I was, I have to say, somewhat shocked by the furore over the Brass Eye special on paedophilia. Not by the programme itself. Yes, I did see the programme and I thought it was not very good and not very bad, and I thought Chris Morris had made some tactical errors, especially if he thought that satire was ever going to change anything, but on the whole he got some shots on target about media hysteria, and if he wanted any corroboration it came from the media hysteria which greeted the programme.
(Let us draw a veil over the ministerial shock that greeted the programme. Let us not mention the name of the government member who went on radio and blasted the programme that she had not seen. Let us not mention that Beverley Hughes, for that was her name, said that, although she had not seen the programme, she had had it described to her and that she found the contents highly shocking. Let us not even think of mentioning Beverley Hughes again.)
Even if Brass Eye was shocking, it is not half as shocking as child abuse itself. And there were things that Chris Morris could have said that he didn't say. He was so anxious to present the paedophile pest as the media see him – ie as a hideous monster in scarcely human form – that he forgot to remind us that most child abuse is practised by members of the family, or intimates of the family. It is very convenient for us to imagine that child abuse is committed by sinister, solitary people wearing raincoats, but it isn't – it's mostly committed by people like us: parents, grandparents, uncles...
I don't think when I was young that I was even aware of the existence of child abuse. My mother once told me, in a moment of unusual candour, that she had had a very scary experience with a man in Central Park at the age of 12 (she grew up in New York), but she didn't say what it was and never referred to it again, and it was only in retrospect that I realised vaguely what sort of thing she must have been talking about.
In fact, the first time I heard it openly referred to was when I was grown up and working for Punch magazine. My best friend there was the deputy art editor, Geoffrey Dickinson, whom I sometimes used to question about the stability of a career of a cartoonist, and he used to say that, taking all the risks into account, it was better than his previous life as a teacher.
"It can be a harrowing job, teaching," he told me. "Some of the children in my classes had the most awful home lives."
"What – parental violence, that sort of thing?"
I couldn't imagine anything worse.
"Well, incest, sexual abuse in the family, all that sort of thing."
It was beyond my experience. I said I didn't believe it.
"Oh, it happened all right. I've known girls come to school having been made pregnant by their fathers. You live in a sheltered world, Kington..."
And so I did, I guess. Why, I didn't even know about child prostitution. Did you know about child prostitution? You may have thought that Brass Eye was shocking, but it wasn't half as shocking as another announcement that came out the same weekend that the Brass Eye protests did: the revelation that child prostitution is on the increase here and that children as young as 10 are involved in the trade in Britain.
That is the sort of thing that is mentioned in hushed tones about Victorian Britain, to show what an evil world existed alongside the imperial splendour of Victorian London. That it should be happening here and now, and be on the increase, is, I would say, a lot more shocking than Channel 4 allowing someone like Chris Morris to make a satirical programme about the coverage of child abuse.
But was there tabloid hysteria about child prostitution?
Was there a great uproar anywhere?
Did the Daily Mail clear its front page to expose the racket?
Did government ministers go on air to condemn the evil trade of child prostitution?
Did the minister we never mention (Beverley Hughes) have anything to say about it?
I do not think so.
I am still waiting.Reuse content