There are two wider, slightly related points I want to make about Harris and celebrity abusers. There is the monstering of sex offenders. They – rightly – inspire visceral loathing. In the case of Harris and, to a far greater degree, Savile, this gut reaction is all the more potent because of the esteem and trust in which they were held, and that their crimes, their abuses, often took place in plain sight. Yet sex offenders, though guilty of monstrous things, are not monsters. Writing that line tastes like ashes in the mouth, but there are human beings too. They were not born sex offenders, they are not a species apart. Like everyone else, these men were made. We might not do it under the circumstances of our choosing, but all of us make our own way in life. For Harris and Savile, there was no especial trigger that flipped their abuse switch. Understanding them does not lie in a putative paedophile gene – the reason anyone chooses to abuse is rooted in their biography, and how this is formed and constantly reformed by choice and circumstance. In Harris’s and Savile’s cases, fame conveyed upon them an aura. Celebrity gave them opportunities to offend, and a means of silencing the survivors of their abuse. It feeds back time after time, heightening a sense of invulnerability and entitlement. Their offending are early examples of pathological narcissism (Ian Watkins, for example), a state of nihilistic self-centredness in which people – men, women, boys, girls – are so much adjuncts of their wants, their lusts. What was it the First Baron Acton said?
The second is the effacing of the celebrity abuser. Foucault’s classic Discipline and Punish opens with the detailed description of a hanging, drawing and quartering from 1757. The victim, Robert-Francois Damiens had attempted to murder Louis XV. Tortured and found guilty of regicide, his body was obliterated through dismemberment and burning, his house destroyed, his siblings forced to change their names and his immediate family banished from France. In 21st century Britain, the body – if still living – is incarcerated. Yet for the likes of Savile, Gary Glitter, and now Harris, a process of effacement begins. It is impossible to undo the damage their abuse of trust caused, but society can recuperate itself by erasing their position in popular culture. Commissioned retrospectives of the 1970s, for instance, avoid all mention of Savile and Gadd, despite their then looming figures on. Top of the Pops retreads are carefully edited to keep them out. The same will now happen to Harris. Reels and reels of archive footage rendered unusable, a place in the popular consciousness unthought. This is replaced with trial images around which the old memories are illustrative flutters. The organising principle for these men from now and for many decades hence is their offending. This is held up to be the truth of their characters, and how they will be forever re-remembered.