Okay, so, yesterday wasn’t exactly the best day of my life. I attended my grandmother’s funeral, which was ,as I expected, a solemn and not entirely uplifting affair. I wasn’t close to my grandmother – she and my mother had a falling out some years ago and I haven’t really spoken to her since. What’s sad is that my father (it’s his mother we’re talking about here) also hadn’t been in close contact with my grandmother since the fall out either. Yes, they had a reconciliation right at the end, but I think the separation is something that may lie heavily on him for a long time to come.
So, yesterday was one of those occasions where it was just a case of showing the due respect and hoping the whole thing went off without any cross words between formally warring parties. Fortunately, no-one fell out. Which was very good. And no-one fell in. The grave that is. Which given just how windy it was, was something of an achievement for everyone standing at the graveside in itself.
For me though, the worst thing about the day was not the depressing ceremony, or watching the coffin descend into the ground. It was watching my father literally shaking with grief. Somehow, I think I could have coped with seeing my mother like that. But not my dad. I mean, he’s my dad.
He’s the man who worked his fingers to the bone to provide for his family. The man who on occasions worked two jobs to put food on the table. The man who, when there wasn’t enough food, went without to ensure his family didn’t. This is my dad.
I’ve never had the closest relationship with him. And I guess that’s because he worked so hard to provide for us that I never got the opportunity when I was very young to develop that relationship. He would be out of the house and either on his way or more likely be at work by the time I got up. There were too many times I was in bed by the time he got home. We did develop a relationship as I got older – most of it based around our mutual love of our football team. A love I guess I got from wanting to spend some time with him and that time being at the football. And it’s football that still binds us now. And that’s fine. We have conversations.
But seeing him yesterday….
It’s not something I don’t really want to see again. And yes, I’ve have thought about that sentence and analysed it’s implied meaning and it’s not something I really want to discuss or think about either.
On to other things. Namely, the death over the weekend of Jade Goody. It’s not actually her death, or indeed her, that I want to talk about here. It’s the media over reaction to it. It’s been known since the start of the year that the former Big Brother contestant didn’t have long left and for months we’ve been subjected to newspaper, TV and magazine blanket coverage of her slow demise.
Jade, of course, courted the press during her illness just as she had done ever since appearing on the Channel 4 show in 2002. And she used the press to make as much money for her two children as she could. And I don’t blame her for that. Why shouldn’t she make the money while she can. After all, using the press to make money just from being herself is what she’s done for the past seven years.
I have no beef with Jade. She was a 27 year old mother of two and she passed away in the early hours of Mother’s day - which has a tragic irony to it given the interview which appeared in the newspapers the day before saying her last wish was to hug her boys when they gave her a Mother’s Day card and present. It is, indeed, tragic that she has died so young. It is tragic that her two sons have lost their mother at such a young age (they are four and five). But is it any more tragic than the children who have lost their fathers to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is it any more tragic than the family of five wiped out on M6 by a drunken lorry driver last year? Is it any more tragic than any number of deaths that happen any given day?
Apparently so according the national newspapers. The Sun yesterday carried a 16 page tribute to Jade. Sixteen pages? Really? Seriously? The last person to receive that kind of tribute was Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and the person before that was Diana Princess of Wales.
Jade, I’m sorry to say, was nothing special. Which to many was part of her appeal – she was ‘one of us’. She had no extraordinary talent. She wasn’t an actor, great or otherwise. She wasn’t a musician or a great thinker or writer. She was just Jade. Okay, she had her name on a celebrity hardback but, and I have no proof of this, I seriously doubt she sat down at a computer and typed out a couple of hundred pages herself. Ghost writers have to make their money somehow.
Jade was famous for being the fat, loud, thick one in Big Brother 3. The one who didn’t know where Portugal was and thought that East Anglia (which she pronounced East Angular) was ‘abroad’. The one who got naked on drunken night and allegedly gave another of the contestants a blow-job under the covers. In short, she was famous for being a stereotype of ‘her type’ of people.
Now, on the various radio phone-ins that we’ve been subjected to on this subject, there have been people accusing those questioning the media reaction to Jade and her death of “snobbery”. I’m sure they would say that of this blog. I’m a snob because I couldn’t stand that she was a working class girl who dragged herself to a successful life despite all the odd stacked against her.
But I’m from working class stock too. And I’ve made what I’d consider to be a success of my life despite the odds.
I’ll be accused of being a snob because Jade was uneducated. Well, who’s fault is that? I went to a pretty poor ‘bog-standard’ comprehensive where being clever was seen as a bad thing by most of the kids. I was a ‘keeno’ because I did my homework and got good grades and was bullied as a result. But I worked damn hard to get my place at university, my parents worked damned hard so I could afford to go and I worked damned hard again when I got there. So don’t accuse me of class snobbery. I fully believe everyone has the right to better themselves – after all, I did.
And so did Jade. She just did it differently to me. She used the media. Whereas I wanted to lift myself out of the environment I was born into, she has used it to build her persona. I have tried to distance myself from my roots, she has played up to hers. Does that make me a snob?
What Jade did that so many other Big Brother contestants over the years have tried and failed to do, was turn her summer in the spotlight into a career in the spotlight. She didn’t become a TV presenter, or try her hand at music or anything else, she just stuck to being Jade and it was enough for the celeb magazines and gossip tabloids to stay interested in her.
Of course, they would say they were only fulfilling the desires of their readers, but honestly, I do question how much the readers guide the magazines and the magazines guide their readers. I can’t help think whenever I speak to people who read the rags about the contents of them, that they care about Jade (or any one of a hundred other 'celebrities’) because the magazine is telling them they should.
To give Jade her due, while she hasn’t exactly lived her final months with a great deal of dignity, she has raised the profile of cervical cancer and as a result a lot more women in their twenties have been for screenings. And I’m sure that some women have had caught the disease early enough to do something about it. But is this worthy of the sixteen pages afforded to her in The Sun? If it is, then the policemen and army officers recently shot dead in Northern Ireland deserve the same. After all, you could argue that their contribution to society was as important as Jade’s (and probably more so).
To my mind Jade Goody is a symptom of a society that has lost its way. When someone, anyone, with no talent that separates her from the masses can play the game and the media to the extent that she has, and generate the fame and wealth that she has, it brings into question the direction our society is going and the values our society holds. But is it society? Or is it the media that ‘serves’ our society? I’d suggest that the majority of people in this country are of the mind that while it’s very sad that a mother of two has died at the age of 27, does it really affect my life? Do we really need blanket coverage on 24 hour news channels and sixteen page tributes in the papers?
And what sad is that life goes on. In a few months, if not weeks, the media will have moved on to the next ‘B-lister” and Jade will be forgotten. Come the end of this year, she will have faded from most people’s memories until he ‘end-of-year news review’ at 23:00 on 31/12/09.
Do I think we have a celebrity obsessed culture? No. I don’t. I do think we have a celebrity obsessed media. And that is a very different thing altogether.