Wot I Reckon: Jimmy Savile

I see in the paper today that The Independent has re-published an old interview with Jimmy Savile, which takes on a bleaker tone in the light of present-day revelations. The key quote would seem to be:

There has been a persistent rumour about him for years, and journalists have often told me as a fact: “Jimmy Savile? Of course, you know he’s into little girls.” But if they know it, why haven’t they published it? The Sun or the News of the World would hardly refuse the chance of featuring a Jimmy Savile sex scandal. It is very, very hard to prove a negative, but the fact that the tabloids have never come up with a scintilla of evidence against Jimmy Savile is as near proof as you can ever get.

And this has been the constant refrain: everybody knew, but nobody ever did anything about it; everybody “knew”, but nobody actually knew. (Except, obviously, his victims, who were either not believed or silent, knowing that they wouldn’t be believed.)

And that strikes me as a fair amount of bullshit – watch that Have I Got News For You clip and count the number of times Ian Hislop says “no-one actually knew“. Maybe not – if only there was an entire industry of journalists whose job it was to investigate rumours and find out if they were true or not – “investigative journalists”, you could call them… Everyone “knew” the rumours about Savile, including people who were in a position to investigate and prove the rumours true, but as that interview says, no-one did – or if they did, no-one published. What, seriously, the fuck?

Well, I don’t know, obviously. Jimmy Savile had little presence in New Zealand – at the time he was around, I knew his name and had heard of Jim’ll Fix It, but that’s about it. I know little of Jimmy Savile and his co-accused, I know nothing of his victims or what they must have been through, I know nothing of the enabling culture in that time and place. But here’s one thing I do know:

When I was eleven years old, I took a bus to the nearest intermediate school. Kids being kids, every day, at every stop, there’d be a rush to see who could be the first to ring the bell signalling the driver to stop at the next stop – usually there’d be a “ding!” as soon as the doors closed after letting off each load of pupils. One day, after one stop, the bell didn’t ring straight away for some reason – everyone thought everyone else was going to do it or something, I don’t know – and suddenly everything changed. No-one was ringing the bell. Anyone could have; normally it would have been prestigious to have done so; it would have been to the advantage of everyone who was getting off at the next stop to have done so; but no-one did it. The stop coming up wasn’t mine, so I had no stake in it, but I asked a friend who was due to get off there why he didn’t ring the bell. “Ah, the driver will know to stop,” he said. I couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing; the collective mentality had changed completely – now nobody wanted to ring the bell because nobody else wanted to ring the bell.

I have to wonder if that’s the sort of groupthink that applied in the case of Savile and his ilk – nobody wanted to point the finger at him, at least in part, because nobody else wanted to point the finger at him. No-one did it, not in spite of the fact that anyone could have done it, but because anyone could have done it. Anyone else.

In the end, the bus driver drove straight past the next stop without slowing. All the kids who were due to get off at that stop yelled, everyone made damn sure to hit the button for the next stop, and things went back to normal. I could have rung the bell, for the benefit of the others, but as I say, I had no stake in it – it wasn’t my stop. I can’t say how I’d have acted if it was.

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