finally got to go to Top of the Pops when I was around 30, on a kind of VIP ticket, as I knew a producer. It was a huge disappointment. All I saw was a load of overpaid pop stars drinking too much and taking cocaine in the green room. Yes… I said it, I have seen illegal drugs taken on the BBC premises. Why didn't I report it immediately? Are you serious? I guess I should have complained about John Leslie groping me, too, on a separate occasion. But you don't. You don't want to be cast out once you're in. So you "pay your dues". The same goes for many elitist institutions, like expensive British boarding schools, the armed forces, or the Catholic church. Even now I'm scared. Even now, a small voice in me says, "Be quiet. What if someone reads this one day and subsequently doesn't hire you for a dream job?" (Maybe I have to trust that someone could hire me because of it.)

I have often been part of organizations in which I didn't really feel I belonged, and thus I lived my whole life in fear. If I criticize, I will be cast out, because I am officially a nobody, and the elite classes and power-hungry heads of big establishments will continue to remind me that I should not forget my place.

Well my place, I finally worked out, was not on my knees under the desk of some repulsive man on whom I believed my future wellbeing depended. My place is at my computer, writing, and publishing freely in this incredible domain that we call the Internet, in the hope that my words might give just one person the courage to stand up to a bully and break a chain, in the hope that we continue to talk about this issue and join forces to stamp out bullying of any kind, and fight to protect our children from any form of abuse.

And your place—if you’re a US citizen—is out at the polling stations on Tuesday, November 6th, ensuring that your country doesn’t lose a decent, fair, accountable man at its helm.