The day after David Bowie’s brilliantly stage-managed surprise exit, former groupies began queueing up with tales of starf–king under the age of consent. A lot of people were willing to give the star a pass.This is “Rock Culture”, they said. It was just the era: they were all doing it in those days. But he helped so many. Bowie was an Artist. He was Different, Special. And so on.
[On a side note: some people were so totally blindsided, you had to wonder if they were ever fans at all. Rock Stars have sex with underage groupies?!?! Who knew? Slightly smarter bunnies admitted they had heard, but… surely not Bowie? He was only playing at being transgressive, right? And even if they were only 13 or 14, the girls threw themselves at him, so it was consensual? No it wasn’t. Underage people cannot give consent.]
The appeal to my “culture” to excuse bad behaviour is hardly new. When George Michael was ambushed by reporters on Hampstead Heath “emerging from the bushes after a sexual encounter with a pot-bellied jobless van driver”, protesting angrily that “This is my culture!”, it was rather pathetic. But it was no big deal.
He is perfectly free to run his life any way he wants, within the law. But his “culture” doesn’t oblige him to blow porky van drivers in public parks just because he happens to be gay (otherwise they’re going to have to revoke my gay card). That’s a personal choice. “Culture” doesn’t enter into it. It’s not an excuse for bad behavior or criminality.
Carry respect for a ‘culture’ too far, and you get this bizarre expression of cultural sensitivity by the Pentagon. Did you know that US soldiers in Afghanistan are ordered to ignore the abuse of boys by Afghan military commanders, because “it’s part of Afghan Culture”?
(“Dancing boys” are indeed a longstanding tradition there, but through endless wars it seems to have degraded into a something more like systemic rape and forced prostitution.)
“Soldiers and Marines have been increasingly troubled that instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children.”
And there’s the nub. Respect for someone’s ‘culture’, cannot excuse or justify criminal behavior, especially when it involves the sexual abuse of children and teenagers.
Otherwise one could make, for example, a very respectable case for the sexual abuse of choirboys and scholars by Catholic clergy being part of their “culture and traditions”: after all, they’ve been doing it since the beginning.
Or how about the BBC, which has a fine tradition of presenters and executives amusing themselves with underage girls and boys going back to the days of radio, and the notorious children’s program presenter “Uncle Mac”? It’s part of their culture, too.
We on the progressive side should be careful that our very proper desire to respect and acknowledge other traditions, and our sympathy for other minorities, is not exploited to excuse abuse. And we should be very wary of shouting “It’s My Culture” when claiming protections for ourselves. Some aspects of some cultures, including our own, are not worthy of protection.