Jimmy Savile and Juvenal
I mentioned in my last post that we had read a bit of Juvenal Satires 10 (Johnson's "The Vanity of Human Wishes") in our Cheltenham Festival gig. The whole idea of the Satire is to question what really matters in the world, and to ask how far standard human aspirations (power, wealth etc) are worth aspiring to. It now turns out that it was all a bit more relevant to our own times than we might have thought.
Juvenal's "joke" is about the fall of Sejanus and the way his statue was pulled down when he was overturned -- a nice bronze work of art, destroyed by the revolutionary people, melted down and turned into frying pans and piss pots. As Llew said, Juvenal is great here, in mixing up the high and low language: the great epic statue and its language is turned into the language and vessels of the street (Sejanus becomes a matella or a sartago... a pot and a frying pan).
But, as Llew also pointed out, Juvenal is being more complicated. Because, as Juvenal says in the poem, Sejanus whose statue was being gleefully pulled down, had been worshipped by the very people who were now destroying him (adoratum populo). So, in a way, Juvenal's joke is on us.. because "we" (that is the Roman people) were those who elevated the guy, with our misplaced adoration, in the first place.
And that is where it gets us with Savile. We are guilty of exactly what Juvenal points at: the very people who stupidly elevated him are now dragging him down.
Or more generously, I guess (and this is what underlies Juvenal's complaints), we are only able to see the guy as either black or white. We are now pulling down his statue. But isn't the problem about Savile that he seems (if we believe the reports) to have been both a horrible male abuser of power, and he also did all kinds of charity good. Yet we dont have a way of saying both bad and good. All we can do is lionize or excoriate.
To put it another way, what we are doing is some version of a Roman damnatio memoriae (expunging the record). That's removing the tombstone etc. Very Roman indeed,
Dont get me wrong, I am pretty revolted by Savile, but we are all complicit in this "repositioning". Shouldnt we look at why we wanted to make him a national treasure in the first place?