First came Lily Allen at the beginning of November and now Amanda Holden has been paraded before us just as shamelessly by the media. I discovered the news about Ms. Holden’s miscarriage on Sunday morning as I was perusing the BBC News website over breakfast. The headline was nestled midway down the “Most Popular” table just below “Pontin’s to get ‘Disney’ Makeover” (Butlins, you have been warned…).
Then came the moral dilemma. To click or not to click? That was the question I was asking myself as I wrestled with both my conscience and my muesli bar. On the one hand, the intellectual snob within me liked to believe that I wouldn’t touch this article with the proverbial bargepole I like to keep stashed in my handbag for such occasions. Oh no. Obviously I do not indulge in celebrity gossip and am only interested in “real” news, preferably of the FT variety.
On the other hand, I was perversely interested in the article. The headline raised several questions to which my nosy gossip-hungry brain wanted to know the answers. When did this happen? What is everyone saying about it? And most importantly, who is Amanda Holden (sorry, but it’s second term of final year and as the boring degree-related facts are marching in, my carefully cultivated celeb knowledge is slowly but surely being forced out by these unwanted foreign invaders). What makes this woman so important that the most intimate and sensitive parts of her private life should be splashed across the BBC News Homepage?
I use the word “important” when I think “unfortunate” would actually be far more fitting for this scenario. Is it not traumatic enough losing your unborn baby, without having the added pain of knowing that everyone else in the country, well, at least those who visit any of the main news websites or watch the news on television, are devouring this information as a piece of “Entertainment & Arts” (the BBC’s words, not mine)? I cannot even begin to try and empathise with this woman. Neither, presumably, can the journalist who wrote the article, not that this has stopped them from deeming it appropriate to put finger to keyboard on the subject.
The only reason the media do put finger-to-keyboard however is that we, the public, are all so keen to read about it. The overwhelming majority of us will stifle that tiny voice that tells us it’s wrong to be interested in someone else’s misfortune. “And why not?” I hear you cry. After all, if you want to be famous, surely you must expect that? We are all familiar with the age-old proverb “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” which has a nasty habit of ringing true in most scenarios, although there is nothing to stop you from stealing another sibling’s slice on the sly… But I digress. The point is, should celebrities really be allowed to cherry pick their best moments, discard their ugliest, and present these pieces to us as a perfect jigsaw, leaving the rest of us trying desperately to cram our pieces together in a way that doesn’t look too hideously ordinary?
Even if you are more independently-minded than the average herd member and do not feel under pressure to make your life match up to celebrity standards, you cannot escape one fact: no one likes a tease. Not on the dance-floor, not in the bedroom and not on TV. Celebrities seek the limelight, surely it isn’t our fault if they are too keen to realise it’s actually a very intense spotlight. They cannot expect to be able to flash us some leg without us craving more. That said, it is possible that this spotlight has mutated to become more of a glaring floodlight. While I am all for floodlights being used to light up the rugby_ (insert “players” or “match” as you see fit), should we really be abusing them to illuminate the grief of others, especially when we run the risk of intensifying their suffering? Yes, everything, including fame, comes at a price. But do we need to drive such a hard bargain?
This fetish we have for celebrity gossip raises some pretty interesting questions. Why does the media feature gossip stories like this? Since when did celebrity gossip count as front page news, or even news at all for that matter? Where should we draw the line where celebrity privacy is concerned? And finally, why are we all so interested in an unknown person’s private misery anyway? Do we really believe that we continue to read in sympathy rather than cold curiosity?