18/04/2011 17:00 | By Ben Chalk, contributor, MSN Music

Gary Glitter song featured on Glee

The use of a Gary Glitter song in tonight's episode of Glee has been the subject of some controversy. But does it matter?

Gary Glitter (© Rex)

Have you heard the one about Gary Glitter being spotted in the queue for X Factor auditions?

It sounds like a Brass Eye-style joke, a send-up of our tabloid media's scaremongering approach to the issue of child abuse, but no, this was a story in The Sun last month.

The fact that nobody could say for sure whether the man was the "loathed pop paedo" himself scarcely mattered; newspapers were sold and Glitter's status as the nation's favourite kiddy-fiddling bogeyman was upheld.

Now, have you heard the one about a Glitter song called Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah) featuring on an episode of top teen TV show Glee? The episode, which airs tonight on E4, was originally shown in the States on March 8 (coincidentally or not, the exact date the X Factor story was published) and has reportedly led to Glitter receiving a substantial amount of money in royalties.

While the first of these stories was never more than sensationalist speculation (ITV later issued a statement denying the man was Glitter), the second is unambiguously true.

And as you can imagine, it's caused a bit of a kerfuffle.

Anti-child-abuse group Kidscape have described the song's use as "wholly inappropriate", and there was speculation it would be cut for British audiences. It's going ahead uncensored, however, with Channel 4 deeming the offending scene "editorially justified".

So, does it really matter? Or should we object to the music of a convicted paedophile being featured on a TV show aimed primarily at young teenagers?

All roads lead to the question of whether it's possible to judge a piece of work separately from its author. It's an issue that has long vexed the chattering classes.

Stephen Fry (© PA)

Stephen Fry recently made a documentary defending his love of the anti-semitic classical composer Wagner on the grounds that the work transcends the context of its creation.

Few would object to Fry's argument. While Wagner's publicised views are repugnant to any right-thinking person today, they were pretty mainstream in 19th and early 20th century Germany. In other words, Wagner was a product of his time - but that time is long since over, and nobody would seriously suggest enjoying his music requires sympathy with his worldview.

But politics and paedophilia are two quite distinct things, surely? Sexual attraction to children has never been the cultural norm. Yet it has been generally accepted for many years that Alice In Wonderland author Lewis Carroll was, if not a practising paedophile, certainly a repressed and celibate one.

That hasn't stopped his books being read to and loved by children to this day, or Hollywood making big-budget movies out of them.

Why? Because, as with Wagner, the passage of time means we don't need to consider the opinions or predilections of the person who created it. In both cases, the art can be enjoyed without consideration of the artist.

And of course, this is an easier assertion to make when neither is alive to collect royalties.

Chris Brown (© PA)

Things get murkier when you consider more up-to-date examples. You won't find many people willing to defend Chris Brown's treatment of Rihanna, yet to date, almost half a million of them in America alone have bought his latest album, sending it straight to the top of the charts.

Are those people condoning violence against women? We think it's highly unlikely, and it would be equally ridiculous to suggest that the use of a Glitter song on Glee is promoting paedophilia.

The only sensible thing you can say against the whole business is that it's insensitive. But in doing so, you have to bear in mind that Glee is an American show made for an audience with no idea who Gary Glitter is. The producers knew nobody would bat an eyelid in the States, and why should they care what effect their song choices will make in other countries?

Channel 4 kept the song in on the basis of editorial justification and, by all accounts, it works in the context of the episode.

There remains, of course, the matter of royalties.

Gary Glitter (© Rex)

It's one thing for Glitter's music to be used on the show but should he stand to profit from it too? Well, if that's the argument, perhaps all future sales of (What's The Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis should be banned, seeing as the opening track samples Glitter's 1973 hit Hello, Hello, I'm Back Again?

As the X Factor story illustrates, Gary Glitter has been nominated this nation's ultimate hate figure, a man so sinister that even when he isn't mingling with our kids at a reality TV audition, he might as well be.

Well, just as he wasn't in the X Factor queue that day, he won't be on Glee tonight. A moderately entertaining pop song he wrote nearly 40 years will be, but that's no reason to lose any sleep.

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