Economy — 23 October 2012
Society should be asking the question; who should be charged with the caring for the mentally ill and the disabled? Should the responsibility of funding; the up keep, the treatment and the management of the weak and vulnerable be left in the hand of perverts and publicity-seekers.
Remarkable rises succeeded by dramatic falls are familiar patterns for media personalities. So it follows that few figures ever reach the rank of national treasure. One such personality that accomplished this position was Sir Jimmy Savile; the eccentric radio and television presenter. His catch phrases and silly laughs endeared him to the British public. Moreover the masses of money he raised for charity was what really won him the affections of millions.
However over the last few weeks his halo has morphed into a pair of horns. Scores of allegations have emerged that he not only abused young girls but he actively preyed, like a vulture on society’s most vulnerable victims. These included the disabled, the brain-damaged and the mentally ill. He would seek them out in children’s homes and hospitals. To add insult to injury the institutes that Sir Savile raised money for were the very institutes that became his cosseted hunting grounds. They gave him protection and cover for his predatorily activities. Police are currently investigating abuse allegations at Broadmoor secure psychiatric hospital to examine claims that he raped and sexually assaulted patients, while he worked there as a volunteer for more than four decades. He had a free hand and the run of several institutes. It has now become clear that his altruistic persona was devious device. His generous gesture of selfless volunteering was a ruse to allow him to stalk the susceptible and sexually assault them. He had living quarters at the Hospitals as well as keys to the secure wards. Why would a volunteer, with no specialist psychiatric nursing or medical training, be given unfettered access to mentally ill patients both day and night?
The answer is simple; he was a celebrity. So he was above the law, and above normal codes. He was a big name that brought in bags of pound sterling to potentially cash-poor establishments. It was not only these institutes that were complicit in his activities. The BBC, his employer, was clearly involved in a systematic cover-up. The corporation benefited from his popularity. It did their image wonders, being associated with such a saint. Rape, to them, may have been a misdemeanour worth over looking considering the millions he raised for Stoke Mandeville hospital; the world famous specialist spinal injury centre and home of the Paralympic Games movement. Bad publicity would put an end to the funds that were flooding in to this hospital.
The turning of blind eyes and deaf ears has also been central to another saga of a fall from grace in recent weeks. A recent case of where vilification followed veneration involved an American sporting legend rather than a talentless British radio announcer. This is the case of Lance Armstrong;- the endurance miracle, the medical marvel and the philanthropic phenomenon. What Lance Armstrong achieved as an athlete bordered on humanly impossible, it was unprecedented in any form of endurance sport. Further, to have recovered from testicular cancer and then achieve what he did was beyond belief. But it now turns out that impossibility and disbelief can be explained in the context of pharmacological assistance. Drugs can make super humans. Another major difference between the two cases of Savile and Armstrong is the horrific nature of the crimes conducted by Savile versus the alleged cheating associated with Armstrong’s successes.
But what links these two divergent cases is the issue of charity and the raising of money. The Lance Armstrong Foundation or “Livestrong” is a massive $500m charity organisation. The title of Armstrong’s autobiography is self explanatory, it’s not about the bike. Similarly, it’s not about the donations. Livestrong is more than just a charity. It’s a philosophy, a way of living and a fashion. Livestrong promotes changes to lifestyles and presents information to the public about healthy living in a way that is appealing. It is one of those organisations that cannot put a foot wrong. It brings glamour and style to the notion of promoting healthy living. This potentially takes a strain off healthcare budgets and may make individuals and communities healthier and happier. Lance Armstrong genuinely achieved extraordinarily both on and off the bike. So what is the problem? The problem is with all the allegations of cheating and cover-ups. If the credibility of Armstrong’s sporting prowess is undermined, then the credibility of the Livestrong way of living is undermined. The indictment from the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the various incriminating testimonies and stripping of Tour de France titles have all been damaging for; Livestrong, Lance Armstrong, Cycling, and sport in general. Wouldn’t it have been better to have just not probed so deeply into the whole affair? Philosophically, the ‘legend of Lance’ was helping a lot more people than iconoclasts ever will. This exposé is surely doing more harm than good. It is not in the best interest of the greater good of the greater number individuals.
The tendency for us to do philanthropic actions is an innate part of our human make-up. We naturally like helping others. What follows is that we all laud those who engage in altruistic actions. A result of the respect we all have for philanthropists is that this respect may easily be ramped up to reverence. This brings with it a whole set of problems for those offering the reverence and those that at revered. Anonymity surrounding acts of charity is therefore paramount. When giving the right hand should not know what the left hand is doing. This metaphor maybe misinterpreted in the case of Jimmy Savile. Publicity associated with benevolence is always problematic. Charity in the modern sense has become synonymous with publicity. Charity in its current guise therefore attracts publicity-seekers. So now a bazaar situation has arisen in which charity, typically a force for good, has become an instrument for subterfuge.
The word charity has now become a debased antonym of its onetime true meaning. Society in general has become suspicious of those involved in works of charity. The cult of the celebrity has a general pernicious influence of society. However within this realm of charity and altruism the combination of celebrity culture and doing-good is disastrous. It seems that celebrities are allowed to get away with many things merely because they are celebrities. However when a celebrity status is coupled with the post of charity fundraiser then the world is theirs for the taking.
The other issue that the case of Savile brings up is much bigger than Saville himself. That is the issue of the role and job description of charity organisations such as; The Jimmy Savile Charitable Trust and Jimmy Savile Stoke Mandeville Hospital Charitable Trust. Society should be asking the question; who should be charged with the caring for the mentally ill and the disabled? Should the responsibility of funding; the up keep, the treatment and the management of the weak and vulnerable be left in the hand of perverts and publicity-seekers. Perhaps the state and government should be the bodies that should take on the responsibility of looking after the physically and mentally ill.
The situation in the modern state has become ludicrous. State matters are dominated by petty politicking and the process of actually looking after the wellbeing of the citizens is left to rapists, pop stars, TV-chefs, footballers and drug cheats.
Salim Fredericks is the author of “Political and Cultural Invasion”. His family is originally from Cape Town, South Africa, while he was born and raised in the UK. He is currently working as a University teacher.