Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Jade Goody and the celebrity culture

Normally on this blog I refrain from commenting on what we call "celebrity culture" for the simple reason that I have well nigh zero interest in the subject but following the sad death of Jade Goody I thought I would make an exception to the rule. It's not that I have any special comment to make about this particular lady because apart from being aware of her having being on the 'Big Brother' programme (which incidentally I don't watch) I really know nothing much about her. As much as anything it's the public and media reaction to her fatal illness and our obsession with 'celebrities' that fascinates me.

So what is it with celebrities? Do we need people who have somehow become famous to mentally associate ourselves with? Perhaps, like the Diana phenomenon, it's a collective thing - a whole chunk of our society needs to coalesce around the life or death of one individual. I don't pretend to know the answer, suffice to say that in my case I am much more interested in people that I personally come across who have achieved remarkable things but who you wouldn't see on some late night chat show.

Apparently the BBC is under fire from some quarters about the way it prioritised the death of Jade Goody on its news bulletins. I have to say that I agree with the complainants. Yes Jade Goody's situation generated a great deal of interest but in the great scheme of things should her sad death at a young age have been the lead item on the news from our national broadcaster? Patently not in my opinion. I think it is just pandering to those hooked on her life and times but there are those I know who feel they can relate to her in the sense that she had a hard early life and against the odds she was able to amass a good amount of money. Another point I would make is the fact that senior politicians, Brown and Cameron, saw fit to comment on her death, another example I suppose of them having to be seen to relate to popular culture.

Goody's death reminds me of the very many young people who die from illness prematurely and the gaping hole that leaves in the lives of close relatives. I guess that most of us, if not directly touched by such tragedies, will know someone who has been. It sounds as if I'm being totally negative about celebrities so I'll just redress the balance a little: in the case of Jade her illness has really given publicity to the scourge of cervical cancer and the fact that she was so much in the spotlight does at least mean women are now much more aware of this disease and that it can strike younger people as well as older ones. In a sense then Jade Goody's death might lead to prolonged life for others. Not all celebrity culture is bad.

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