Burn the heretic Parkinson

Michael Parkinson caused a flap last week when he had the temerity to slag off Jade Goody. Parkinson said: ‘Jade Goody has her own place in the history of television and, while it’s significant, it’s nothing to be proud of. Her death is as sad as the death of any young person, but it’s not the passing of a martyr or a saint or, God help us, Princess Di. When we clear the media smoke screen from around her death, what we’re left with is a woman who came to represent all that’s paltry and wretched about Britain today. She was brought up on a sink estate, as a child came to know drugs and crime, was barely educated, ignorant and puerile. Then she was projected to celebrity by Big Brother and became a media chattel to be exploited till the day she died.’

The Mirror
called Parky’s comments, which appeared in the Radio Times, ‘an astonishing swipe’. The Sun described his views as ‘an astonishing tirade.’ I think the papers were agreed: it was astonishing. But what is really astonishing is the tabloids’ hypocrisy and the fact that their memories are so astonishingly selective. It’s easy and convenient to forget that Goody was previously vilified in the press. That her image was superimposed on a pig’s body on the front pages of the tabloids. That she was mocked for being thick. That she was slated for her racism. Shilpa Poppadom, anyone? Her ignorance is now seen as endearing. Her racism now finds its apologists. She didn’t know any better. It was simply her way of trying to express herself. Oh, I see. That’s all right then.

Bishop Jonathan Blake called Goody, who became famous for being in Big Brother and shouting a lot, ‘The People’s Saint’. Hmmm. Right on, Bish. He says: ‘Jade stands out as an iconic figure in our cynical age of how, irrespective of the circumstances, one can avoid replicating the worst and instead aspire to and achieve the best… She lit a torch, visible across the world, of hope, resilience and faith.’ Yep, that’s right, there are kids in slums across the globe right now forgetting about being riddled with disease, talking about her over a cup of dirty water and pondering their chances of making it into the next Big Brother household. That’s right, Paolo, we can get rich and all we have to do is sleep and argue!

Simply by being famous and contracting an illness seems to be enough these days to qualify for the Madame Curie award and a mere shout and shimmy from canonization.
Illness, disease and dying happens to famous people. Never?! Would you credit it? Bloody hell. And that is the message. Full stop. Job done. Pass across the Nobel Prize. Goody highlighted the cause of cervical cancer in the same way that James Dean highlighted the danger of driving fast in a Porsche Spyder and Michael Hutchence spotlighted the issues associated with cracking one off while suspended off the floor by your neck, in that she died from it. Let’s not get carried away, Jade Goody was not Jane Tomlinson or Nicole Dryburgh. Illness did not elevate her life into a message, beyond the fact that dying happens to us all, even the young and apparently healthy. Goody didn’t raise money for cancer. Goody simply did what she’d been doing for the past seven years: her life was filmed for cash for herself and her family. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not exactly praiseworthy in itself. Now, why anyone should have found her life interesting enough to buy newspapers and watch TV, beyond the comedy value of seeing someone on screen who thought East Anglia was a foreign country (bearing in mind she was from Essex) is beyond me. But there you go. We are approaching a new Dark Age. An age that champions illiteracy and ignorance. Of quick gratification and shallow, gushing sentiment that means nothing. Because it sells. This is an age where journalism is reduced to reporting the latest pair of flip flops worn by some talent-less non-entity who became a national hero after they once broke wind on our screens. In five years time the headlines will be in text speak. JRDNZ NU TTS XPLD! :-0 I feel genuinely sorry for Goody, like I would for any human being. However, that doesn’t alter the reasons for her fame, which were pretty trashy and meaningless. And there was no specific altruism in Goody’s allowing the cameras to film her final days. Any message about cancer that may have been picked up by anyone watching was secondary to the business of making money in the way she’d been doing since she first shouted her way to public attention. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve no objections to her making money out of the bored and the gullible. Right from the start she saw an opportunity and took it. Fair play. You can’t blame her for that. Blame the media, blame the public. But let’s not turn it her story into something selfless and noble. She was filmed, she got paid. And the reason she got filmed was not because she was articulate and had anything to say. It was the reverse. It was precisely because she was thick and bludgeoned her way through life. And then she became ill and they kept on filming her, and she got paid again. The public response was: Shit, she’s only 27 and she’s got cancer! I’d better get checked out! A good thing, but hardly groundbreaking. Goody made a living by exposing all aspects of her life for the entertainment of the shoddy masses and she saw that through to the end. She wasn’t a saint. And if she was ‘an iconic figure in our cynical age’ then it was a bitterly satirical one. An sad indictment on modern so-called celebrity.

There is a sub-text to all this. It lies in a statement we’re all supposed to assume as a 100%, solid gold, certified fact. It’s an assumption made even by Parky. The assumption was summed up by The Telegraph, who said of Parkinson: ‘If the venerable knight had restricted himself to saying the hype over Jade had got out of hand, that she doesn’t merit comparison with Princess Di, he’d have been well within his rights.’ Well within his rights? You think? The assumption is that Jade wasn’t Princess Di, God help us. And who exactly is Princess Di that she should be held in such esteem? As a saint. As a paragon of unsullied goodness. As a martyr. As a beacon for our times. She did so much
for the cause of landmines.
Good on her. But then again she wasn’t doing much else, was she? Between ribbon cutting and collecting an income from the taxpayer. She might as well get busy. It was either that or lounging about at Kensington Palace watching Pebble Mill at One with Judi Spiers. Would she still have been as interested in the plight of Aids orphans if Loose Women had been on? Would we have prized her away from the sofa and Diagnosis Murder? She actually cradled one of those babies, you know? And her a princess! Yeah, and then she flew home to her pampered lifestyle and arse-kissing staff. And when it came to the landmines did she actually get down on her belly and get stuck in with the prodder? Kelly’s Heroes style. Inching her way forward, oblivious to the flies and the dirt until she nudges a Valmara 69. ‘Paul! I think I’ve got one!’ Mark the spot and keep moving, Hustler. No. Like Bono and poverty, she highlighted the cause. This morning I went into the kitchen and highlighted myself a Toffee Crisp. She was a model to single Mums everywhere. You think? Really? The £20,000,000 divorce settlement must have help put food on the table. No double shifts stacking shelves at Netto for Di. No worries about bills and getting the new school uniform. She was the best mother in the world. You genuinely believe that? At the time of her death she hadn’t seen her kids for weeks. She was the most beautiful woman in the world. A subjective choice, obviously. But I’d have to disagree. Was she in reality more beautiful than a thousand other women splashed across the papers and the TV screens? Would she have been held to have been the most beautiful woman in the world had she not been HRH?

Diana, like Goody, was elevated to celebrity status not through any talent or ability, not through any achievements, but was propelled by the insatiable boredom of the people and the shameless venality of the media. And her own need for attention. Like so many, she was a product of the public’s voracious appetite for trivia and dysfunction and the media’s need to shift units and make money. Celebrities are part of a huge soap opera. Celebrated for nothing more than their excesses of emotion, crassness, materialism and stupidity. Splashed across the newspapers, glossy magazines, the internet, the news channels. It’s a cast that includes Victoria Beckham, Paris Hilton, Jodie Marsh, Jordan and Peter, Kerry Katona. It’s a soap that’s just played out the death of Jade Goody. Diana achieved her fame by doing nothing more than marrying into a particular branch of that soap opera. The Royal Family. She became a character in that soap. Slighted. Betrayed. Cheated on. Her adulterous husband demanding a divorce. Take away the gin bottle, throw in a bit of Bulimia, and she was the Angie Watts of Buckingham Palace. ‘Ello, darrrrrrrrrrrrrrrling, can I tell you about landmines? The Queen Mum was Ethel with her Little Willy. Prince Philip has little more to tell us than Jack Duckworth. Simply because Diana was better educated and spoke more articulately than Goody doesn’t mean that she was any better. That she had anything more to say. That her fame was any more deserved.

Jade Goody’s autobiography has been published by Harper Collins a month after her death. It retails in hardback for £15.99. Her last autobiography sold approximately 100,000 copies. On the back of all the publicity this one should do better. The publisher’s will make a donation of £25,000 to Marie Curie Cancer Care. The selflessness of the machine just keeps on giving.


One comment

  1. GSmudger · April 20, 2009

    I agree with you so much I could vomit.
    What a woeful trajectory we follow. In 1965, Churchill’s funeral made the nation catch its breath – love him or loathe him, he took the helm of British history and his life had tangible meaning for all of us. In 1997, our society dissolved into lachrymal incontinence because a wealthy and pretty dilettante of agreeable causes had a lethal prang. Now the nation’s decked out in Burberry mourning weeds for a someone who stood for nothing but a cancerous poverty of expectation. I do feel for the girl – her background probably didn’t give her a hope in hell – but I resent the fact that I’ve heard of her at all. Since when did celebrity mean cipher?
    Parky was spot on, and glory to him for spouting forth in the knowledge that he was offering himself up to the tabloid jackals as surely as Jody Goodie and Princess David did. Sure as eggs is chocolate and recyclable cardboard, he showed those who care to notice how ripely the media’s hypocrisy reeks.
    Parky for PM! The next G20 should be held at Betty’s Tea Shop.


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