Before I go any further I would just like to make it clear that what follows is not meant to be an excuse for, and neither should it be interpreted as, a justification for Adam Johnson. No doubt you’ll be aware of who this individual is. But in case you’re not here is a short summary of why he’s in the news. He was earlier this week convicted of grooming and kissing a 15-year-old girl and engaging in sexual activity with her. The judge warned him that he faces a lengthy custodial sentence. To anyone right minded any individual who has sexual relations with a minor is worthy of vilification, ostracism, and lots of other –isms.
Despite not wishing to seem to be providing a spurious means of explaining away Johnson’s crime, they perfectly illustrate the dichotomy inherent in society’s attitude towards the sexualisation of children. I cannot help but compare his treatment and vilification in both the courts, the press and the court of public opinion, unfavourably with the treatment handed out to Bill Wyman. You remember Bill Wyman don’t you? Him from the Rolling Stones who admitted having started an affair with Mandy Smith when she was 14 years old – she claims that the relationship was sexual – before a short lived marriage when she was 18. The police subsequently decided not to bring any charges against Wyman despite the fact that like Johnson he knew that the girl in question was clearly under age, but unlike Johnson his alleged sexual activity with the young Mandy might reasonably cause a cacophony of alarm bells. One might imagine for example, the arbiter of all that is moral in this country, the Daily Mail to fulminate and denounce him as a wicked individual and a corrupter of innocence, but there was not. Certainly the police wouldn’t act that way now, not with child sex abuse investigations rightly held to more scrutiny than before.
This double standard is reflected in all sections of the mass media and in popular culture. It is hardly fair to single out the Daily Mail for opprobrium when the majority media are just as culpable. The sexualisation of young teenage girls – from Primark selling push up bras for girls young as seven, to a fifth of 12 year olds reluctant to go out without make up on, from catwalk models as young as 14, to beauty pageants for very young girls and most disturbing of all, sex shops selling ‘naughty’ school uniform costumes – an alarmingly worrying backward trend has taken place culturally. We are entering a new era, rather like the Victorian one, where sex was puritanical in public, yet perverse in private. Similarly despite repeated calls for something to be done, nothing is. The hypocrisy is widerife. Somehow I don’t think this was what he had in mind when the then Prime Minister John Major called for a return to ‘Victorian values.’
The hypocrisy inherent in such posturing was evidenced by the reaction to the ‘Brass Eye’ paedophille special. Now as anyone familiar with my blogs will no doubt be aware, I hold Chris Morris in the very highest of regards. It is my opinion that the ‘Brass Eye’ paedophile special was bang on target. (Although given that the media’s sometimes voyeuristic portrayal of paedophilia, and its focus on the more titillating aspects of it was the target, it was an easy one to hit. It wasn’t – and didn’t seek to – to make light of the serious nature of paedophilia.) But this didn’t stop the then Labour Child Protection Minister Beverly Hughes from condemning the programme with indignation, without having endured the tiresome necessity of actually being bothered enough to watch it. In so doing, she articulated the very problem that Morris was so effectively lampooning; that not only are certain subject matters ill-served by framing them in a simplistic televisual narrative, but also that some people who pontificate from the high moral ground sometimes fail to realise that the ground on which they are standing is but sand.
This was further exemplified by an edition of the Daily Star a few days later, when on the page proceeding a condemnatory article about the ‘Brass Eye’ special there was a photo of the singer Charlotte Church – who was then aged 15 – captioned “She’s A Big Girl Now!”
It’s not that I’m excusing Johnson but in a parallel world isn’t he a bit like Renton from the film ‘Trainspotting’? Renton sees Diane at a club, she takes him home, they do the beast with two backs, only for him to discover the next morning she’s in fact a schoolgirl.
(If you’re a female and reading this then I would urge you to think back to your teenage years when in order to gain entry to a nightclub or to get served in a pub you would judiciously apply your make up to look older than you were.) Quite often this ends in nothing more than innocent fun, but it is easier I would contend for a young girl to look older than she is, than for a young man to look older than he is.
One more thing, the age of consent varies widely in Europe. In some countries it’s 14, in others its 18. I would say that having an age of consent of 14 years of age is hard to swallow but given what I’ve written above I don’t think its all that appropriate.
So the problem is society’s. That’s not to in any way to suggest that adults shouldn’t take responsibility for their own actions but in a culture where young girls are objectified, where young people have to be reminded that domestic violence and rape is both morally abnormal and antithetical to civilised society then really; should we be all that surprised when someone does an Adam Johnson?
(If you’re getting this as an email, sadly you won’t get the embedded you tube links of ‘Trainspotting’ and a news report of beauty pageants. Possibly the web links as well. Those can be found on my blog page.)