There was an interesting moment on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster’s ‘Good Morning Ulster” this morning. Noel Thompson played a clip of a live 1969 performance by Rolf Harris in front of a giggling audience, which Noel said hinted at the darker side of the man. The clip consisted of Rolf using two voices, one deep and melodramatic, the other squeaky and scared. It went
Deep voice: Take them off
Squeaky voice: No, no
Deep voice: Take them off, I say.
Squeaky voice: But I’m only thirteen
Deep voice: This is no time to start getting superstitious.
Now. That was 1969. Exactly ten years earlier, as a teenager, I heard that same joke. It was one of a series that we ‘A’ Level students loved telling each other. I’m not sure where they originated.
Deep voice: To the woods.
Squeaky voice: No, no.
Deep voice: To the woods, I say.
Squeaky voice: No no – I’ll tell the vicar.
Deep voice: I AM the vicar!
Laugh? Sure we could hardly stand up. My point in mentioning these is that different ages think differently about the same thing. Back then those jokes could be and were told, again and again. Today, no performer would use material like that, with its suggestion of under-age child sexual abuse. Just as, back in the 1950s, Vladimir Nabakov could write Lolita, and have it hailed as a masterpiece, and the film based on it was also widely acclaimed. Not now. No chance. We think differently about under-age girls having sex with older men.
Back in the 1960s, every pop group had its screaming groupies, as one of my guest bloggers pointed out recently. My dictionary defines a groupie as
“a young woman who regularly follows a pop group or other celebrity, especially in the hope of having a sexual relationship with them. E.g., He pulled a different groupie every night.”
The only thing I’d question about that definition is the word ‘woman’. In most cases groupies were girls in their teens, often early-to-mid-teens. And yes, it was accepted that rock stars probably were pulling a different one every night and you may be sure no birth certificates were asked for.
I was discussing this point via email with my old friend and former classmate John Patton ( who also writes a blog and displays some stunning photography at http://phototilly.eu/ ): to what extent do we accept that standards and ways of thinking in the past were different and shouldn’t be judged by the moral criteria of today? Were all slave-owners evil? Were those who denied women the vote consciously sexist? Do we say that taking sexual advantage of under-age girls, be they willing or not, is unacceptable practice regardless of the time in which they lived? I tend to lean towards the belief that people need to be judged by the standards of the time, not our present-day standards; but then I find myself wondering if there aren’t things that are innately wrong and that people should held responsible for their actions, regardless of the age or mores then prevalent.