Every monster is ultimately an expression of the dark side of the society from which it emerges. Not the side of society that is in the light, the side that we call “civilised”. The monster is about what we hide. Don’t want to see or face, or even don’t consciously know.
There is currently a TV show being broadcast about a very British monster. But first, consider an American one – Donald J Trump.
I cannot tell you the number of people who stop me in the street to ask why this American monster is still there; why isn’t Trump in prison? Classified documents in his bathroom. Showing them to powerful dinner guests, so that he can look big?
Yes, this man was elected president of the US, becoming the most powerful single human being on earth, in charge of the most formidable military the world has ever seen. The POTUS can start world war three with the press of a button. Who knows how many times Trump almost did?
They love him in the Bible Belt. Evangelical women flock to him. Yet: he was caught on tape saying that he often grabbed women “by the pussy”.
He ordered an assault on the Capitol of the United States, and yet there are military who still support him.
A transactional kind of guy, he is starting to pivot away from the 100% ban on abortion his hardcore followers want, stating that, in some cases, it’s OK. He says this because he knows that the GOP stance on abortion is a vote loser. Yet he has “right-to-life” women in his corner.
Trump now faces more than 90 indictments, some having to do with the fact that his real estate empire – his foundation myth – is a lie. A big fat one. We New Yorkers, present and former, knew this all along. Yet, he still has his followers. Masses.
The reason is that he embodies the American Dream, which lies deep and buried in the psyche of every American. Even in the psyche of those immigrants and refugees risking life and limb and that of their children in order to cross into the United States at its southern border. The American Dream is what motivates them.
I felt that I needed to lay the Trump case out to you: in order to say, in my observation, that there is something British, maybe even particularly English, about Jimmy Savile. Maybe it was all that charity-giving. Maybe the laughs. Above all the laughs.
Because, in my observation, if you can make this great country laugh, you’re almost there. If you can manage that, then the UK is yours.
Savile on the outside appeared to be a gregarious, silly, funny man who jokingly – or so we thought – proclaimed his proclivities to the entire universe while raising shedloads of money for charity. I actually saw a clip once, broadcast on TV, of Savile in a choir, clearly molesting the young woman below and in front of him. You could tell that something was happening to her, because her face abruptly changed: on camera.
The cameraman must have seen it. The editor. The producer. The director. The broadcaster. The public. Did anyone complain, anyone call him out?
I don’t blame the victim. But what about everyone else? What did everyone else do?
Savile was a heat-seeking missile as far as publicity goes. Yet it is said that no one really knew him. The journalist whose book is the basis of a new BBC series, The Reckoning, has stated that he had met Savile once as a young boy. His assessment of the man; that he was the coldest person he had ever encountered.
The other British-English factor about him is the establishment. They loved the guy. I would go so far as to say that some of them hid him, too. In plain sight.
It was the establishment, after all, who made him Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile OBE KCSG.
The SG, by the way, stands for the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great, established in 1831 and bestowed upon Catholics for exceptional service. Whoever is awarded this gets it handed to them personally. By the Pope.
As for the TV show, reports are that viewers felt “sick” watching it. Good. Steve Coogan’s performance is “deeply disturbing” as some viewers have said. The guy is a fine actor. If he’s doing his job, that’s exactly the reaction he should provoke. Maybe it should provoke a forensic going-over of how the establishment let him prosper.
Every society has its monsters formed out of the nation’s very proclivities. Some of those are harmless, others potentially destructive. Just as the US needs to examine its credo of “winners rule and losers lose”, the UK needs to accept that laughter isn’t the be-all and end-all.
But the fact is: you never lose in the US if you embody that part of the Dream that deals with riches and glamour. And you never lose in the UK if you can “make ’em laugh”. And that’s what Savile did. Until he didn’t.
Before it was removed by his family once the truth about him came out, Jimmy Savile’s gravestone read “It was good while it lasted”. No. It wasn’t.