(Written early March 2020 after the death of Caroline Flack)
A petition has been delivered to the culture secretary.
'Make media harassment of celebrities a criminal offence' it says.
Fair enough perhaps but is it a smokescreen that conceals the real problem.
It’s very sad when someone takes their own life. It’s a tragedy when it’s preventable. It’s worse, deplorable even, when it’s our fault, yes, you and me. We put people up on straw pedestals. The overwhelming majority of new-born ‘stars’ are ill-equipped to deal with the attention and it’s harrowing when something goes awry. One puff of ill wind and down it all comes. It’s awful, yet morbidly unmissable, and it’s invariably whipped up by the media, right from spotlight to coffin - and beyond.
The problem is not harassing celebrities, it’s making them celebrities in the first place. Hundreds and hundreds of talentless self-pouters are lit up in a spotlight and told they are brilliant. Then they’re squeezed into our widescreens, dished up to sate the appetites of millions of armchair sponges waiting, brain-dead to soak up all the trash they are served.
Don’t turn away, that’s you and me I’m talking about!
Most of these new ‘celebrities’ disappear as soon as the lights go out but just occasionally one shows the hint of a spark of something resembling real ability and the media swoops. All hail the new Marilyn or Marion (Munroe and Wayne for those under 50, Hollywood stars). Many years ago their stars shone. Superstars both, icons whose fame was hard won over years.
But there, way back in history, there was a warning, had anyone been interested. A scream from the silver screen. Yes, one of then was murdered by the media.
Built up and destroyed in half a lifetime.
One of our two mega-stars titillated the masses.
A pretty face and a wind-blown skirt the breeding ground for those killer column inches.
‘Even when you died the press still hounded you’, wrote Taupin, sung John. True but uncomfortable for all of us with the hint of a conscience. We demanded an inquest and the media responded and profited magnificently.
The problem was that vested interests were more important than the human behind the twinkle. It’s just the same today, in principle. The main difference is that in these days of immediacy we can take someone from working in a chippy to being a celebrity in twenty minutes. Munroe and Wayne grafted for twenty years, did their apprenticeship. Which reminds me of another ‘soak up the sh**’ programme, one where everybody, bosses, minions and victims all end up looking like plonkers.
So plucked from the fryer and thrown onto a stage or into a jungle or behind a cooker. Manufactured love on a fabricated island. It's all a media-made sickly illusion, the perfect tableau as we sit and devour our pizzas and drink in the new collection of infant stars. So anyone who has nearly all their teeth is suddenly a TV ‘star’. That sells inches and ups ratings because of our appetite for drivel.
But what REALLY takes it stratospheric is when they’ve ‘made it’ and we discover a flaw. Doesn’t matter what it is as long as the sponges can say, ‘well, who’d have thought? What a tragedy but you could see it coming a mile off’.
We like a flaw. It makes the stars human, brings them back down to our level.
The problem is they keep going. They keep plunging down and down because they can’t handle the pressure of trying to be something they’re not. They are now a person they think other people expect them to be, and they just can’t manage it.
Then when they can’t go any further, it’s all over.
Celebrity, life itself, is snuffed out and finally the column inches peak. True fame at last.
Friends they could have done with in life creep out of the woodwork to deliver PR-written homilies. An inquest is opened and our interest is held for a while longer. The insatiable, frenzied media drags it on and on holding on to us for grim death. Even as our most recent star cools there is enough interest for her to compete with a pandemic. They make good front page bed-fellows, equal in our eyes, the mourning for a tragic celebrity and a nightmare virus.
Top left, top right below the coloured masthead.
Each vying with the other to be most important.
The media, don’t you just love them.
I’ve just read of a soldier who’s taken his own life, the 12th member of the same regiment to have done so. They experienced some of the fiercest fighting during the Iraq war. Our man was a married guy with two young children, let down by the system in the worst possible way. He wasn’t a ‘celebrity’ chasing stardom, he was a guy doing his job. He suffered survivors guilt after too many of his colleagues lost their lives in battle. One of them was shot in the head. Our guy tried to push his mate’s brains back in.
Not surprisingly he experienced night terrors but despite numerous warnings it wasn’t enough to persuade his carers that he needed more help.
Should he have been at war at all? I can’t answer that, but I can say that he was doing his best to keep people safe. An often thankless job that most outsiders can never hope to understand. His mental health issues were brought about through his work and courage and he deserved to have been looked after.
Flouncy TV ‘stars’ chasing a minute in the spotlight and a few quid do engender sympathy from me but not to the same degree. That’s because it is wholly preventable. We just need a change of attitude away from all the fake celebrity trash we are so desperate to consume. For our entertainment too many vulnerable wannabes are basically duped into joining a fabricated, false world of man-made garbage. It’s a massive artificial industry with too many vested interests.
Nobody deserves to be driven to suicide, but in some instances we can do something about it. We can refuse to engage with dross. Unless of course the odd death is an acceptable price to pay for our amusement.
Jo May © 2020