I’ve got a good friend who I met up with this morning. Well, when I say “Good friend”, I mean someone I’ve seen often and always had cheery, open and positive conversation with. Someone reliable. He’s Asian and sells copies of “The Big Issue” outside my local shopping centre come our Welsh rain, shine, hell or even high water. Only around six months back he vanished. Until today when he reappeared, still his old cheery self. I bought a copy – despite it’s price inflated by around 65%, ie £1.50 to £2.50!
Actually I ribbed him a bit about the editorial quality of the magazine, as I’ve found it very lacking in recent times. The cover was not reassuring – “BLAME” it shouted, and in small type went on: “It’s always someone else’s fault (isn’t it?)”. Only that bracket gave me grounds for hope.
Anyway I found I liked it’s new layout and feel – even the paper is changed – but the blame article was as I feared. In fact worse because it sides with the BBC DG Mr George Entwisted. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, this will need deconstruction and response, I decided. They cannot get away with that!
Oddly enough, the same issue has a short piece by John Bird taking a fair and balanced stance on the issues generated by the uncontrolled and now derided “entertainer” that was Jimmy Savile. Crucially he asks “Could we have had the good part of Savile without the bad part?” In other words was his drive for fame and fortune and power linked to his criminal activities? To me it is clearly so and the idolisation he generated must have been akin to an addictive substance to him. The one word that I have seen no one use in these discussions is, of course, “Groupie”. Because they were always regarded as “a perk of the job” and, equally of course, they still are.
To me, it all stems from that aspect of our culture – which is how porters, producers, and top executives asked few questions. They just wanted the end product, the shows, the fund raising, the happy faces to camera.
At which point I turned to the featured article on BLAME. Charlie Campbell, who’s writ a book on the topic, set up several blame scenarios – Galileo, six Italian geophysicists, Black Death, the Bishop of Carlisle on flooding as God’s vengeance over gays, Haiti’s recent earthquake. The author knows lots of examples! Except that these he sites are a heterogenous collection of histories and demonstrate little. Galileo was not “blamed” – he just had to retract “his lies”, as they were seen. The Italian scientists foolishly went along with reassuring the public there’d be no disastrous earthquake although they had strong indications of the contrary. Guilty as charged. Black Death was blamed, at the time, on sundry “scapegoats” – women, Jews, cats, planet alignment – but, hey, there was no knowledge then of the immune system and its fight against bacterial infection. Blame was allocated but these were theories, I guess, to explain a seriously painful reality. There had to be some cause – right?
The Bishop reckoned the seasonal flooding was “God’s answer to our acceptance of Gays”. Now, if you have religious faith, and, thank god, I havn’t, your world is painted from a different palette. There are a God and a Devil and a host of other unbelievable fantasies. Given that, a Bishop can say anything to explain something and be correct. As they say – “His is the word of God”.
Haiti’s earthquake arose, according to some, as a result of their dalliances with devils and voodoo. See “Bishop”, above!
So it’s a fairly trivial assemblage of anecdotes. Then Charlie goes on, as his main theme, to exonerate Georgie – saying we, the people, are throwing inappropriate “blame”, sorry “BLAME” at the DG “five weeks into his new job”. He goes on “Some of the events happened when he was only a child”. And then, seemingly of Entwisted’s appearance in front of MPs of the Parliamentary Select Committee, “this kangaroo court is no form of justice”. Oo, savage!
Look, Charlie, the DG is career BBC and was in charge of all TV, contracting Savile Christmas spectaculars when the Newsnight expose was dropped. “The Spectator” wryly commented that Newsnight Editor Mr Peter Rippon’s “primary mistake was telling any of the top brass what his programme was up to..” Entwisted, of course, had previously edited Newsnight himself and surely knew the ropes.
So living, as he does, in the lacksadaisical atmosphere of whimsy and trust for “personality” enshrined in the BBC, this negative report on the recently deceased exemplar of national quirky goodness would have engendered severe cognitive dissonance in Georgie’s head. I guess he made the standard response – deny the contrary information, suppress it, “keep it out of my consciousness”.
This, Charlie, is explanation and not scapegoating. Blame is as blame does but often it is exactly due where it is allocated. To bring in the Salem witch trials, quoting Arthur Millar as saying “These people had no ritual for washing away sins”, is so looking in the wrong direction. What we’re doing in highlighting these sins of ignoring and sweeping underneath the table, committed by those on high in the BBC and elsewhere, is actually looking for these sins to be noticed and for the systems which allowed their existence to be removed root and branch.
To whine at people and suggest they’re using blame as defense of their own inadequacies is becoming a standard establishment ploy these days. Well it’s got history back to Tebbiton-your-bike in the 80s, but when so many random decisions are taken to the detriment of so many people so easily by those who’ve been honored by elevating them to a situation where they may make such choices, then they sure as anything deserve all the blame that can be shoveled on them when they make mistakes or simply ignore truth.
It’s not just the sinners we should punish but also the system which promoted them, encouraged them and provided all the cover they needed to act as they did. The system is driven from the top and it’s there that change must start.
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