Monday 23 March 2009

The Death of Jade Goody

I arrived home yesterday afternoon to find out that Jade Goody had finally lost her battle against cancer. For the past few weeks, months and even years, the Jade Goody phenomenon has intrigued, fascinated and baffled me in equal measures.

Only a few week ends ago, walking into the newsagents on a Sunday, to buy some of the Sunday papers, you couldn’t avoid the fact that her story dominated the front pages of all the ‘Red Tops’ I immediately thought to myself that she has now become the new Diana. I suppose that like Diana she lived so much of her life in public that people really felt that they genuinely knew her and that she was somehow part of their everyday lives.

This must surely explain why the Jade story has dominated celebrity magazines for so many years and why she has been on the front pages of so many papers over the last few weeks.

The cynical view is that she wouldn’t have featured so prominently if she didn’t sell copies, but clearly there has always been a huge amount of interest in Jade Goody from certain sections of the public which celebrity magazines and tabloids have clearly tapped into.

Since she discovered that she was terminally ill she claimed that by arranging the various media deals about her illness, and filming her fly on the wall documentary she was ensuring the financial security of her two sons. Nobody could begrudge a parent acting in such a way, and all of this was very admirable and certainly something to be respected.

Along with this, the fact that her illness has helped to publicize and raise awareness of cervical cancer and show how women can go about seeking advice on how to prevent the illness can only be a good thing.

But today having read many of the tributes from politicians, former Big Brother contestants, and from the world of showbiz, so of the comments amaze me and actually make me feel quite uncomfortable.

Max Clifford has turned Goody into some sort of martyr by saying that:

"I think she's going to be remembered as a young girl who has, and who will, save an awful lot of lives. She was a very, very brave girl."

Reading in the Guardian, Reverend Jonathan Blake, is quoted as saying:

“Jade has become for us, so many different things, a saint from Upshire and a princess from Bermondsey, an exemplar of biblical proportions. She spoke what she thought sometimes to the shock and outrage of others”

Having read this, my first thought was ‘Is this for real?’

The BBC quote the racing commentator John McCririck as saying:

"She brought out one of the most serious problems in this country, the inherent racism... that people try and keep quiet….."It's about people who don't know they are racist but when they're losing an argument with somebody whose Asian or a black person they go back to the old stereotypes, and she did that."

Having on a few occasions in my life been on the receiving end of racist comments and opinions, at no point did I think that the person making those comments was raising important social questions on how we deal with race in our society!

Some of these quotes I actually find embarrassing, and a certain level of honesty wouldn’t go amiss at this point. In many respects Goody was someone who got lucky by appearing on Big Brother. Now at this point I have a confession to make. I’ve watched every series of Big Brother since it was first broadcast in 2000. I’m not ashamed to admit this and I clearly remember Goody from series 3.

During the show she displayed at various times, ignorance, stupidity, humour, naivety, kindness, and bullying, sometimes all rolled into one. Such ignorance as not knowing that East Anglia was in the UK or thinking that Rio de Janeiro was a person were celebrated by sections of the media and she was elevated into a real life celebrity with real staying power, something that no other contestant on Big Brother has ever come close to emulating.

At the beginning of 2007, I then watched Celebrity Big Brother of which I hadn’t always been a huge fan of. What was interesting was that she acted in exactly the same way in Celebrity Big Brother as she had done in series 3. But this time the ignorance, stupidity and bullying she had displayed the first time round which had previously been celebrated, was now seen as being unattractive, offensive, and with her treatment of the Bollywood star Shipa Shetty, racist.

Personally I never viewed her treatment of Shetty as being truly racist, it was just pure ignorance and bullying. I found it bizarre that all these commentators were talking about how awful she was behaving, but then thinking to myself, that it was this exact same behaviour and attitude that made her famous in the first place! Why were people so surprised?

I don’t think there can ever be another Jade Goody again. She was a complete one off, and maybe we’re seeing the logical ending of the reality TV experience. In the sense that we the public were there at the beginning to witness the birth of a star, plucked from obscurity, and we were all there at the end to witness her death, even if it was premature and untimely.

As I said earlier, Jade Goody was someone who got lucky, almost like winning the lottery, she was the everyday person, that many people could identify with and relate to, but there’s no escaping the fact that she represented the whole notion of being famous for being famous, being famous but having no discernible talent.

For many young people this has become something to emulate and aspire to, but the likelihood of it happening for most people is remote. Also her life demonstrates that even with fame and fortune it didn’t prevent her suffering from an illness which resulted in her death before she was even 30.

Part of me hopes that there won’t or can’t be another Jade Goody and perhaps her death will mean the beginning of the end the Reality TV form of fame.

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