Thursday, April 4, 2013

A World Without Heroes

Many years ago, it was not considered strange for an unmarried bachelor to occupy his idle hours taking photographs of scantily clad little girls. In fact it was a favorite pastime of Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, who died without any scandal attached to his name. Could he have gotten away with that nowadays? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, who knows? We often blind ourselves to strange behavior when our heroes are involved. Take Michael Jackson for instance. There was definitely something a bit dodgy about all those sleepovers with little lads in pajamas, but it took years before a scandal led to a very large out of court financial settlement. After that nobody looked at the Moonwalker the same way ever again.

These days, though, the scandals seem to be coming faster and faster as heroes fall and venerable institutions have their reputations irreparably damaged.

Take Hulk Hogan, for instance. Once upon a time he was a wholesome family entertainer- friendly, larger than life, a cartoon character made flesh. Then his wife ran off with a teenage boy, while his son went to prison for inflicting severe brain damage on a friend thanks to his reckless driving. And now a sex tape has emerged of the Hulkster having sex with his best friend’s wife.

Creepiest of all, his best friend was sitting next door, encouraging Hulk to enjoy his spouse. In the interests of science I watched one minute of edited footage and felt a bit ill afterwards. My main memory is of Hulk talking about how much food he’d eaten prior to his act of love. Friends, wrestling will never look the same again.

So you can’t trust Hulk Hogan. Meanwhile the British media has been in uproar over the last few weeks thanks to revelations that Jimmy Savile, a popular DJ and children’s television host was a mega-paedophile, active for six decades, allegedly molesting young girls in his dressing room at the BBC. In fact, since he seems to have been mostly attracted to girls aged between 12 and 14 the correct technical term is hebephile, with an occasional dash of ephebophilia thrown in, but I digress.  

Savile was so loved that when he died last year, his coffin lay in state in a hotel in Leeds. All the kids he had entertained for so many decades, now adults, came to pay their respects. He was famous for his charity work too; but now it seems clear that pretty much everything he did was a ploy to get him close to very young girls.

The strange thing though was how quickly everybody adjusted to the thought of Savile as a pervert. He was always eccentric and a bit creepy; he never married; and he kept his dead mum’s bedroom intact, Norman Bates style. On the other hand, the BBC has a lot of questions to answer, given that he worked there for fifty years, more or less. A national institution has thus been sucked into the quagmire.

But the collapse and disgrace of heroes is not restricted to children’s entertainers with unhealthy sexual peccadilloes. The world of sport is full of heroes, many of whom have subsequently turned out to be liars, cheats and dastardly scoundrels. OJ Simpson was a very good footballer, and he looked very wholesome on a packet of cereal but he was a very, very bad husband indeed.

And what about Tiger Woods? The zen golf master turned out to be randy as a rabbit and completely unable to keep his libido in check. His game has never recovered. The football coach Jerry Sandusky was recently exposed as an epic abuser of boys; and this week the world of cycling has been rocked by the revelation that Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France mega champion is a bully, liar, cheat, doper and all round cad.

Of course, as with Savile, once the dirt on Armstrong was made public, it did seem to make a lot of sense. And so what little innocence we have left curls up and dies.   

Is it more difficult now, in the age of the Internet and omnipresent cameras for our idols to conceal their sins? Maybe, but I’m not so sure. The film industry has been rocked by scandal since its inception; Charlie Chaplin was an ephebohile; Fatty Arbuckle liked a bit of rape now and then; and Errol Flynn was no angel either. Cary Grant loved to trip on LSD.

It’s at times like this that you have to search hard for the small pockets of loyalty, love and trust that still exist in this world. And so I console myself with the fact that even in Hollywood a big star like Danny DeVito can stay married to Rita Perlman for 30 years, and live with her for 40. See? It’s not all sadness, despair, deceit, betrayal, and so on. Lance may be a cheat, Jimmy Savile a sinister sexual predator but love is still real, and…

What’s that you say? Danny and Rita have split up? No, it’s impossible! Please- tell me it’s not true!