Not Just 'Joker': America's Been Ignoring Gary Glitter's Pedophilia For Years

Joaquin Phoenix in 'Joker.' (Warner Bros.)

UPDATE: According to the Los Angeles Times, an unnamed spokesman at Gary Glitter's label in London asserts that "Gary Glitter does not get paid" for the use of "Rock and Roll Part 2," reporting that Glitter sold his publishing rights to the song over 20 years ago. This article's text has been amended to reflect that.

There's a scene in Todd Phillips' controversial new Joker movie in which Joaquin Phoenix's tortured lead is finally fully transformed from outcast Arthur Fleck into the dangerously bombastic Joker. As he embraces his new role, he is seen dancing down some stairs to the sounds of 1972's "Rock & Roll Part 2" by Gary Glitter—and it's created a furor. (Well, on top of the one that already existed, about centering a movie on a murderous protagonist who gets that way via social rejection.)

It's not for nothing. Glitter, a British glam rocker who found fame with outrageous clothes and catchy songs in the '70s and early '80s, is a pariah in his home country, thanks to his status as a convicted pedophile and unapologetic sexual abuser. Glitter's rap sheet is long and horrifying. In 1999, he was placed on Britain's sex offender register and sentenced to four months in prison after 4,000 images of child pornography (some featuring children under the age of 6) were discovered on his laptop.

After his release, he fled to Cambodia where he was eventually deported for sex tourism. In 2005 and 2006, he came to the attention of Vietnamese police after preying on multiple young girls, including children as young as 10 and 11-years old, and a 15-year-old who was said to be living with him. He served three years in Thủ Đức Prison, was barred from at least 19 countries, including the Philippines, Cuba, Cambodia and Thailand, and was subsequently deported to the U.K. in 2008.

During 2014 and 2015, as part of a sweeping investigation that brought down a wealth of prominent TV, radio and music personalities in the U.K., Glitter was charged with a multitude of sexual offenses relating to multiple children under the age of 14 (one of whom was 8). He is currently serving 16 years in prison.

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Of all the songs in all the world that Joker could have used for this scene, there is surely no justification in choosing one by this particular monster. There are plenty of stompy old rock 'n' roll hits, similar in genre to "Rock and Roll Part 2," that aren't going to raise the profile of a pedophile.

In truth though, the movie is just one in a long line of American products that have actively ignored the crimes of Gary Glitter. In 2006, The Office featured "Rock & Roll Part 2" in an episode. In 2004, Meet the Fockers used it during a football-related scene. In 2012, Silver Linings Playbook included it in a movie trailer that was in heavy rotation on television. The choice to put the track in those last two was probably related to sports sub-plots—before Joker, "Rock & Roll Part 2" was best known for being in heavy rotation at sporting events around the country.

Most commonly referred to as "The Hey Song" by sports fans, the track started its sporting life in hockey, when in 1974, Michigan's Kalamazoo Wings began using it as a soundtrack to their arrival on the ice. When the team's marketing director Kevin O'Brien moved to the NHL, he took the song with him to the Colorado Rockies, and it promptly became a staple across Denver sports. The Chicago Bulls adopted the track in the '90s and it quickly spread to stadiums around the country.

While the NFL banned the use of the track at 2012's Super Bowl as a direct result of Glitter-related controversies, the NHL and minor leagues continue to use it, and the NBA and MLB have yet to enforce official bans. In fact, the track is now so ingrained in American life, even the Democratic National Convention played it in 2012.

America's ability to ignore Glitter's crimes becomes even more shocking when one considers the behavior of usually outspoken feminist Joan Jett. Jett continues to perform her 1981 single "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)" despite the fact that it was originally written and released by Glitter in 1973.

Here she is performing it earlier this year in Australia:

Jett has kept that song alive and, according to a 2008 report in The Telegraph, Glitter has profited. After Hewlett Packard used Jett's version in a commercial that year, Glitter reportedly earned up to $122,000 (£100,000). The computer company only pulled the commercial after receiving multiple complaints, including one from the editor of AbuseWatch.net, Evin Daly. That didn't stop Gwyneth Paltrow and the cast of Glee from doing a cover of the song on the show in 2011.

The discussion around how and when we can separate art from disgraced artists is complex and ongoing—especially in the age of #MeToo. For every discussion that arises about another abusive musician, there are ten people waiting in the wings to remind you that David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis all had sex with underage girls. And for those ten people, there are another 20 who want to tell you that all of those statutory rapes happened during a "different time," and with fans that have, at least sometimes, expressed no regrets about what happened.

The question remains: why risk potentially rewarding someone this grotesque? If there is one place we should all be able to agree, it's on the fact that Gary Glitter is the worst kind of long-term predatory pedophile, one who has traveled around the world specifically in pursuit of his illegal sexual predilection, completely undeterred by either prison time or public shaming.

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While complaining about Glitter no doubt plays into Joker's twisted marketing strategy, if anything positive is to come from this particular soundtrack choice, we should see it as a chance to recognize just how badly America needs to erase this kind of artist from the public consciousness. Cancel culture is supposed to be in full swing, but if we as a nation can't even say no to the musical output of a criminal as heinous as Gary Glitter, how will we ever begin to address the ethics of more complex situations?

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