Friday, 3 February 2017

Cathy Newman Militant, Cathy Newman Triumphant, Cathy Newman Regnant

Crag-jawed, blonde-ringleted Cathy Newman has been unleashed from the slips in the Channel 4 bastions of rectitude and is in hot pursuit of her quarry, John Smyth. A slight, dapper, elderly man with a handsome lined face, he is confronted near a quayside by the intrepid anchorwoman while his wife clings to his side, her face a mask of polite and nervous inquiry. “Do you think what you did was Christian? Why did these young men have to bleed for Jesus? When will you face justice?” asks the breathless Newman on the hoof, similarly clinging to the man’s other side and thrusting an indecently large furry microphone under his chin. “I don’t wish to speak about this.” “How did you know I was here?” mutters in clipped accents the retired ex-patriot who now lives in South Africa.

This story has all the ingredients. It has class because the beaten boys were largely selected from the best British Public Schools such as Winchester College. It has hypocritical and creepy religion because the perpetrator used Christian Summer Camps to prey on his victims and it even has the additional tasty morsel of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, in a youthful former incarnation, on the periphery. Religion has been flushed out and is running scared, knowing that many of society’s ills are about to be pinned on it. The authority of the upper classes and establishment religion are revealed to be a mask for no more than perverted sexual gratification; in other words what we suspected all along. The ‘film’ opens with stills of crosses on churches and Madonna and Child icons. That the ‘mark’ is a barrister adds a cartoon element – we all envisage a bewigged judge, his hand resting on the Holy Bible, the wooden stall in front of him concealing the fact that he sits berobed on his bench in frilly knickers, suspenders, fishnets and stilletoes while grasping a cane. Much of Channel 4 News is given over to this story placed at the top of the programme’s hour long slot.

Most importantly of all the nature of the story – paedophilia at a remove of forty years with still living victims – makes the moral position of Cathy and her production team unassailable. She is, dare I use the term in the Trump era, unimpeachable in her pursuit and has a sense of full justification. She departs not with dismay but with glee, rejoicing in a crusading investigative stance which she senses to be impregnable and which gives her full license to be outraged. She is the Inquisitrix General and this is peak empowerment.

Posh boys now in their late fifties are taken back to the scene of their humiliation or interviewed in studios. They duly weep and tremble for the cameras confirming the irreparable damage which has been wreaked on them by the beatings meted out in his garden shed by the ‘upright’ Christian barrister. It is revealed that such ‘necessary’ purgatorial punishment was how he rewarded the confessions of onanism he extracted from them. We are told that some were beaten so badly they had to wear nappies.

I am acutely aware of the danger in which I place myself in writing thus. As I tiptoe across Newman’s moral minefield and as I notice her watchful eyes twitch open while she dozes on its periphery I know that if I put a foot wrong in what I write, if I am seen in any way to condone Smyth’s behaviour or if I fail to condole sufficiently with his victims I will be blown to moral smithereens and, to mix metaphors, instantly dragged before her Court of Assizes for arraignment and condemnation. The charges will be failure to sympathise and revile sufficiently. And yet I will take a risk. When I see these aging men crying and trembling I cannot help asking myself why they haven’t used their own agency to exorcise these events. Why have they not raged with good healthy masculine anger against their abuser and themselves for their own abjection and lack of spirit in letting it happen? Or, perhaps, why have some not ‘come out’ with the fact that they were complicit in it and even enjoyed it? Either way they could move on and live their lives instead of fulfilling the role so dear to Newman and her team of being eternal victims and excuses for indignation. Perhaps their keenest regret is not over the pain they suffered but at having been taken for such mugs.

Intermittently, during the film, Newman sits, picked out against backdrops of stained glass and carved choir stalls. It is intended to evoke the church which, for Channel 4, is the real criminal here but one can’t help thinking that it evokes the holiness of Newman’s calling in making this piece. One can almost see and smell the incense of her sanctity rising behind her. Newman the indignant sits in judgment on the Church of England secure in her own moral purity and her right to preside over others in this trial by media. The Christian church which she is delighting in associating with this sorry and ridiculous tale tells us that the worst sin is that of pride and the judgement of others. People who do this might be referred to as whited sepulchres, sepulchres whose gates are the gates of Hell – concealing browned bones, black dust and deaths heads. Perhaps that’s too strong but it comes from a different moral universe to the one we see paraded before us here. Those playing the roles of hero and villain were once very different.

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