Celebrity status blinds us to the bizarre and illegal

11 July 2014

Celebrity status blinds us to the bizarre and illegal
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Professor David Marshall explains celebrity and the abuse of power

The case of Rolf Harris highlights how much power and trust is afforded to celebrities but like the abuse which occurred in the Catholic Church raises questions about how much people close to the celebrity turned a blind eye to what was going on, Deakin University expert in celebrity Professor David Marshall said.

Professor Marshall who is the Chair in New Media, Communication and Cultural Studies and a member of the Persona, Celebrity, Publics (PCP) Research Group said Harris' success as a celebrity lay in how he represented Australia abroad and the way it reflected Australia back to itself.

"He really played on the Australianness of his identity," he said.

"He is something from our childhood and it is something we have reinscribed in our children in a way," he said.

"His relationship to an innocent culture, particularly Australian culture was really strong and even being based in Britain made him a naïve version of Australia.

"He would work like a Kangaroo or the Opera House, but in this case he was an entertainer who embodied Australianness."

Professor Marshall said people were taken in by the glamour of the image, the public aura that surrounded Rolf Harris rather than seeing the real truth that lay behind it.

"You are looking at their public presentation, you are drawn to what their power in the public world rather than what they are," he said.

Professor Marshall said the treatment afforded to Rolf Harris and other celebrities was linked to the way certain groups were exalted beyond the normal requirements of society.

"It resembles the treatment that may have occurred in the Royal Court in earlier times, but is now afforded to celebrities," he said.

"Celebrity now has a special status.

"Like Michael Jackson, their handlers and media/entertainment managers believe at the very least, that they have their own special needs and requirements.

"Some of this might be having the right type of food in the Green Room; but for others it can be the unsaid permission of what would be totally inappropriate and illegal behaviour.

"The people close to them look just a little bit away as these things happen under their noses.

"So in a way they are complicit with Rolf Harris getting away with what he did.

"For him, his belief that he had that special celebrity meant he was able to get leeway in other aspects of his life.

"Celebrity is a cover because of its cultural power and it has value in a different range of industries.

"If you affect that or you are attached to how Rolf Harris advances then you will try to protect it, which is probably the next story to emerge."

British historians give context to the culture surrounding celebrities at the time as part of an investigation into Jimmy Savile's life and his offences on National Health Service premises.

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