Fade in gently

I’m a longstanding fan of John Peel. What do I mean by that? I love and appreciate what he did to promote and disseminate music; I enjoy at least some of the individual works he popularized; I feel a wistful sadness for the passing of his personality, idealized in my mind, through his writing and recordings, as a combination of the compassionate and the curmudgeonly.

Because of all this, it obviously worries me that I’m not currently on the internet much, to witness what might be the culmination of the Daily Mail’s campaign to deflect attention away from ongoing claims that it was involved in phone hacking by as usual attacking the BBC on as many fronts as it can reach. And yet, while it seems clearly hypocritical that the Daily Mail, which basically runs a one-stop shop for paedophiles to update their current wishlist along with its Sidebar of Shame, should be castigating anyone for sex with the underage, it worries me far more to think of how my fellow Peel fans might react to such an obvious witch-hunt.

To be clear, I think that it’s all right to like problematic things. Eliot dabbled in the antisemitism of his era; Dickens had unhealthy conceptions of women and acted disgracefully towards his wife; Wagner’s antisemitism was compounded by later essays which smacked of racist beliefs. But I will defend The Waste Land, David Copperfield and The Ring Cycle: while not forcing their appreciation on people who don’t like the connotations. Whatever happens, nobody should stop you listening to Peel’s recordings or reading The Olivetti Chronicles (although you obviously ought to reconsider foisting them upon other people.)

Nonetheless, if you’re not worried about how Peel fans are likely to react, then consider the recent behaviour of another community of slightly obsessive fans, which has been arguably disgracing itself on behalf of its arguably fallen idol. This is despite the evidence of a case to answer, arguably far stronger than that against Peel. Because of this desire to defend him at all costs, support for Assange has started to become inseparable from rape apologism, to the extent that it has begun to tarnish the reputation of Wikileaks even in the eyes of that organisation’s closest fellow travellers. In short: the legacy can be undermined by the very attempts to defend the character of the legator.

While this isn’t really a post about Assange (and comments arguing about him are likely to be deleted), the behaviour of Assange’s followers arguably shows that what matters when wanting to preserve ethical integrity in the discussion of human affairs is not when one cuts oneself adrift from reality, but when one cuts oneself adrift from empathy and respect. This leads to rape apology, victim blaming, and all the other trappings of male privilege; and ultimately to the tarnishing of the soul.

So by all means lambast the witch hunt. And, if you really must, talk about cultures and situations. But do it with respect. Because if you really want to save his legacy, you have to look to the values embodied by that idealistic representation of Peel, the one that you and I want to protect and salvage from the Daily Mail’s desire to smash a rival it despises.

That means that, much as you’re right to deploy that idealized, strident Peelian curmudgeonliness against the newspapers who want to use him to weaken an institution; please, please never forget to also deploy concomitantly idealized compassion; show respect, empathy, and basic human decency towards those who – whether you personally like it or not (because your preferences aren’t the point) – consider themselves victims of a crime.

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9 Responses to Fade in gently

  1. smallbeds says:

    … And if you must comment with curmudgeonliness, then you had better also comment with compassion.

  2. Jen Thompson says:

    As far as I’m aware, NO victims have come forward to make a complaint against John Peel. One woman sold her story about her affair with Peel (allegedly when she was 16 or 15), but that wasn’t a complaint – it was consensual, and the details about age seem vague and unsupported in the Mail article. There’s another story involving a recycled quote allegedly from Peel himself, but again it’s all unsubstantiated and there are no “victims” of any abuse coming forward.

    In other words, the Peel case seems like newspapers scraping the barrel – it’s very different from the Assange & Savile cases.

    • smallbeds says:

      I know what you’re trying to say, and broadly speaking I hope that things turn out to be that way. But I still think Peel fans will do the most long-term good for his legacy if we don’t let our discussions become one long finicky unempathic calculus of culpability.

      To take one example, while you can argue till the wee small hours about what selling a story to the Daily Mail means about the seller’s motivations (would that a single Savile story had been sold to the Daily Mail in his lifetime!) we shouldn’t try to create a discourse in which such an act justifies not showing basic human compassion regarding any (alleged) serious crimes.

      Compassion means that we must always remember, when we bloviate about subjects like this (and heaven knows I bloviate more than most), that we bloviate about the simple fact of consent over the uses to which someone’s emotional and physical self can be put, and we make offhand pronouncements about that consent at our peril.

      One day we will all be dead and gone, and posterity can be blunter and starker in its judgments without danger of causing offence or, worse, disenfranchisement: but remember that posterity will judge us too.

      • Jen Thompson says:

        You’re perhaps reading too much into my statements, which is fine. By using the word “consent”, and by pointing out that the woman sold her story, I didn’t mean to imply anything (least of all mental states & “motivations”) that we shouldn’t feel compassion for. Indeed, I’m big on compassion, and I think it’s to the credit of, say, the Holy Inquisition, that they felt much compassion for the heretics they barbecued alive.

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  6. Martha Farquahar says:

    Some finicky points re the “vague and unsupported” details about the age of the young woman include:- Black Sabbath had yet to exist in the summer of 1969 (when they allegedly met “backstage” at one of their concerts), Peel’s postcard says “1970” as the date of their meeting. Has the Mail has shifted the date of their meeting to make something (that might make the businessman in his suit and tie feel a bit queasy) into a crime?

    • smallbeds says:

      Well, now. My original point (which I made over two years ago) was simply that all of us ought to be kind first and foremost, were anything to become newsworthy back then, when it was something of a lottery as to which figure from the 1960s/1970s was likely to be in the headlines next.

      With the benefit of hindsight we can now say that no serious revelations about John Peel were made after all (although not that they never will be in the future.) And with that in mind, I suppose you’re welcome to practice your forensic attention to detail, although as I say that wasn’t really the kind of behaviour I was hoping to encourage. At least you’ve reminded me that I ought to close comments on old and (apparently) controversial posts such as this.

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