By now we all know that the Australian-born and British-based entertainer Rolf Harris was convicted on 12 counts of indecent assault against four girls aged as young as seven years old. He was sentenced to just under six years in prison for crimes committed between 1969 and 1986.
As soon as the jury reached its verdict public murals of his were being painted over and plaques that had been put up in his honour were taken down. He was stripped of music industry awards and even an honorary doctorate from the University of East London. On the off chance that he is still alive when his sentence is over, there is very little possibility the man would ever be able to redeem his name.
For 50 years Rolf Harris was considered a living treasure of both the United Kingdom and Australia; loved by children and adults alike for his brand of unique music, mastery of the “wobble board” and eclectic mix of paintings, (including a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II to commemorate her 80th birthday). His conviction brought forth a range of reactions from shock to anger to relief, as well as a fresh range of allegations from other women about supposed indiscretions.
My question is though, what do I do with my Best of Rolf Harris CD? Admittedly, I find Jake the Peg rather catchy and still have fond memories of the primary school Christmas concert when we sung Six White Boomers. I have read the news reports of people burning their autographed wobble boards and consigning their Harris paintings to the bin but I am just not sure if this might be an overly hasty response. Not for one moment am I excusing Rolf Harris or attempting to lessen his crimes which are amongst some of the worst possible, but can the good that he has produced in the arts and entertainment still be seen for what it is: good?
Two attitudes seem to have emerged in response to the conclusion of this trial. One has been to attempt to expunge the work of Harris from collective memory and commit his name to the same pit containing Adolf Hitler and Robert Mugabe. The other position has been to admit the crimes of Harris for what they are, but to move forward quietly, while acknowledging the joy he did bring to people across the years.
The problem I have with taking the first position is that I can’t help but be aware of my own faults. Granted, they are not to the extent that it seems Rolf’s have been, but nor can I pretend to know what sort of internal mess led him to those crimes in the first place. This is by no means to excuse evil or crime, but I have found the finger-pointing, holier-than-thou attitude that has been shown by some people in response to this case as distasteful to say the least.
A once well-known proverb attributed to an English clergyman of the sixteenth century runs, “There but for the grace of God, go I”; in other words the misfortune of another could have just as easily been my own if it wasn’t for some undeserved blessing from God, or, bit of luck bestowed by fate (depending on how you view your reality).
It does admittedly make sense to remove some of his public art works, take back certain honours, and I can’t imagine that we will see any new buildings being named the Rolf Harris Community Hall. His crimes against children are very real and have stopped his four victims living healthy and happy lives themselves. Perhaps if these crimes had been committed against my own children my conclusion would have been different, but then I would probably need even more of the same reminder that there but for the grace of God go I.
What Rolf Harris did to those young girls was terrible, really terrible. But we should be careful about how long we allow ourselves to stand on a pedestal pointing a finger and pronouncing the evils of this unfortunate individual. There is much evil in the world, but amongst that evil there is much beauty and goodness. And in a strange way evil never completely erases the good, and nor can we let it.
In conclusion, would I buy another Rolf Harris CD? Probably not. Will I pretend that Rolf Harris didn’t exist or spend much of his time contributing to people’s happiness? Probably not. Will I destroy my Rolf Harris CD? Probably not.
Bernard Toutounji blogs at Foolish Wisdom. This article has been republished with permission.