I'm going to level with you all, dear readers. This blog is going to reference some fairly horrible things and I won't lie; I will almost certainly get ranty. So, I guess this is my equivalent of a trigger warning. Okay. Let's do this...
Today, Ian Watkins, former lead singer of the band Lostprophets, was sentenced to 29 years in prison, with an additional 6 years of "extended license," bringing the total sentence to 35 years. His crime? Child sex offences, including the attempted rape of a baby. Watkins entered a guilty plea for his crimes. He laughably also stated that "nobody was hurt."
He sexually assaulted children. But nobody was hurt.
I'm not going to lie. I can't even begin to get my head around that. I can't remotely understand what makes a person so utterly sick that they feel compelled to commit sexual offences against anyone, let alone a child and certainly not a baby. My reaction is one of disgust and in fairness, most people I've come across share that reaction.
Most, but not all.
Lostprophets have been a pretty popular band over the years. They still have plenty of fans. Plenty of very vocal fans. Here are some of the tweets I've read today (obviously with the names of the accounts removed):
"I believe you're innocent, Ian. Stay strong - your true fans will never desert you."
"I don't give a fuck what he did. I love him. What he does in his own time is HIS business."
"Ian Watkins pleaded guilty to get a shorter sentence, that's what a plea bargain is. Of course he's innocent!!"
"It will ruin my childhood if Ian Watkins is found guilty."
Soooo... Let's take these ludicrous statements one at a time, shall we?
1. "I believe you're innocent."
This is about as intelligent as saying "hey, I know you're wearing a blue jumper, but I BELIEVE IT'S RED." Ian Watkins pleaded guilty on all but one count. He went as far as to refer to his depraved acts as "mega lolz" and said he didn't know what people were getting "so freaked out about." His computer contained images of child pornography. He admitted to conspiring to rape a baby, conspiring to rape a child, sexually assaulting a child and taking/possessing explicit images of children. He stood in a court of law and pleaded guilty to those charges. "I believe you're innocent" has no place, here.
2. "What he does in his own time is HIS business."
Well, no. That's not how the law works, I'm afraid. I can't just turn up to work and announce to my boss "ooh, I had a nightmare journey; had to mow down a couple of old ladies, whilst doing 90mph in the 30mph zone, but hey, what I do in my own time is MY business..." Celebrities are of course allowed some privacy and there's much to say about the culture we live in, in which we invade every aspect of a famous person's life. But there is a massive difference between allowing a celebrity the privacy to use their free time as they wish and turning a blind eye to paedophilia. I mean, really. Is this person actually suggesting that we're invading Watkins' privacy by imprisoning him for sexually assaulting children? What about the children themselves? Are we so blinded by fandom these days that we see nothing other than the object of our obsession?
3. "He pleaded guilty to get a shorter sentence..."
Well, that backfired, didn't it? I also take issue with the "he couldn't be arsed with a court case" argument, too. Here's the thing: If I was arrested for something I didn't do, particularly something as utterly disgusting as child sex offences, I would want my day in court. I'd be grabbing the chance to defend myself with both hands. Nobody in their right mind would willingly go to prison for over three decades for a crime they didn't commit, purely because they couldn't be bothered with the hassle of a trial. I can smell something... Aah yes. It's bullshit.
4. "It will ruin my childhood if he's found guilty."
No it won't. You're an adult. Or at least, you're old enough to operate a Twitter account. Your childhood has been and gone and - hopefully - it didn't involve being sexually assaulted. There are children involved in this case. Kids who are still growing up and who will one day have to face the shattering knowledge that their own mothers allowed a man to abuse them in the vilest of ways. You think your childhood is ruined because you feel a bit uncomfortable listening to certain songs now? Say that to those kids' faces. I bloody dare you.
Sorry, I just couldn't face another picture of Watkins and this seemed appropriate.
Don't get me wrong. I understand fandom. You say a word against Doctor Who or Matt Smith in front of me and I will give you my best death stare, whilst secretly judging you. That's how it works when you love something to a near-obsessive degree. I love the Manic Street Preachers just as much (probably more) and refer to the band as "my boys." I will defend them and overlook stupid things they've said or done until I'm a doddery old lady, but here's the difference: If James Dean Bradfield stood up in a court of law and said "yes, I'm guilty; I attempted to rape a baby," I'd be horrified. I'd feel physically sick. There is no way on this Earth that I would be taking to social media to defend him.
I would, however, be wracking my brains, trying to think what had turned him from a polite, friendly (seriously; I've met a few celebs and he's amongst the nicest), fiendishly talented bloke, into a man capable of behaving like a monster. I would, now matter how disgusted I was, be hoping that there'd be someone who could perhaps give him some kind of psychological help whilst he was in prison. I would believe him to be sick, quite literally. But I would not, ever defend his actions. I wouldn't be physically able to. I work with children; I know how innocent they are and how vital it is that they are protected. To attempt to justify the actions of a sexual predator would go against every fibre of my being.
So why do we have Lostprophet fans who are so utterly blinded to reality that they have flocked to Twitter to protest their hero's innocence, even in the face of a guilty plea? Is it that when we place someone on a pedestal of our own making, we cannot then force ourselves to bring them down and admit we were wrong? Or is it pure, unadulterated obsession, causing us to see someone as inhumanly perfect, even when shown to be otherwise?
For what it's worth, I think there is a valuable lesson about fandom to learn from this case. We need to look beyond our obsessions. Beyond the music, beyond the acting, beyond whatever our idol is known for. Yes, it's fine to have a crush, or to hero-worship someone for being amazing at what they do. But that person is human. That person is, like all of us, fallible. Nobody is perfect and when we set someone up to be, they can only ever let us down. Liking someone - whether as a friend or a fan - means accepting them, warts and all and being open to the fact that they can and will make mistakes along the way. We all do.
But more importantly, when a person makes a choice to abuse (and I've said on this blog many times that abuse is always a choice; you don't just accidentally assault someone), it's important that we step outside of our obsession with that person and view what has happened objectively. Abuse is never the fault of the victim, meaning the blame falls on the shoulders of the person who committed the act. The blame, in this case, lands firmly on Ian Watkins and the two women who went along with his atrocious behaviour. We cannot ever allow hero worship to blind us to reality. Ian Watkins is a child sex offender. It doesn't matter whether you like his music, or looked up to him at some point in your life, he has been found guilty and sent to prison for child sex offences. There is no point in wailing that it can't be true, because you don't want it to be.
Saying you believe that Ian Watkins is innocent doesn't make you a great fan. It simply means that you have developed such an obsession with a celebrity that you are unable to separate the "perfect" version of him in your head from reality. And the reality is that Ian Watkins is not the victim in all of this. The victims are the children and it is them who deserve our sympathy.
Nobody is going to take away your Lostprophets CDs. Nobody is going to erase any memories you may have of enjoying their live shows. All we're asking is that you look beyond the hype and see that your hero's actions are, to all intents and purposes, utterly indefensible. To refuse to do so isn't the act of a fan. It's nothing but delusion and that's where fandom becomes unhealthy.
We all have heroes and that's great. But when fandom involves no grip on reality whatsoever - no ability to look beyond a celebrity's public persona in order to see the real person, even when that person has committed an horrendous crime - it's time for a wake-up call.