There’s a couple of articles in The Guardian about Rolf Harris today. Both contain amazing amounts of hindsight, though this first article by Jonathan Jones contains not just amazing amounts of hindsight but Olympic sized swimming pools full of middle class smuggery that he could see Harris’s ‘dark side’ as if he was some sort of Jedi Warrior.
Long before Rolf Harris was convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault, including one against a girl aged seven or eight, I got a minor glimpse of his now notorious dark side.
I was sent to the press unveiling of his portrait of the Queen at her Buckingham Palace art gallery in 2005, at the height of his success when his Rolf on Art programmes had become the flagship of popular art history on the BBC (“Can you see what it is yet? It’s Monet’s waterlily pond …”)
The press conference was a sickening display of fawning over Harris and his fatuous painting, and something in me snapped. I asked him if he seriously believed that his portrait was a good work of art.
Anger suddenly crossed his previously beaming face. That dark side … The BBC’s senior person there – its head of factual television – spoke up to assert how “popular” Harris and his art were. How dare I criticise an artist so loved?
I didn’t think Harris was a Great Artist, but he was a great cartoonist, however Jones here isn’t interested in either a critique of Harris as an artists (which to be fair, isn’t ever going to happen now) but is instead trying to use his power of hindsight that he indeed, was clever and smart enough to see the ‘dark side’ because Harris and his press officer seemed annoyed at him. Jones uses this amazing power of hindsight to then launch a quite amazing attack upon what he sees as ‘worthless’ art, or anything popular in pop culture that he disapproves of.
In the case of Harris, I would be happy to see all his art destroyed, but I already felt that way back in 2005. Even as a child, I found his art on television soporific. He was never a good artist and it’s too late for collectors of his work to say they feel duped now – they were suckers to fall for such worthless cultural detritus in the first place. Collectors may even have a happy ending: some speculate that the notoriety of the artist will enhance his prices. People pay for paintings by Hitler – I can image Rolf’s similarly vacuous images becoming cult items.
Perhaps it all goes to show that the middlebrow is inherently corrupt. What goes on in Tracey Emin’s bed is far more honest, far more decent, than what has gone on in the name of bland entertainment and mild art, it turns out. Chocolate box art is a lie.
It’s worth reading the full piece just to read how much of an arsehole Jones comes over as but obviously if someone as diligent, smart and amazingly superior as Jones thought there was something to uncover about Harris then he’d have surely had a word in a journalists ear to see if there was anything worth digging up? Oh, he didn’t. Instead he’s just saying with the aid of 20/20 vision looking back and saying he may have possibly seen something, but he’s better than the plebs so there!
Marginally better is this one from Simon Hattenstone which at least admits some remorse for not actually doing the job of a journalist, but since the Harris verdict large parts of the media are closing ranks suggesting we should never be fooled by the likes of Harris or Jimmy Savile. We should look under the surface at what’s underneath and so on.
The problem is that although most of us believed Harris was a good man (I’d been one of many who’d enjoyed his Glastonbury performances which are memories now ruined), there’s stories flying around that some in the media knew of some stories regarding Harris but never printed or investigated them. They also apparently knew stories about Max Clifford but did nothing and of course the stories about Jimmy Savile are legion, not to mention that he didn’t even bother to hide the fact he was a paedophile but instead let the media obfuscate the matter for him.
I like most other people had no idea about Harris, but if people in the media did, they should have investigated it. Savile was known about and I’d heard stories about Savile going back to being a kid at school in Glasgow in the 70’s but wrote these off as stories until having these stories repeated to me in the 80’s and 90’s. These were stories told in playgrounds, pubs, workplaces and everywhere around the country but no investigative journalist looked into them to prove them, or perhaps clear the name of someone who at the time, was still massively popular?
The hindsight being shown by the media is of course a distraction from the fact they failed to do their jobs. It’s entirely right that the BBC and anyone in that organisation who helped cover up this abuse is brought to justice, but there’s a responsibility that the media failed to uphold so rather than admitting they fucked up, we’re getting these astonishingly self-righteous articles which mainly suggest they knew it all along, which is of course, utter, utter shite.
The abuses being uncovered are because they were covered up not just by people in the BBC, but the media and the establishment as a whole. There’s been a few journalists who have written about these topics and have done some amazing work, with Nick Davies being a very notable example of someone who still upholds the best of investigative journalism on the subject with articles like this.
Ultimately though it’s always inaction that lets abuse continue, be that the inaction of someone in power not listening to a victim trying to tell their story, or the inaction of a journalist who did nothing at the time but feel the need to rub salt in the wound by telling the people off for not being as smart as them, after the fact of course. Perhaps if more journalists actually did their job people like Harris might not have gotten away with it for so long?