Camilla Maltby

03.A01. Debate

Authenticity: British Child Abuse Scandals

James Cridland

The ability of the public to have confidence in long trusted British institutions has been severely tested of late. Various crises have left us reeling – resulting in a general authenticity deficit that could be seen as something of a crisis in itself. Here, Camila Maltby looks at some key British scandals resulting from recent high profile events.

Horse meat was found in 100% beef burgers, Beyoncé mimed the American national anthem at Obama’s inauguration and Tour De France legend Lance Armstrong took performance enhancing drugs to secure his success. It is safe to say that the lack of authenticity within our societies has shaken many peoples belief in who and what we should trust and believe.
British culture has recently been exposed to child abuse scandals which were supposedly taking place right under the nation’s nose. High profile celebrities who later became “national treasures” who were trusted and admired by the young and old took advantage of their status and exploited the vulnerable in the most horrendous way. The treasured celebrities who have been named and shamed for sexually abusing children have arguably driven the British public to form a cynical distrust against the famous.

The relationship between individual institutional figures and national institutions now constitutes an uncomfortable alliance

Even though Jimmy Savile passed away a year and a half ago, he continues to hold his celebrity status now transformed into infamy for his crimes rather than his contribution to the world of entertainment. Savile’s name has been polluted because of the many accounts of sexual assault he is accused of having committed. Across four decades, Savile has been said to have sexually abused children who were mentally vulnerable, suffering from illness and some who were as young as ten. It is believed that he was abusing children at fourteen hospitals including Great Ormond Street whilst working at the BBC as a DJ and television presenter: drawing attention to safeguarding failures by trusted institutions such as the NHS and the BBC. These British establishments were both celebrated and honoured in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony because of what they should represent for our country: honesty, reliability and security. Of course such tributes are appropriate, however the relationship between individual institutional figures and national institutions now constitutes an uncomfortable alliance.

In a dark irony, Savile’s television show ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ enabled children’s dreams to come true. It was portrayed as a selfless show and depicted Savile as a genuine, caring man. The popular show attracted a vast following and was broadcast on the BBC from 1975 to 1994. This substantial amount of time enabled the audience to form a trusting distant bond with the presenter and with the channel. The programme was embedded within British culture because of how successful it was and the fact that it gave viewers the opportunity for their dreams to become a reality. There have been claims in the media that Savile was abusing some of the children that he met on the show, the contrast between mediated image and reality could not be more striking.


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