Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Troubling Genius of ‘As long as he needs me’

Every so often, a piece of popular art crafted for the mass market hits the big time- which is why one song from the musicals is still a masterpiece study of human psychology. Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver’ turned one of Charles Dickens’ darkest stories into a musical that families would go to watch. It’s got poverty and shame, child abduction and exploitation, extreme violence and intimidation – perfect for a night out with the kids. Bart had to make changes to the story, of course. Fagin’s devilish nature was turned into Ron Moody’s adorable scoundrel (In the original story, he was hanged.) Bill Sykes became even darker (In the original, he saves victims from a house fire whilst on the run.) But then, rising above them all, comes Nancy.

Nancy is Bill Sykes’ lover, the sometimes-accomplice with a maternal heart of gold who stands by her man even when he brutalises her. After one harrowing episode, Lionel Bart’s libretto gifts her these words. It’s a mental monologue, a sifting of what’s been happening in her life that turns into a personal declaration, an emotional crescendo.

As long as he needs me
Oh, yes, he does need me
In spite of what you see
I'm sure that he needs me
Who else would love him still
When they've been used so ill?
He knows I always will
As long as he needs me
I miss him so much when he is gone
But when he's near me
I don't let on

The way I feel inside
The love I have to hide
The hell! I've got my pride
As long as he needs me

He doesn't say the things he should
He acts the way he thinks he should
But all the same
I'll play this game
His way...

As long as he needs me
I know where I must be
I'll cling on steadfastly
As long as he needs me
As long as life is long
I'll love him right or wrong
And somehow I'll be strong

As long as he needs me
If you are lonely
Then you will know
When someone needs you,
You love them so
I won't betray his trust
Though people say I must
I've got to stay true, just
As long as he needs me

It’s the anthem of every abused woman who confuses a man’s sexual need for her with love, who takes all the curses and blows because of a mistaken sense of loyalty. ‘He’ is the centre of her life despite everything he’s done- because being without him, would be worse. It’s a kind of martyrdom that suffers in the hope of finally seeing a redemption. Nancy sticks with Bill all the way until the moment she sees his crimes for what they are, when she heroically resists him- and dies.

Sadly, I've met several women like her. They're trapped, but they don't seem to want to break free. Often, the police are aware- but say they can't do anything until the victim actually asks them for help.

Personally, I think this song should be featured in any seminar exploring the psychology of sexual violence towards women. No-one ever deserves to be abused, but some women endure it for years, and many abusive men think this loyalty gives them an entitlement to do even worse. ‘As long as he needs me’ suggests why- but then, it was written by a man. What do you think?

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Any requests of subjects for future posts in 2016? No idea too stupid for consideration. And yes, I know I am a bad writer, so don't bother saying that unless you can write something better. But maybe there's a topic buzzing around in your head that you'd like to see covered... because I've got a keyboard here, it's loaded with letters, and I ain't afraid to use it.