In every record store in Melbourne, in the rock section exists under ‘G’ a collection of never to be purchased Gary Glitter LPs. You can bet that Rock & Roll (Part 1) has ceased to be stadium sports anthem worldwide. On Youtube, Jimmy Savile’s song ‘Jingle Jangle Jewelry’ is a downright creepy obituary and in hindsight a window to his mind.
Surely Savile has set a possible precedent for the exposure of past entertainment industry practice or inaction over sex crimes – which shocked most in terms of not being caught over many decades. BBC investigations revealed it was well known or suspected within the BBC, entertainment circles, and charities and hospitals where offences were said to have taken place, and was hinted at by musicians and comedians. Savile himself was aided by his celebrity which brought connections and access to royalty and Conservative and Labour prime ministers who wanted to be associated with his popular brand, his profitability that led to less questions being asked, police ambivalence and in some cases evidence of protection from complaints, and a time when pedophilia was not discussed.
Today, the cover-up of sexual impropriety is more difficult, but in spite of this popular artists accused of sexual impropriety and/ or criminal acts – most notably Woody Allen, Terry Richardson and Roman Polanski – have remained relatively unscathed by allegations and continue to be popular with consumers and entertainment executives, high calibre artistic collaborators, and colleagues.
Rather than address concerns, more can be understood from the reasons why these three examples remain popular and profitable in spite of claims.
Firstly, attitudes towards sexual assault may have changed but not excessively, as the open trivialisation of claims in public, not a court of law, can attest. With Allen, some garbage person who made a documentary about him wrote a shitty defence refuting claims and pointing fingers. Richardson labels himself ‘Uncle Terry’ – denoting a seedy man but who doesn’t overstep the line – and it’s noted that he ”loves” women. Roman Polanski was defended by a bizarre definition of “rape” v “rape-rape” by Whoopi Goldberg.
Secondly, interconnections within the entertainment industry, best demonstrated by collaborations between the accused with celebrities we like, which may cloud our both artistic judgement about speaking out and our judgement as consumers. Allen’s recent film Blue Jasmine included Cate Blanchett and Louis CK. Terry Richardson has photographed Beyonce, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Barack Obama, Lena Dunham, the male cast of Girls, and regularly contributes to Vice Magazine. Roman Polanski’s last English language film Carnage starred Kate Winslett, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster, and John C. Reilly. Lena Dunham – best friend of Richardson’s ex girlfriend – to her credit expressed regret in appearing in Richardson’s partially nude photographs, but perhaps why the shoot took place indicates pressure for her to associate with a comparable commodity of cool as defined either by Vogue, industry executives, or both. However, many celebrities would also readily associate themselves with popular artists for artistic and career reasons, regardless of ethical endeavours. Not only are profitable artists popular, but also powerful and well-connected. As another artist, actor, or executive, to question allegations openly might cost yourself opportunities you would rather not lose. The interconnection of power, profitability, and branding make a tough choice for the consumer. We may not love Richardson but will we not question Beyonce, Miley, or Lena or boycott their collaborations to make that point.
Thirdly, there is an entrenched ideal of separation of unethical and/ or criminal behaviour and artistic merit. Broadly, it can be agreed that private lives of adults, for example instances of adultery, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental illness, should be left alone unless specifically addressed by the person in question. However, a complete separation of allegations of unethical and/ or criminal behaviour removes ethics and makes our decisions a pure consumer choice. This itself reveals a double standard considering current consumer trends. The rise of ethical consumerism movements such as organics, fair trade, and ethical investments could easily include entertainment. The discovery of unethical or illegal behaviour in entertainment is equivalent of discovering the canned tuna we buy from the supermarket contains over the safe level of mercury per serving or that our coffee is farmed by slave labour – something we currently treat with a double standard. Since the artist is now a commodity, their actions should receive the same level of scrutiny we hold for any other product.
Fourthly, as mentioned earlier about Savile, he was protected by entertainment industry interests and brand, but when his work and brand was considered antiquated and unprofitable were claims taken more seriously. Before Savile’s death, he was already under greater scrutiny: in ‘When Louis Met Jimmy’ where Louis Theroux strongly implies accusations, the BBC Panorama documentary on claims against Savile that was initially repressed by BBC executives then released after a scandal, and the police investigation into Savile in 2009. As a result of revelations, the UK police launched Operation Yewtree that put the spotlight on potential and actual sex crimes in British entertainment from the 1960’s to the 1990s. Resulting investigations have indicated incompetence, willful ignorance, and even some tolerance of Savile’s behaviour. Prior to this, Savile and Gary Glitter were implicated. Yewtree has led to accusations and arrest of celebrities including Rolf Harris and potentially charge other famous musicians and politicians. Allen, Richardson, and Polanski remain profitable, popular and powerful, so face less scrutiny.
If it were revealed coverup of criminal behaviour of hugely famous past and current actors, musicians, directors or ‘creatives’, by studio executives protecting corporate and brand image, this could expose yet another sector to scrutiny. An excellent comparison is the high profile case of Louisiana Catholic priest Gilbert Gauthe in 1985, which opened the floodgates to reveal systematic church coverups of abuse in America going back decades. As a result, the Catholic Church has been seriously damaged through revelations of the misdeeds of self-preserving leadership. Already studios, actors, and many in the public and prominent people within the entertainment industry place so much capital in defence of certain artists. To admit they or we got it wrong would damage reputations and reveal truths within industries and our own motivations as consumers wishing to enjoy a product without thinking of the origins – which like with our food or clothing is now impossible.
Rather than point fingers of guilt or innocence, it’s worth it to consider our own enjoyment versus the interconnection of our entertainment to potentially unsavoury elements. Like with other purchases we can be more aware of where our entertainment comes from. Who knows what will be known within the next 20 or so years. Hypothetically, Richardson’s books could end up pulped or in discount bins and Woody Allen’s puttering clarinet might be considered as creepy as the sound of jingling, jangling jewelry.