||[Jan. 28th, 2012|10:51 am]
Benjamin Britten loved boys but could be trusted to have them sleep over because he valued them for their innocence. Parents allowed him free access to their little nippers and the little nippers- now old men- speak of him with an affection tinged with hero-worship. They feel privileged to have known him. David Hemmings- now not only old but dead- cut to the chase. "Did he give me one? No he didn't"|
Autre temps, autre moeurs.
Britten was a paedophile, but an ethical one. We seem to have lost the ability to conceive of such a thing. I think it's a pity.
It does seem that Britten was sexually attracted to children as well as valuing them for their innocence - as opposed to (say) J. M. Barrie and Charles Dodgson, where I've not seen any evidence of sexual attraction. (I'd happily have sent my child to either of their houses.)
I can easily conceive of an ethical paedophile, and in retrospect I can easily believe that Britten was one (and I respect him for it); but would I have sent my child for a sleepover at Britten's house, knowing he was a paedophile and trusting to his ethics to keep my child safe? I'm afraid not. Those autre temps, as we know, included a massive amount of abuse by manipulative adults, and a conspiracy of silence to help them along. For every child who went to Britten's house and had a nice time, there must have been dozens who went to Uncle Jim's or Father Joe's (or just stayed at home for Daddy's bedtime story) and were raped and abused. As a figure of huge respect and authority, and indeed hero worship, Britten was in a perfect position to take advantage, had he wished to do so. As a parent, my policy would certainly have been one of safety first, in his case.
That is, as I say, had I known he was a paedophile at all. But of course I wouldn't have known.
P.S. Referring back to my first para, I realize that "innocence" is a tricky term, by the way...
The kids who slept over at Britten's house were mostly from the class which thought it normal to send kids away to boarding school. I think there was a degree of wilful blindness involved.
There was a master at my school who fell into the ethical paedophile category. He used to cruise the dormitories looking for "friends". If you were picked (as I was) you got invited to tea (with Penguin biscuits). Nothing untoward ever happened- though I understand there had been an incident once that had resulted in him receiving a warning.
Unlike Britten he was almost universally loathed. He was ingratiating and giggly and wanted so very badly to be one of the "lads". When he was in line to become a house master a delegation of sixth formers went to the head to say, "Over our dead bodies".
50 years later (near enough) he is still hanging around the school, exercising honorary functions of one kind or another. I get sent the old boys magazines and there- as often as not- there'll be a picture of him in company. He has a round, boyish face- bright as the proverbial button- and has hardly changed at all.
Most boarding schools shelter his like- and worse. Parents and governors and colleagues and head masters pretend not to notice.
Most boarding schools shelter his like- and worse.
If I were a predatory paedophile, teaching at a boarding school would be one of my top career choices. It's one of many reasons why I would never send my children to such a place.
"One of many reasons". Yes, indeed. I was adamant my kids would be educated within the state system. Knowing what I know, it would have been irresponsible of me to do otherwise.
We are asked to believe that Michael Jackson was an ethical paedophile or else not a paedophile at all. Neither seems particularly credible.
I can conceive of such a thing. I would not bet a child's life on it, though.
Neither would I.
And yet...the kids who spent time with Britten seem to have been greatly enriched by the relationship. There was a risk, but perhaps in this case it was worth taking.
A very tricky situation.
P.S. I agree about Jackson. A very damaged, deeply corrupted man.
The scoutmaster of my first Boy Scout troop was apparently a paedophile or at the very least seemed to have an intense interest in younger men, especially our Senior Patrol Leader. It was rather creepy and I had no use for JD, but strangely not because of his interest in boys.
There was another local man, heavily involved in Scouting, who I also strongly suspect was a paedophile. He was a puppeteer, ventriloquist and amateur stage magician, and, rather like Britten, I suppose, was much beloved by every child that new him. Those of us that grew up around him, though, knew that he would soon loose his interest in the youngsters as they matured and revert to type: generally a steaming asshole, most days.
Whether or not either man was ethical, I have no idea.
Paedophiles swarm around scouting. It's only to be expected.
David Hemmings says Britten dropped him like a hot coal as soon as his voice broke.
Paedophiles and Mormons, though why exactly Scouting attracts Mormons seems a far greater mystery. On the whole, I'd rather take my chances with the kiddie diddlers.
Did you see Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art when it was playing last spring?
Can I request a complicated poem about Britten?
No, I missed that.
A poem about Britten. I'll think about it. I don't promise anything.