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Monday, December 03, 2007 

Tabloid-watch: Intruding on distress and failing to own up to their own role in the lack of self-esteem.

I'm of the opinion that most celebrities and the press attitude towards them is usually reciprocal - they sell their souls, the media has the power to either crush them or beatify them, and decides on which according to their whims - and although the tabloids often overstep the mark, they usually don't do so in such a manner as to become a matter of open concern. It's only in the rare cases, such of that of Heather Mills, who has certainly brought some of it upon herself but certainly doesn't deserve the vitriol heaped upon her daily, not to mention the numerous lies told about her, even if she has ideas that make Melanie Phillips look sane by comparison. Being called "Mucca" for doing glamour modeling 20 years ago, especially by the Scum, currently encouraging women across the nation to "whip 'em out" for a cash prize of £5,000 is clearly vile. Also completely unacceptable is the similarly disgusting Heat magazine printing stickers making fun of a disabled child - even if that child was unfortunate enough to be born to Jordan.

Today's front pages of both the Mirror and the Scum featuring a photograph of Amy Winehouse in a obvious state of both distress and undress are, by the same yardstick, intrusive, voyeuristic, demeaning and motivated by a state of clear faux-concern, as shown by the Sun's article on the matter. It also raises questions - just what is an apparent paparazzi photographer doing in a street in London at 5:40 except stalking a woman in the hope of getting such a shot which he/she will able to sell for more than most of us will likely make in a year? I'm no fan of Winehouse and the spawn which she and Lily Allen have given succour to over the last year, but to put such photographs on the front page of a newspaper must rank as far lower behaviour than that which she recently displayed at a gig where she was booed for her poor peformance. If the editors of the respective newspapers were photographed in a similar tearful, upset state, they would move heaven and earth to ensure that such pictures were not replicated in rival publications. In fact, the no-aggression pact between most editors in Fleet Street would mean that most newspapers would never even dream of printing them at all, let alone on the front page. Rebekah Wade for instance, had her divorce from Ross Kemp almost entirely concealed from view due to frantic ringing-round by Les Hinton. Amy Winehouse, to whom being described as "troubled" has almost become a reflex reaction, has no such protection.

There are also no protections in the Press Complaints Commission code against such invasive photographers, and that's for the reason that editors are rightly expected to exercise discretion over what they publish. In a world in which the newspapers are now competing with online gossip columns and celebrity magazines which clearly have almost no qualms about what they print, however, to miss such an opportunity is now seen as to pass it on to your rivals. As always, journalists ought to put themselves into the position of the person they're covering: how would they feel to see themselves on the front page of the two biggest selling red top tabloids in such a state? Is the use of the photographs more likely to cause the person to seek help if they need it, or cause them further unnecessary distress? In this case, it seems more likely to me to be the latter. If Winehouse was now to be found dead, or to be admitted to hospital after an act of self-harm or attempted suicide, the media would rightly stand accused of documenting a descent while only profiting from it. It's something that will eventually happen, but until it does newspapers will continue to push the boundaries of what is seen as fair game.

Elsewhere in the Scum, the leader is concerned about a poll showing that girls as young as 6 are worried about their appearance, yet as usual identifies every other suspect for why that is except for themselves:

GIRLS are dangerously obsessed with their image.

A survey says nearly half of girls aged between six and 12 hate the way they look.

It’s shocking — and wrong — that girls as young as six care so much.

They should be enjoying themselves in innocent play at that age.


Parents, teachers and the fashion industry all have a role to play.

Easily-manipulated kids must not be targeted by advertisers.

It’s dangerously simple to hook a girl for life with worries about her looks.

It’s their health and happiness that counts.

Unlike most Sun editorials, there's little there to disagree with. The media itself, however, rather than just advertisers, has just as big a role to play. As alluded to above, the Sun is currently running page 3 idol, the very sort of competition where the "male fantasy" image of a woman as being something to aspire to is inherently promoted. It's run endless articles on cosmetic surgery, especially breast augmentations, and is as mired in the celebrity culture, where looks are everything, as any of the weeklies. This is partly the reason the paper targets the working class male above everyone else, but when you're the biggest selling newspaper other responsibilities undoubtedly come with that.

Another worry is surely the lack of role models, especially for young girls - am I the only one depressed by the survey's findings that only one percent less than those who aspire to becoming a teacher are satisfied in the hope of becoming a hairdresser or a beautician? Some might say that's being realistic, but it's also aiming incredibly low. The paucity of young female role models who aren't either Big Brother contestants or soap stars that after leaving their respective original role spend the rest of their days in the little boy wank mags with their plastic breasts on display, at least when not showcasing their lack of intelligence on other reality shows, is shocking. Radical feminism is rightly dead, but the more moderate variety is also gasping for breath in an age where the unchallenged cynicism of men's magazines and sexism is still rife. The marketisation of life itself though certainly has the most to answer for, and even fewer are willing to stand up to that. Only when true individuality is encouraged, rather than adopting a phony version to be sold, will self-esteem and happiness with and within the own body start to become something natural.

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