I was sitting on the bus this evening when an old Howard Jones song began playing on the radio. It was a song I remembered from my childhood in the 1980s. The chorus is: “No one, no one, no one ever is to blame”.
The song instantly brought to mind Corey Worthington.
The 16-year-old Worthington made headlines around the world when he threw a party in his parents’ Melbourne home while they were holidaying interstate and then publicised the event on the popular networking site MySpace. The 500 or so young people who attended the party wreaked drunken havoc in Worthington’s street, urinating on his neighbours’ lawns and destroying their letterboxes, before being dispersed by police.
Asked by the media if he felt repentant for hosting the party, which allegedly caused $20,000 worth of damage and probably more than a few sleepless nights for his neighbours and family, Worthington replied “no”. He simply told reporters that he was “off my head”.
The key word here - the word Worthington seems to be shying away from - is “responsibility”. In an excellent essay, feminist theorist Susan Hawthorne argues that men have a long history of avoiding responsibility for their actions, especially those actions that have harmful or undesirable consequences. Hawthorne cites a newspaper cartoon depicting a woman slumped in a corner, with a stab wound in her chest. The woman is surrounded by friends and relatives who are asking her to “(t)ell us about your husband’s troubled childhood”.
Worthington has not been accused of assault or murder. Nevertheless, he displays the same kind of “pass the buck” attitude that Jones endorses in his song and which Hawthorne criticises in her essay. Worthington has blamed the excesses of his party on his intoxication. Media commentators and members of the public have blamed Worthington’s actions on the Internet, his parents, the fact that he lives in the outer suburbs, and the fact that he is a teenager.
A brief aside: I reject the suggestion that living in a particular suburb or geographical location “corrupts” an individual and/or deprives them of morals. I also reject the suggestion that all teenagers are delinquents who cannot think rationally and who have nothing better to do than terrorise their neighbours. The cultural stereotypes we can see at work here are particularly crude ones, and I had - rather naively, it seems - assumed some time ago that they would have vanished by 2008.
But the question is: who forced Worthington to ingest quantities of alcohol? And who used MySpace to invite other teenagers, many of whom were not known to the host of the party?
I would instead suggest that Worthington is voicing that old and still pervasive belief that men are never at fault. Guys just “wanna have fun”, and if things go awry - don’t blame them! This belief has underpinned justifications for men’s violence against women and members of other oppressed social groups (gays and lesbians, the elderly, the disabled). This belief has also underpinned justifications or excuses for “anti-social” acts such as vandalism and trespassing.
This is a belief that feminists have been trying to eradicate for over 30 years. Nevertheless, it is also a belief that all men, Worthington included, have grown up with and - to a large extent - been socialised to agree with.
So how are men “socialised to agree” with this belief? One answer to this question lies in the romanticising of “bad boy” behaviour by the media and popular culture. Following in the footsteps of that other notorious party animal, Ben Cousins, Worthington seems to have achieved a minor celebrity status for his wrongdoings. He has been interviewed on a popular talkback radio program, posed for photos with adoring fans, and allegedly received offers to liven up parties around Australia with his own unique brand of event management.
And doubtless, Worthington’s mates think he is a “legend” for hosting what he has called the “best party ever”.
Perhaps Worthington will eventually acknowledge the error of his ways. I certainly hope he does, and that he will (in the future) find ways of having fun that do not involve distressing or hurting others. I am not suggesting that this young man, or indeed any man or woman, should avoid drinking alcohol or hosting parties. Nevertheless, and at risk of stating the extremely obvious, these activities do not need to involve damaging property or using your neighbour’s lawn as a toilet.
On the other hand, Worthington may choose to boost his “bad boy” appeal by boasting about this episode at the pub for the next decade. And perhaps the media will use this “bad boy” appeal to attract readers and viewers for a while longer (it is not difficult to imagine Worthington hosting a late night game show, as so many “reality TV” contestants have done before fading into obscurity).
In conclusion, I would argue that both Worthington and Howard Jones are wrong. Someone always is to blame. Someone always must take responsibility for their actions.