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:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Fearsome: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail