Jimmy Savile and our own ‘lovable louts’
Filipinos aren’t really all that familiar with Jimmy Savile, the late BBC host who’s recently been the target of investigations into charges of pedophilia.
From all accounts of his persona and career, I suppose you could say Savile was a loose combination of “Uncle Bob Stewart” of “Uncle Bob’s Lucky 7 Club,” “Kuya Bodgie” of the children’s show “Batibot,” Tito, Vic and Joey of “Eat Bulaga,” and even Willie Revillame.
All these may explain the shock waves spreading across Britain today as revelations of the TV host’s sexual predation come out. It’s like saying Santa Claus was actually exploiting the elves in his Christmas Toy Shop, or that Michael Jackson was sleeping with boys (oh, wait, that’s both old news and the subject of a long drawn-out trial!).
The scandalous revelations are also bringing down two British institutions. One of them is the British Broadcasting Company, the publicly funded but independent and highly respected broadcasting giant that tolerated and promoted Savile despite allegations of his less-than-exemplary behavior (it’s said Savile sexually harassed his young victims in his BBC dressing room and at least once even on camera during a show), and his own confessions in his 1976 autobiography. There are even reports that a BBC investigative show was preparing to air a report on the seamy side of Savile when it was abruptly pulled.
British police officials are also being raked over the coals, mainly for their reluctance to investigate the “beloved” TV host despite many complaints. There’s speculation that Savile, who parlayed his celebrity to raise funds for children’s charities (many of his victims were in fact beneficiaries of his charity work), cultivated friendships with politicians and police officials, earning what one writer called “the shield of celebrity.”
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Writing in The New York Times, British author James Meek seeks to shatter the myth of lovability that seems to have surrounded and protected Savile through most of his public career.
“I don’t remember anyone in the ’70s—or ever—really being fond of Mr. Savile,” Meek recalls. “In trying to be forever young he came across as forever old, a gaunt, haunted imp with a pageboy cut, lurid track suits and a twitching cigar. At times it seemed the national creeping out was palpable, and I’d like to say that we, the viewing public, had our suspicions. But we stuck with rumors and dark jokes, through almost 20 years of ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ and 42 of his co-hosting the prime-time BBC show ‘Top of the Pops.’”
Indeed, Savile seemed to go out of his way to develop the image of a “lovable cad,” what Meek describes as “a free-spirited sexual scamp, somewhere between Don Juan and naughty shepherd lad.” Savile made no attempt to disguise his wandering eye or hands, even admitting in another BBC show that he spent his days in his mobile home doing “anybody I can lay me hands on.” It was, says Meek, what screenwriter Graham Linehan called “a smokescreen comprised of the truth.”
What Savile’s bosses at the BBC and his generations of fans decided to do in the face of their suspicions, it seems, was to laugh off his outrageous statements and his louche behavior, perhaps preferring to view it as outrageous comedy or satire. It may not be too farfetched to consider that Savile was more and more uncomfortable with the contradictions between his public image and private sins, his outspokenness a call for help, if not expiation.
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Of course, we have had our share of “lovable louts,” public figures who got away with, literally, murder, but still survived if not succeeded spectacularly. As with the Savile case, it’s not as if no one had suspicions. In fact, many tales of their outrageous crimes and behaviors spread like wildfire, even if the most common reaction seemed to run along the lines of “so what did you expect from such a character?”
You will recall the sexy star Pepsi Paloma, who accused the comedy trio of Tito, Vic and Joey of gang rape but faced a wall of hostility from sympathetic media, indifferent broadcasting executives and incredulous fans. Part of the problem was, of course, Paloma herself, a “soft drink beauty” managed by an infamous impresario who promoted his wards by shopping them around to various possible boyfriends and/or sponsors.
None of the charges stuck, and Paloma eventually dropped the charges after she was allegedly visited by one of the trio who said he had only talked with her, but only after placing a pistol on the table in front of her. Paloma eventually committed suicide, and the truth of her charges will forever remain a mystery. This, even as the men she accused went on to earn a place as respected “elders” in the field of comedy.
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Then there is Revillame, who managed, with a lot of help from the management of his home network, to wiggle out of child abuse charges when he made a boy perform a “sexy dance” on his TV show.
He even had the temerity to sue well-known child psychologist Honey Carandang, who was one of the first to sound the alarm over the “Jan-jan” incident, even if those charges were eventually dismissed for lack of merit.
One of the more discomfiting episodes of this incident and its public fallout was the appearance of Jan-jan’s parents on the show, and their staunch insistence that what hurt their son was not so much his performance on the show and the mocking laughter of the audience as the resulting “notoriety” from it.
Indeed, celebrity seems to bring with it a bulletproof shield from censure, censure which would immediately fall on the head of the ordinary transgressor. Let’s hope we won’t have to wait for the passing of our homegrown “lovable louts” before they get their comeuppance.
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