Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Suspected but Not Charged

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Without so much as mentioning a word, the moment Rolf Harris’ name made it to the press, his reputation was vaporised by speculation and condemnation.  As with charges about inappropriate flesh pressing, notably with the underage, anyone’s reputation that comes within a bull’s roar of it finds a career ruined.  That is specifically so if The Sun has anything to do with, a publication with a fetid ambience if ever there was any.

It has transpired that Harris’ home was raided by police in November last year, when he was interviewed by police as part of Operation Yewtree, an operation into alleged sex abuse that pointed a firm finger at the late Jimmy Savile.  Last month, a few days shy of his 83rd birthday, the veteran performer was arrested and interviewed for another round of questioning.  There have been no formal charges laid, but in the scheme of things, this won’t matter.

All that is needed is a tag-line – in this case, “Australian-born pensioner from Berkshire”, spiced with the additional “known performer”, and the suspicious brigades smell blood. The Sun was so good to “out” the pensioner, a long time entertainer who had moved to the United Kingdom and became one of Australia’s more known exports.

Harris over the years became a figure of mock fun and occasional mock reverence.  He popularised the Australian idiom before British screens. He brought, for better or worse, the song Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport, accompanied with “wobbleboard”, into wide circulation.  The Edwardian parlour song Two Little Boys still strikes a note with a few, while his Jake the Peg made some listeners shudder.

Harris also thrilled children with his drawing programmes.  Then came age, something that can have its own impending fatality in entertainment – and the feeling of embarrassment that comes with typecast settings and boxed roles.  The culture vanguard was always peering with mild mannered suspicion at him – could he really be a genuine artist, or merely a dilettante dauber?  Nonetheless, networks felt they had a reliable number in programmes featuring Harris as the concerned media star with an interest in animal welfare.  He was, after all, the “family” figure.

Enter then, the terror about the alleged failing of such a figure, heightened in a culture that engenders it.  “Paedophilia and the threat it represents to children,” writes the British public commentator and sociologist Frank Furedi, “has become a permanent feature of public concern and a regular theme of popular culture” (The Independent, Mar 18). Importantly, Furedi identifies the need to personify evil, to give it some corporeal form that settles the unruly mind.  And what better than to attach it to this “symbol of malevolence”, this anti-Christ figure who somehow features as the immoral absolute?  Throw out any sense of balance in terms of how one confronts it – the discussion is over before it starts, settled, as it were, with an image of supreme criminality, beyond not merely redemption but cure.

Added to that a sentimentalising of childhood, the overprotective sense now that children should not grow, should remain in a sylvan idyll ringed by regulation and surveillance, and we have the perfect nightmare of moral panic. Furedi does overstretch at points, but not much.

For such reasons, the UK’s Channel 5, suffering from premature adjudication, pulled two scheduled shows for screening: Olive the Ostrich and repeats of Rolf’s Animal Clinic. “While this legal matter involving Rolf Harris is ongoing we have removed [the programmes] from the schedule.”  How good of the station masters to have an advanced sense of the legal.

So now, the whirligig of speculation goes around, with defenders and detractors muscling into the ring to have a say.  “He didn’t do it,” bellowed one of his neighbours as the media presence spawned outside his residence in Berkshire.  “And if he did, it doesn’t matter.”  What certainly doesn’t matter is that the case remains part of ongoing police inquiries, and will mean nothing to those who have made up their minds in advance.  Character portraits are already being packaged and released in advance for what might be a trial, though that’s anyone’s guess.

The current legacy is also a combination of Savile’s fiendishness – escaping the world of the living before any charge let alone conviction could ever be made on the abuses he allegedly wrought – and a “showbiz” culture of sleaze that seemed fungal in encouraging them.  For Andrew Rule writing in Melbourne’s Herald Sun (Apr 21), “Rolf Harris might have been eccentric but he was never creepy.”  This is more than an aside at that greatest creepy entertainer of all, Savile himself.

The spores have gone far, and Harris has found it impossible to escape.  Whether formal charges will follow is up to the police.  Whether they issue anything is almost irrelevant now – Harris the entertainer is no more. Harris the condemned paedophile has arisen.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail