Charles Saatchi and a de-humanised society

Like many people I was almost vomiting up my breakfast this morning when I saw the photos of Charles Saatchi gripping his wife around the neck in a clearly aggressive way – and then pictures of her biting back the tears and clearly trying to hold her head up whilst not completely breaking apart as she left the restaurant.

The social space has been crazy ever since with “Nigella”, offering sympathy and advice, also berating the ‘onlookers and paparazzi’ who just recorded the event, but did not intervene. Not nearly as much of it is taken up with “Charles Saatchi” – the one who should be the subject of relentless questions and scrutiny today – there is some of course, but comparatively little compared to the attention Nigella, the onlookers and the paparazzi are getting.

What happened?

A man publicly argued and gripped his wife around the neck during this argument. He has history of clamping his hand over her mouth in public – but this time his anger clearly out of control to blind him to the consequences of his actions in public.

Why is this something that should concern us, other than the obvious?

As the ex-wife of an abusive man (I am fine seriously, over it a long time ago I was extremely young and even when it was going on I was so controlled I didn’t even realise it was not normal) I would say that before we even talk about the inhumanity of the watchers, what is really concerning is that if he can lose it to that extent in public, what is he doing when he does not have eyes other than his wife’s silently begging him to stop?

His anger is clearly out of control, and that is dangerous, I believe the police should be all over this – but I am sure they are, we are just not being told, which is fine.

People who lose control of their rage in public and commit crimes in full view of everyone, driven by anger, will most definitely be doing worse behind closed doors when that temper goes off again. Therefore it is perfectly right, moral and your obligation to phone the police if you see this kind of abuse in public, regardless of the fame of the recipient. So…

Reason 1: Because the abuse of the recipient has to stop – that is the primary reason why we should be, and are, all concerned

Nigella looks destroyed, humiliated and obviously upset as she leaves the restaurant. I suspect that, like me all those years ago, she has been playing pretend – that this is fine and she can handle some of the flak she takes when Charles loses his rag; that she can privately suffer but protect the public persona; not the public persona brought about by fame (I had a public persona and I was not remotely famous, I was just trying to exist in the real world and by having a publicly strong me then it made the abused me far less important and not the driver of my behaviour and actions).

What I think she has had to face is that this public display brings about two unavoidable things:

  • her husband’s anger is out of control and she has lost any iota of her own ability to keep his behaviour hidden
  • everyone knows now and she is now going to have to start that terrible climb up the mountain of leaving this man, breaking down with her friends, gathering her family around her

And the last bullet point will be the most difficult, and the most dreaded, and I of course wish her all the love and luck in the world. I am sure her friends have rallied, of course and so we can rest assured as people that she will be being loved and helped and so we can move on. She really won’t be reading those tweets to *be strong* but her friends might. So…

Reason 2: here is a devastated person

The behaviour of those who watched and recorded the incident is of course deplorable in hindsight, and I am also absolutely sure that there are many who witnessed this and are kicking themselves for not doing something. Some are saying it is because she is famous and their notoriety might have stopped passers by, fellow diners or paparazzi from stepping in. I doubt this – it is a general and real fear of facing a person with anger that has raged over into publicly unacceptable behaviour. (The paps? Well we had all of this debate with Diana didn’t we?)

My ex backhanded me in a restaurant once in front of fellow diners, and even the security on the door, in a relatively smart place in Melbourne. I was so humiliated and felt all the eyes were on me and my bloody eyebrow, I looked to the security man but he averted his eyes, everyone averted their eyes (this was the early 90s so yes different to now, but not much it seems). It took all the strength I had to stand up and leave, and as I left the security dude mouthed his apology – that made me cry. That was what I recognise in Nigella’s face as she leaves – so I suspect the paps were being as kind to her as they were snapping, and I expect that is what pushed her to tears – I really don’t expect being abused by her husband was a new thing, but maybe people seeing her as an abused person who needed help was a new thing.

It’s so hard…

Reason 3: We need to change our reaction to violence in public

What can we do?

Well, firstly if you are in possession of a camera and your role is to take photographs in public of famous people and you stumble on this again, I would say photograph the abuser, he is also famous – why do we only see the abused? Use your role to shine a big mirror, a gigantic magnifying glass on the face of the person out of control – show them. Why do we only see Nigella’s humiliation? Why are there no tabloid splashes of his face as he did this?

If you witness this happening to anyone: phone the police, use others around you to detain the abuser, photograph and record it for the police, not the newspapers.

Comfort the humiliated abused person but know that they need their friends and will not want you to be their comforter – get them to tell you who to call and then phone a friend. But above all, make the focus of attention the abuser – protect the abused.

In trains the railways have come up with a very clever way of policing their quiet carriages, relying on the power of crowd-sourced humiliation. We don’t blush with shame or run out of a silent carriage whispering into our phones because of fear that the conductor might discover us chatting on the phone in a publicly quiet zone – but because our fellow passengers will frown at us, disapprove and probably talk about us behind our backs.

We need to make sure abusers feel the same shame. I know it does not stop the abuse in private, but even if they have to practice restraint in public – at least there is some little part of themselves that is learning to control the anger, and that can only be good practice.

So I think there are three things we can do:

  1. Photographers can photograph the abuser/s not the abused
  2. Onlookers can protect the abused and get their (the abused) friends there fast
  3. Document the abuse for the police not the newspapers

In conclusion

I do worry that we are descending too fast into the future portrayed by Charlie Brooker in his series Black Mirror. Indeed in Series 2 Episode 2 he depicts a world where a frightened and confused woman wakes in a world she does not remember, nor understand, is just watched and filmed as she enacts her despair and confusion in public, there is no humanity behind the phones held aloft. Did we not see this when the Queen visited the BBC earlier this month? I cannot insert a photo here because of copyright restrictions, but Google “Queen visits the BBC” and check the images.

This is as much about an abusive man being exposed as it is our reactions to this. Please can we wake up and see that we have to change our public response to horror – and bring back our compassion and humanity.

21 responses

  1. Of course his actions should be reported to the police. This is a matter of common assault, if not actual bodily harm. But really the first thing that Nigella should do is to leave the man; that much is obvious. No-one should be subjected to the humiliating spectacle which is published today in the People. I wish her well and hope that she is able to do the right thing for herself really soon.

    • It’s only humiliating because of the attention it is getting. Incidents like this happen every day on a horrendous scale, and just look at how much of a ruckus this single incident has caused. And why? Because this couple are famous? How can we justify this kind of mentality? Sure, it’s a terrible thing for Saatchi to have done, but surely we should be questioning our collective conscience when each one of us passes a homeless person in the street every single day, barely noticing their suffering, and yet when it comes to these over-glorified ‘famous’ people, the entire web rises up in arms. The sheer number of articles on this subject today is something I would call truly depressing.

  2. I’ve also suffered domestic violence years ago. We were looking for a *thing* to do together, maybe this is it? Using tech to empower women and get themselves out of these situations? What do you think?

    • If I remember back to the me then I think I would see all efforts to rescue women like me as completely irrelevant to myself in the moment. It is only in retrospect that I can see what it was. In the end it was only when I was whacked whilst feeding dort 1 that I found the strength to leave – to protect her. I think we could do something though about empowering people to look out for and not fear ‘in-partner’ abuse. It takes a lot of strength to be a family member, friend or observer and intervene – and that is the missing link – the abused women (and men) are not going to be in a position to engage. In my personal anecdotal opinion anyway

  3. I agree with what has been said above. I think Nigella should leave him to fester in his own disgusting steam. I thought this kind of behaviour with women went out with the caveman period.

  4. What I am worried about is the psychological and emotional abuse that must have gone on over the years before events in public occur. She looked terrified and the fact that she was kissing him even after such humiliation to cool him shows that she has accepted even much worse in private. It is so heartbreaking to observe this happen to a woman much admired by so many.
    Ewurabena Dadzie

  5. In the end, your husband/abuser, becomes the only person who understands what you are going through. That is the only way to explain why she would. Indeed after the backhand I received, I left the restaurant with my husband and we went home and carried on…

  6. Pingback: Nobody Knows Best | From A Whisper To A Roar

  7. I am in shock after hearing this news. I had no clue about Nigella’s troubled relationship. When you see famous women taking such crap from men, it makes me feel really uncomfortable. I just hope she finds the courage to walk out of this relationship. If this what the pig is doing in public, how do u think he will be treating her at home?

    You are right. People feel scared of interfering in such matters. If i was there, i would have bloody shown him his right place.

    I still can’t believe this. I hope she walks out before it is too late.

  8. I worked as pub & club security for about a decade, and I intervened in many altercations like this. (I even have a scar on my back where the wife attacked me after I was rolling on the floor with hubby, having stopping him smacking her). Despite intervening, I was never able to feel that I was really able to help. In pretty much every situation where I stopped some guy assaulting his partner they ended up leaving together or with her defending him.

    It’s only a small part of the picture, but advice on how to usefully intervene might make it easier for bystanders to do just that. How can someone meaningfully make a difference in a situation like this?

    • Sadly you can’t make a real difference every time. Recording the abuser in action is definitely a good start. Nor can you let the fact that your intervention is pretty useless long term, stop you stopping it. If that makes sense. It is VERY tricky.

  9. good blog

    i condemn violence of all kinds, but [optimistically] believe that sometimes people can and do change their behaviour from ‘out of control’ to ‘controlled’ [whether through counselling, treatments for addiction or whatever]

    unless you live in a bubble wrapped world where everybody is nice to each other then you just have to look around to see that there is all sorts of violence physical and verbal [including simply ignoring the other person] that goes on every day in private and in public, whether between those in relationships or between others. frankly the police dont have the ability to solve such problems so reporting to the police is at best a bandage that is there for the most extreme cases [impossible to tell from a photo if this was one or not, I suspect]. If every common assault was reported to the police they’d spend their time on nothing else – and the idea that reporting anything to the policy is the panacea to domestic violence is not quite right – but the concept of shaming people from being violent and removing its acceptability from society is exactly the right one and the best way to change a lot of behaviours.

    Although well-meant, sympathy and advice to folk in relationships from the blogosphere can quite possibly be nearly as voyeuristic, intrusive and unwelcome as the paps’ original coverage [which i condemn]. I dont believe in censorship nor surpressing news but this wasnt that.

    in a civilised world this should have been a matter for the 2 individuals, any onlookers and [if they had an ounce of decency] any of the paps who were there should have refrained from taking pictures and [like onlookers] gone up to Charles Saatchi and told him he should take his hands off her as that’s not the right way to treat another human being. speculation whether a particular incident should lead to separation or not, and speculation that what happens privately must be worse, is just that…speculation … of the sort the tabloids indulge in, but rarely helpful to anybody [there may be cases where the friends dont suggest it and it does help]

    In much the same way that some years ago the tabloids [following outrage] said they’d stop using long lens photography and taking intrusive photos of peoples’ children…but it still happens.

    solutions

    i) proper press regulation – the editors in the uk have demonstrated self regulation doesnt work

    ii) every time a bully is caught at school, stand him/her in the corner and/or bully him/her verbally so they understand how it feels to be the victim and what it is they have done wrong [the only way they can really understand]

    iii) – perhaps controversially – bloggers, and other commentators – to refuse the temptation to comment on individuals, however tempting

    iv) compassion and humanity to be specifically taught in the national curriculum [much more important than coding skills... sorry :)]

    sorry for the long rant :)

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