Rolf, you dolt, you’ve put your own name on a par with ‘Adolf’ – never to be used again.
During six whole decades of showbiz, first there was ‘Rolf’, which really said: this person is permanently childish, bubbling over with didgeridoos and other party noises not far removed from whoopee cushions, including a jelly wobble version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and something else – the stylophone – that sounds like a singing birthday card; also, he may be 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 but he still draws and paints like a child prodigy.
Which is to say that he would not, could not ever have a boner because his didger ain’t old enough to do it.
…..followed by ‘Harris’, the second name which has always meant: actually, he’s a straight-down-the-line average guy who’s only pretending to be peculiarly infantile; no fear of stunted development cum sexual fetish on the part of this professional performer. In bed with his wife, he surely acts his age rather than his show size.
We don’t and probably won’t know why Rolf Harris committed the indecent assaults which eventually led to his conviction and the jail term of five years and nine months to which he was sentenced on 4 July 2014. But might it have something to do with a grown man playing a largely pre-pubescent role throughout his entire adult life?
This is not to excuse his actions; only to observe that the continual commute between an excessively childlike exterior and the interior life of a sexually mature adult, must have been a dangerously long stretch, with plenty of opportunity for personal failure and moral failing.
Since he became a children’s entertainer in the 1950s, Harris has been cast in a role categorised as pre-sexual, as noted in a Telegraph feature of 13 years ago:
“Rolf Harris…is, after all, a sexless being….the man who paints huge and wonderful pictures for wide-eyed children while making a comical panting noise, which to him doesn’t sound remotely like someone having an orgasm. He is a man so guileless and innocent and unsullied that he couldn’t see the smutty innuendo lurking within the title ofhis most famous, all time, blockbuster hit-single, ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’. Jakethe Peg was a man with an extra leg to Rolf – nothing more or less, nothing to giggle at. Smut and Rolf just don’t go together – smut and Rolf is an oxymoron.”
Imagine you too had been voted just below John Lennon in a Time magazine poll of the twentieth century’s most influential artists and entertainers. Knowing that your reputation rests on the recurring rendition of pre-pubescence, what wouldn’t you do to get your balls back? If it seemed to re-invigorate him, the professional eunuch might be tempted to break every conceivable taboo.
Not that this excuses him for giving in to temptation; but perhaps it explains why, as Mr Justice Sweeney observed when passing judgement on Harris, ‘you clearly got a thrill from committing the offences whilst others were present or nearby.’
Presumably Harris was also thrilled to appear in a video warning against sexual abuse. In 1985, after consultation with the NSPCC, he instigated and starred in Kids Can Say No, a pioneering child safety film which contains scripted exchanges strangely reminiscent of some of the offences which Harris himself was later charged with.
If his private pleasure was sweeter for being dangerously close to public view – if it was perverse as well as perverted, it may be that Harris’ victims were not his primary target; instead they may have been casualties caught in the crossfire when he retaliated against his own emasculated image.
On the day he was sentenced, Harris was repeatedly criticised for presenting a calm exterior. From his house in Bray on the banks of the River Thames, sitting impassively in a motorboat he rode downriver towards Southwark Crown Court – his stately progress a capsized re-launch of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations crossed with Wind In The Willows.
In court, his expression remained impassive, with no sign of remorse for what he had done to others, or pity for himself.
Of course it is only speculation, but the best possible gloss on his unchanging expression is that Rolf Harris has just grown up – only now that, following his conviction for sex offences, there is no way back to the 60 year old child who brought him fame and fortune.
For a comedian, however, his timing is way off. Nowadays behaviour in line with traditional expectations of adulthood, e.g. the stiff upper lip, is tantamount to immoral, whereas acting the child is the new normal (no longer confined to children’s entertainers).
In this context, if for his final appearance Harris had pantomimed remorse or even self-pity, just as he has pantomimed childlike enthusiasm for more than half a century, Britain’s court reporters might have been less gleeful at seeing him sent down.
More importantly, if it is the case that Rolf’s victims were also the casualties of Harris hating his infantile role, this does not bode well for a whole society seemingly bent on infantilising itself.
In Arrested Developed: pop culture and the erosion of adulthood (1998), this author first saw the significance of infantilisation.