"I'm going to put out a statement on the 18th just to say it was mega lolz. I do not know what everybody is getting so freaked out about." So said Ian Watkins about his trial and subsequent conviction. As a paedophile prisoner, I'm sure the next 35 years behind bars will have its fair share of rofls and lmaos too. Thankfully, the horrifying sex crimes Watkins committed are relatively rare. In the most recent figures available - 2011/12 - there were 2,814 recorded rapes of children under the age of 13. Under the broader measure of sexual assault on members of the same age group, 5,438 sexual assaults were detected (4,171 girls, 1,267 boys) 2012/13. This compares with 3,985 and 1,011 respectively for 2011/12. In a study published in October of this year, the NSPCC estimates some 4.8% of children have been abused, 90% of whom knew their abuser. The rate therefore remains stubbornly stable. But we can conclude from the data that predators of the Watkins type are rare among incidences of child sex abuse. So low are the numbers of offenders committing these sorts of crimes that some might say it's a bit much to describe them as social phenomena. The low numbers demonstrate it's a few sick individuals who are to blame, that grim acts and depraved fantasies speak of a criminality the vast bulk of the population do not share.
Of course, we are all social beings. From the day we are born we carry the vast weight of social forces bearing down on our shoulders. Nay, it's actually more invasive than that. Social relations constitute us as people. We are the culmination of each and every social relation we have been an element of, whether consciously or not. Sociology can therefore help explain us. But what it cannot do is excuse our actions. That we are conditioned by our social being does not alter the fact we choose what we do. Social structures structure our agency, but they do not determine it. For instance, it's generally accepted that a large proportion of child sex offenders were abused as children themselves. That might be a factor, something that can shed light on an individual's path to criminality. Yet they still chose to abuse, they knew the abhorrence with with such crimes are held. And yet they still did it. Paedophiles, like everyone else, are not automatons.
That certainly applies to Watkins. For all the headlines about the evil pervert, look inside and the explanations come down to drug abuse. How he was a "different person" before he started taking drugs. And from then on it was a spiral down into the very worst depravity imaginable - opening the door to hypocritical moralising from hacks who think nothing of shoving a £50 note up their nose.
Watkins condenses the modern condition in extremis. He was the thrill-seeking celebrity, absolutely cut adrift from normal life. If a property of the narcissistic self is to act as if wrapped in a self-referential bubble, for Watkins that private universe was the materiality of his everyday. Though not a massive star, the unreal cycle of recording, touring, performing, media shoots; the crafting of image and new music, of dealing with fandom is a social universe in which you really are the star. Terrifying egoism is one offshoot, the propensity to indulge one's whims without limit is another. It's a reason why so many celebrities, particularly Tinsel Town-types, go in for cults and faddy spiritualism. Who in Madonna's social circle is going to say the Kabbalah is bullshit, tell Tom Cruise that Scientology is a wee bit silly? Watkins is many rungs down the celebrity ladder, but the trappings and lived existence of a rock star was his.
Not all celebrities fritter wealth away on drugs, but disproportionate numbers of them do. It is often "the price of fame", a crutch to cope with the fan glare and the media scrutiny. As much as that, the divorce of celebrity from the real cuts them off from the normal social life (most) celebrities were socialised into before they were famous. There is this need for feeling, a hunt for sensation. Drug-taking, boozing, bad behaviour and promiscuity is pretty standard. And Watkins will not be the last rock star who ended up chasing gratification and intensity. But for him, for whatever reason, there were no limits. "Traditional" excess passed over into taboo and outright criminality - child porn, raping children, abusing babies - exhorting their mothers to join in, filming abuse, bestiality; Watkins happily pursued his disgusting crimes. There was nothing checking him. It was gratification for his gratification's sake.
Celebrity amplifies narcissism, the demand for the instant satisfaction of self-defined need. It also means one's alienation or indifference to others is also heightened, almost to the point of psychopathy. The ego and its own. Others exist, and they can be bought or bent to your will. You certainly don't owe them anything, let alone acknowledge that they too are thinking, feeling beings with an inner life as complex as your own. This sums Watkins up to a tee. The groupies, the celebrity exes, the children he abused, the young mums he sought out and manipulated, all were so much objects to be picked up, used, and cast aside. They were walk-on parts or, rather, props. He didn't care he dragged two women down with him. He didn't care about how his abuse effected the children. It was terrifyingly, pathologically self-centred to the extent that he blithely carried on with scarcely a thought he'd get found out. And he had good reason to - his former girlfriend's complaints were ignored by the police for four years.
The final moment, the last dimension of his extreme instantiation of narcissism was his (now infamous) 'mega lolz' taped conversation. This is not so much an expression of Watkins' cynicism toward a process grinding out a foregone conclusion, but his absolute alienation from it. It speaks of an utter indifference, a complete void in his character. His crimes were a laugh, he didn't get hurt, no one complained, so what's the problem? There was a lack of interest in his own fate. While this might seem at odds with narcissism's cult of the self, it is congruent with the grasping fixation on the now. His comment betrayed a distance between him and court proceedings, as if he was watching from the outside, and that this experience was merely an interesting game playing out - "I do my charm or do I end up making things worse for myself or do I just say I was off my head and can't remember?" Charming.
Would Watkins have become a paedophile had he not formed Lostprophets? If the group hadn't found fame and fortune? Had Watkins remained "straight edged" like his bandmates? That question will never have a final answer. Celebrity and the bubble of narcissism it inculcates did have a part to play, but thankfully most rock stars do not exploit their fame to commit horrendous sex crimes. It contributed to the subsumption of Watkins' personality to immediate gratification and set him on the road to excess, but no one forced him to abuse and rape. That he took it to criminal extremes is his responsibility, and his choice.