Australia is about to be hit with a third tour in two years for Boy George’s Culture Club, as the former pop idol makes the most of his return to the spotlight on our local version of talent show The Voice.
But the question needs to be asked: is Boy George, real name George Alan O’Dowd, in any way fit to be acting as a role model for the young singers who appear on the program?
For those who only recall his string of colourful pop hits back in the ’80s, rather than anything he’s done a little more recently, let’s think back on his 2009 conviction for falsely imprisoning a male escort and, as reported by The Guardian, “handcuffing him to a wall, and beating him with a metal chain”.
He received 15 months in jail for the crime, with Judge David Radford telling the disgraced singer that his “premeditated, callous and humiliating” act left his victim “shocked, degraded and traumatised,” and even “deprived of his liberty and his human dignity”.
That victim, Audun Carlsen, slammed the decision by the BBC to hire O’Dowd for the U.K. version of the program, telling the NME “The BBC should be ashamed of themselves for employing Boy George after everything he did to me.”
“If a male celebrity beat up a woman with a chain, handcuffed her to a wall and threatened her with a sex toy, there would be a public outcry if he was given a high-profile job at the BBC,” Carlsen continued.
“He shouldn’t be allowed to be a mentor, they should axe him,” he added. “He is a criminal who has been to prison.”
While we won’t try to deny someone the right to earn a living once they’ve served their time, we imagine that Mr. Carlsen would be just as upset to hear that O’Dowd is being granted a similarly privileged position in Australia.
As the Daily Mail reported last year, an interview with NZ journalist Toni Street ended abruptly when the journalist questioned O’Dowd on his conviction, with the formerly “upbeat and entertaining” singer walking away from the interview immediately.
“I will open that can of worms when I am ready, not while things are going so well for me…” he later tweeted. “I got more media from ending the interview. Job done.”
Just last month, Boy George did finally speak out on the topic, a decade after the incident occurred. Blaming the violent act on a drug-induced “paranoid” episode, he told presenter Piers Morgan, “I was prosecuted on my own evidence. I sent myself to prison.”
Asked about his crime, he remained in his seat this time, and finally apologised for his actions.
“I stopped him from leaving my apartment,” O’Dowd said, without going into detail. “It was terrible what I did, and I’m ashamed and sorry for what I did. It was wrong, and I still pay the consequences for that now.”
Those consequences clearly haven’t stopped him from securing his lucrative mentoring role on The Voice, or setting off on yet another tour – and it’s important to note a double standard that’s occurred here.
We see one convicted violent offender able to enter our country to tour and work, while another – Chris Brown, a convicted domestic abuser – was denied entry in recent years to New Zealand and Australia. Similarly, rapper Tyler, The Creator has been denied entry into both countries due to the content of his lyrics alone, which is another matter entirely.
In our 2016 interview with music critic Anthony Fantano, the YouTube star drew a direct line between the banned rapper and Australian icon Nick Cave to highlight an inequity in the way these cases are treated.
“What’s odd is that in the case of Nick Cave, he gets a pass because we understand what he’s singing is hyperbole or it’s just a story and when you sing about a certain topic that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re endorsing it,” Fantano told Tone Deaf.
“Whereas Tyler, The Creator didn’t get the same ‘benefit of the doubt’. I guess because he’s said some nasty things and wasn’t nice to the right people online, but I guess what I’m trying to say is it still doesn’t make the treatment he got any less unfair.”
And based on these recent examples, it doesn’t seem fair that someone who has been convicted of the sort of assault that Boy George perpetrated be held up as any sort of mentor for young artists. The incident may have happened a decade back, and he may have finally offered his victim an apology, but time and contrition don’t necessarily make him any more suitable for a role like this.
Boy George should be allowed to earn a living, and be able to tour for anyone who cares to see him. But should he be held up as a role model for young musicians on national television?