Can They See the Real Pete?

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"Looking at Pete Townshend's face in the newspapers, I see someone who is wounded. I do believe what he says about research. I think it's part of a healing process because of the abuse he suffered as a child."

"I have faith in Pete Townshend. Everyone I know wants to believe he's innocent."

"The great thing about Townshend is his painful honesty. He is always looking for truth in the widest sense. I believe he is completely innocent. For me, this doesn't undermine his heritage, but it does cast doubt on these paranoid times."

A few of these quotes, taken from an L.A. Times article by Phil Sutcliffe (any relation to Stu?), continue with some variation of "Then again, I was a Gary Glitter fan too…" But taken together they suggest a turnaround in British public reaction to the Pete-ophilia scandal. Sutcliffe details how after a first couple days of shrieking and japery, both the tabloids and the wo/man in in the street have downshifted to wait-and-see mode. "With Townshend," Sutcliffe writes, "the perception of a rumbustious integrity is so ingrained that the jaded British actually seem inclined to invoke that weary old notion of believing innocence until guilt is proved."

That's a hopeful sign that after countless celebrity scandals, people are able to be shocked and/or amused by the spectacle, but still avoid giving in to hysteria. The Reason staff, it turns out, is so top-heavy with Pete Townshend fans that this whole thing has really been our September 11, but we're reserving judgment too.

[PS: The third dictionary I consulted defines "rumbustious" as "boisterous, turbulent, unruly, uproarious."]

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  1. During this whole thing, I’ve been reminded of the presumably illiterate mob in Wales who spray-painted the word “paedo” on the front door of a pediatrician. I guess the British satire show Brass Eye did an episode on the public hysteria. Everybody just needs to calm the hell down.

  2. Er, illiterate because they confused a pediatrician with a pedophile, not because they used the British spelling.

  3. I’m a longtime fan of Townshend’s music, too, and I’d like to think I’m not giving him any more benefit of the doubt than I would a performer I didn’t care for: Would we be so open-minded if it were Michael Bolton in the soup?

  4. “Benefit of the doubt” is a metaphor for… “innocent until proven guilty”.

  5. Good point Bob. Yeah, it is difficult to be objective about something like this, and I can’t help thinking that I am being more open-minded towards Townshend because I love the Who.

    However, I will make another point here. Not only has Pete Townshend produced some brilliant music, but he’s also come across to me as a pretty stable, level-headed person, at least as rock stars go (as in, he hasn’t made a reputation for himself as a freak or a loose cannon like plenty of other rock and pop stars). That’s the other reason why I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt, as opposed to someone like Michael Jackson, another pop star also accused of pedophilia. Sure, I like the Who and I don’t like Jackson’s music, but in addition to that, Jackson was already known as a weirdo with an unhealthy fixation with children well before he was ever actually accused of molesting a child.

  6. In regards to giving Townshend “the benefit of the doubt” because of his celebrity status, I’m not a fan of his music. However, unlike most people whose understanding of the subject has been shaped solely by tabloid journalism, I recognize that “pedophile” and “child molester” are not synonyms. Most clinically-defined pedophiles will never commit a violent crime. Furthermore, there is an even larger segment of the population (some studies find up to one-third) which has “pedophilic tendencies”, meaning that they self-report or physically manifest sexual arousal when exposed to “pedophilic stimuli”, i.e. photos of nude children.

    So was Townshend solely conducting objective research for an article as he claimed? I don’t know. But I do know that if he was looking at the websites for the purpose of his own enjoyment, that wouldn’t bother me either.

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