Blind to the truth

Jon Ronson - The double life of Jonathan King - Channel Four, January 11

The media's favourite monster, former pop impresario Jonathan King - currently enjoying residency at Belmarsh prison - popped up on our TV screens this week. Well, it fills the gap nicely now that the Amy Gehring scandal has started to recede. Jon Ronson's professional image is of a darker, more kooky version of Louis Theroux. In this vein he did a recent series on Channel Four called The Extremists, which featured an entertaining array of nutcases and weirdoes - rightwing survivalists/neo-Nazis in the United States, David Icke (former leading Green Party activist) and his 12-foot lizardmen - ie, jews - who secretly control the world, and so insanely on. This documentary, based on Ronson's nine-month correspondence with King - who recorded a video diary while awaiting trial on charges of sexual abuse - has been long anticipated. The double life of Jonathan King was originally meant to have been shown a few months ago but it was abruptly - and slightly mysteriously - pulled off the air at the last minute. Channel Four claimed at the time that its decision to drop the programme had nothing to do with litigation or legal worries. So why then was it postponed? Of course, King himself has his own theories. On his website you will find the following explanation: "The excuse is that someone is involved in another current trial, but we all know that's rubbish. Stations like Channel Four don't pull TV specials, after huge promotion, for trivial reasons. No, the buzz is that Jonathan King was making too many valid and legitimate legal points. And the powers-that-be put huge pressure on the station. Despite the rumour that Ronson was well and truly nobbled by the Surrey police and persuaded to write a script to their agenda, Jonathan King's points still came through "¦ So back to the big question "¦ Somewhere, behind the scenes, there are heavy, homophobic influences at work. Equalising the age of consent? Disgraceful" (all King quotes from www.kingofhits.com). Naturally, King is the most hated man in Britain - at least in the eyes of the tabloid press. However, what came across on the programme was more pathetic than malevolent. Yes, King is arrogant, unrepentant, self-deluding, ugly and filthy rich. But he is also a miserable and profoundly insecure human being - who happened to get very lucky very early and ended up making millions. His uniquely grating persona seems specifically designed to provoke a reaction - any reaction - from what he perceived to be an indifferent, if not hostile, world. Charlie Brooker of The Guardian was not far off the mark when he confessed that "it's hard not to sense a small mouse of pity gnawing at the edges of your mind" (January 9). Additionally, it is hard not to disbelieve King when he states: "The printed coverage has been about five percent accurate." What is quite instructive - almost shocking - is how easily King's teenage 'victims' were mesmerised by the trappings of fame. One interviewee, whose relationship with King spanned 18 months, explained how exciting it felt to ride around in a Rolls Royce, accompanying a star. "But he was only Jonathan King," remarks Ronson. "He was the most famous person I knew," came the distressing reply. Another point to make, barely hinted at in the documentary, is that the pop industry - especially as currently constituted - is all about the exploitation of children, whether as performers or consumers. The cynical manipulation of the fancies and fantasies of pre- and early teen girls are what bubblegum pop producers rely on to sell records (the 'Britney Spears phenomenon', if you like). Woe betide you if your pop idol, like King, turns out to be gay or deviant in any way. Then of course you have the equally manufactured Will Young, the squeaky-clean winner from the depressingly popular Pop idols show. Wonderfully, Young told The Independent that he was inspired to become a pop star by reading Marx (yes, Karl Marx) - "Never give up on your dreams", learned Will. Such an industry provides an ideal environment for ruthless - and fundamentally amoral - individuals like King to hegemonise and prosper in. For all his slightly intellectualist reputation, Ronson's actual observations are not particularly illuminating. At the end of the documentary, he intones: "I think Jonathan King sees himself as a martyr. I see him as a man who shouldn't have had sex with underage boys." True, King has compared himself rather unconvincingly to Oscar Wilde. In fact, he has gone even further than that, with the following appeal: "If you're a writer or DJ or producer in the media, play my music, mention my name, don't allow them to wipe me out of history. They did that in Stalinist Russia, as the Nazis killed the jews and the gays. Society can creep up on you unless you watch it and even the most liberal intellectual can be blind to the truth." Obviously, we are back to King's egomania again. But we do have to ask ourselves the awkward question - why did these teenage boys keep returning for more 'abuse'? Ronson essentially evaded this key question. Yet the interviewee who loved to go for a ride in King's Rolls has explicitly stated that he enjoyed the sex - not to mention all the free gifts and attention, such as the records (stacks) and a guitar. What seems to have transpired is that some of the 'victims' have suddenly felt - or were encouraged to feel - a rush of guilt over the fact that they enjoyed their 'King experience' all those years ago. Some taboos must never be transgressed. This was certainly the view of Chris Denning, another former Radio One DJ and ex-friend of King - now in exile after being released from a Czech prison for sex offences. He thought that the teenagers now "feel bad because they enjoyed it" and have come "into conflict with society's norms". Also, as is so often the case in such matters, we can never discount the financial factor. Some of King's alleged victims are in line for a nice pay-out from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority - which is based on a tariff or 'shopping-list' system - not to mention whatever the tabloid press will fork out. No doubt King will soon be yesterday's copy - there must be other fish to fry. But in a rare moment of insight, King made an honest admission - one that could equally apply to others upon whom the media focus their attentions. He said he had led a "pointless life". Perhaps this is the real tragedy of Jonathan King. Danny Hammill