2 May 2008

British comedian Johnny Vegas accused of crossing the line sexually

Johnny Vegas caused a furor the other day when he apparently went over the line in his stage show, leading to discomfort among the audience and to the woman he invited onto the stage. Bruce Dessau has commented on the behaviour, Evening Standard Apr 29, and part of my response is directed towards this: http://dessau.thisislondon.co.uk/2008/04/johnny-vegas-a.html .

I have some questions of my own, and some thoughts on all this. Were these the actions of a man experiencing the power of his position of authority, and did it go to his head? Did he ‘almost’ go over the edge intentionally - making it a question of poor judgement, or was this unintentional, his omnipotent self taking matters too far? I don’t see that much has come of this. Perhaps the stalwart admonition by Mary O'Hara (Guardian, May 1: http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/theatre/2008/05/johnny_vegas.html ), naming it sexual assault, has led to this incident being covered up.

Sexual assault is a serious accusation to make, and the response to such a claim would have to be to either cover it up or deal with it. And who wants to do that? It’s too bad women have to jump in and make claims which on one level seem to be accusations, but on another are actually a way of getting the authorities to back off from investigating further. No one wants to be responsible for Johnny Vegas losing his career, and if feminist interference makes it an either/or situation, then better drop it altogether. Don’t risk people actually giving this situation some real thought. They might actually learn something about masculinity, power, and the grey area of sexuality, for men and for women. It’s not always easy for a woman to say No. Her upbringing, traditional norms, and simply being in a situation where she believes no harm will come to her because so many are watching, will all influence her way of responding to the situation. When she came off stage, finally, and was said to be looking as though she enjoyed the experience, could that have been euphoria at having escaped unharmed, relief that it was over, as well as feelings of excitement that she had been involved in this act on stage with the famous (infamous?) Johnny Vegas?

I wonder if reality television could have had an influence on Johnny’s behaviour, if this incident really did happen, having seen some of the actions other celebrities have engaged in, ‘on stage’ in Big Brother’s house – George Galloway, for one, and some sexual antics of other participants. Where does acting stop and the real person take over? Is access to power an excuse for behaving badly on stage? If Vegas's career is based on taking things to the edge, should some leeway be given to this error in judgement or intentional overstepping of power, if that's what happened? Is making an accusation in a national newspaper also a misuse of power? Should an article doing so be seen as an error in judgement on the part of the journalist or an intentional use of power?

Added Apr 20, 2012

Mary O’Hara did revise her article, changing the title and adding an additional paragraph, as follows:

* Johnny Vegas complained about this article. His solicitors have been in contact with the young woman from the audience who has told them that she went along with the joke willingly and did not feel intimidated, scared or abused during this performance.

My thoughts on this, four years later: When it comes to sexual matters, men’s mistakes in crossing boundaries or using their power to excess is often overlooked or covered up. It’s fairly normal behaviour for men, as they deal with their own sense of masculinity in a world that often denies them. As long as they have power – resources, male support or female support, they can get a second chance, and maybe more than that. It’s problematic that the women who support them the most, seeing their behaviour as nothing more than a storm in a teacup or even simply hilarious, can’t see any farther than that, or refuse to look any deeper. I know I wouldn’t have liked his behaviour, especially if it were done to me.

But this was just a comedy show, not as if it were a colleague or employer putting on a display of macho comedy and expecting admiration from all sides for it. This probably didn’t result in anyone being harassed for speaking out, or losing out on a career, and having to move away.

On the other hand, could the incident be compared to the actions of a medical doctor or a teacher, overstepping the bounds of his profession and sexualizing the doctor/patient (or teacher/student) relationship? As with the Johnny Vegas incident, there was a situation of unequal power, whereby the authority figure had the power to manipulate the other, asking her to put her trust in him while he performed certain actions, for reasons connected to the purpose of the interaction. At what point does the audience member on stage refuse to interact any more, while the eyes of the audience are upon her. Not wanting to make a scene, not wanting to appear na├»ve or lacking in humour, the girl may simply have waited it out, smiling, pretending it was all just fine. Aren’t there many occasions in life when women do just that – pretend it’s okay, watching to see what the others say or do, not really knowing, not wanting to make a fuss, but just conforming?

Did Johnny Vegas over-step the comedy mark?
By Colin Bostock-Smith
First Post
May 1, 2008
http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/32522,features,did-johnny-vegas-overstep-the-comedy-mark not working

Johnny Vegas: A Gig Too Far?
By Bruce Dessau, Comedy Blog
Evening Standard Blogs
Apr 29, 2008
See article comments at http://dessau.thisislondon.co.uk/2008/04/johnny-vegas-a.html

Johnny Vegas at the Bloomsbury theatre* (with note added)
originally titled ‘When is Sexual Assault Funny’
By Mary O'Hara
The Guardian
May 1, 2008
http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/theatre/2008/05/johnny_vegas.html link not working
with new title, introduction and note added: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/may/01/gender.comedy

Links updated Apr 20, 2012


Mickhannigan@mac.com said...

No assault took place. Mary O'Hara's Guardian article has been comprehensively discredited by numerous eyewitnesses. The victim here is Vegas who's reputation has been shredded by the offending article and the chinese whispers of the very many blogs which quoted it.

The article is now the subject of a 'legal complaint', presumably by Vegas, and it and the accompanying blog have been removed from the Guardian website.

Pod said...

Fair comment does not include outright accusations of sexual assault. What O'Hara did which was damaging to feminism was indulge in histrionics which caused her to forget basic journalistic standards; standards which even an elementary student of journalism would be aware of.
For example, she appears to think that quoting other people's libel gives her immunity, but it doesn't. She also has (had?) a very simplistic idea of what constitutes 'truth' in the context of justification. She and the Guardian deserve to get sued over this.