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.