Sunday, March 29, 2009

Jade Goody's 'legacy' should not be as a cash cow

The late Jade Goody has always been a favourite target of mine for this blog and throughout its archives are probably a generous spread of more-than-derisory remarks on the unfortunate icon who became the figurehead of a reality TV-obsessed - but not always friendly - media. I hadn't wanted to make any comment on her death - heaven knows it's everywhere else right now - but the fallout from Jade's demise peaked at fever pitch some weeks ago, and has failed to drop off since. It had been acceptable, although naturally over the top, but the personal tipping point came for me over the weekend, as headlines screamed of globally-renowned actresses being lined up to portray Goody in a film about her life.

Now let's get one thing straight. Jade Goody was an ordinary woman, with no outstanding talent, who contributed nothing of worth to society at large for about 26 of the 27 years of her life. In fact, her lack of intellect, Essex roots and loud mouth were remarkably common, middle of the road. Aside from (the small matter of) her early death, the more recent of Goody's years have been graced by extraordinary good luck.

Catapulted from a lower-class abyss to nationwide stardom in just a summer - with not one identifiable reason why, apart from a ravenous desire on the public's part for her documented humiliation - Goody was the first, and ultimate, reality TV star. Goody was ridiculed, admonished, shamed and caught out for months - yet refused to go away. It came full circle when, two years ago, she went on Big Brother again, this time as a celebrity in her own right. Books, videos, relationships, photoshoots, columns, interviews, TV shows - Jade Goody was the cat that got all the reality TV cream. She was rich, she was a success, beyond the dreams of many who share similar backgrounds to the Bermondsey babe, and for nothing more than exploiting the happy chance fate decreed her. She was the first to benefit from the insatiable cycle of reality TV feeding tabloids feeding public feeding reality TV, and because she was, she was also the last one standing. She is the irritating testament to just how far you can go in this country - despite having no remarkable talent whatsoever.

But it was not for her life in the media spotlight that Jade has a 'legacy'. In fact following the 'racism row' (more stupidity than malicious, and it's made Shilpa Shetty a household name), Goody was starting to tumble down the side of the peak she had been atop for so long. It was the onset of an untimely and unstoppable death that swung things back again.

To me, it says something that it took being diagnosed with cancer, that most terrible of illnesses, for the public to forgive and accept Jade Goody (I mean a certain public here, not necessarily everyone, and certainly not myself). It doesn't say a lot for her regard, and it doesn't say a lot for the press either, who were quite happily lambasting the woman one day and quite suddenly mourning for her the next.

The months leading up to the inevitable were quite astonishing. She did what any normal mother would, and that was to safeguard her children's future as best she possibly could, and, in the privileged position of being able to command hundreds of thousands of pounds for her fast-diminishing time, must have accounted for a lot of money, and is still probably making heaps as I write. Handled correctly, the money Jade will have secured will be immense, but the act alone does not make the woman remarkable.

Jade Goody also campaigned, with incredible success in such a short period of time, to raise the awareness of cervical cancer. Again, aided by the constant spotlight of a media falling over itself to portray her as an understudy to Princess Diana, great work has been achieved to this end. But there are many charities, and countless women who are faceless and nameless behind the scenes, who are doing exactly the same sort of work, for far, far less success. Goody's heroic success in reaching out to generations of women with an urgent and potentially life-saving message is remarkable only in its highlighting of how collective support can be mobilised by something as trivial as a twentysomething single mum dying. As if that doesn't happen every day of the week. Many of my friends have raised money in their own way for charities to support other family members and loved ones to the full extent they can. Jade did nothing differently to you or I; she merely had the help of the nation's daily media on her side.

It is the mark of a nation who can raise £57 million in one evening for a televised charity appeal, but who look the other way when offered a £1.80 Big Issue.

'Cash' and 'cow' are two words that have followed the late Ms Goody around from the moment she filled our television screens ten years ago. But she died a near-national treasure, a term that no matter how I look at her story, her 'achievements', her 'troubled past', her 'success', I cannot bring myself to accept. Her life story is made all the more remarkable by just how ordinary a woman she was, and how easily she was able to forge a career via an ever-present spotlight, and a huge market lapping up every tit-bit, good, bad or - as was often the Jade Goody case - ugly.

Hers is a story barely worth re-telling, lest the extreme spectrum of reality lived out by Goody be over- or under-played. She is worth remembering, of course, but a reinterpretation of Jade Goody's life will no doubt lend itself to a heart-warming, feelgood outcome. To preserve the memory of Jade Goody the person does not require Jade Goody: The Film (a.k.a one final money-spinning opportunity). No doubt her estate - no longer a two up, two down in Romford - will want the legacy of Jade Goody to be decent and dignified, qualities that the woman herself sometimes embarrassingly lacked. But a blockbuster movie would be indicative only of the society that made her the celebrity, and not of the down to earth, bubbly and honest qualities that made Jade Goody the person.

If it does happen, a film to mark Goody's death would be in danger of distorting reality one time too many. Because however much it may try to have us believe, the life and times of Jade Goody did not have a happy ending after all.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Seeing wood for the trees

This economic climate, then. I've avoided getting on to it until now, because it's been everywhere for too long already and it's getting worse through constant coverage, doom-mongering, and so on like this blog. But it's taken some very real effects to people close at hand to bring home just how quickly this climate needs to bounce back.

I won't say much about it because I had genuine faith in people, the power of uniting in the face of adversity and challenging a crisis head on, to believe that come end of 2009, we'd have turned this ship around and been heading for a brighter horizon, albeit it sailing with much more care and attention to the course.

I don't believe that anymore. I don't believe in people now. This is all someone else's fault. Everyone is out for themselves, no one trusts anyone else to do something about the crisis, and individually everyone is contributing to a worsening situation that affects everyone collectively more badly than the day before anyway. There is no public trust in the banks or the Government to pull the economy around, there is only finger pointing between institutions to blame the crisis on a cause instead of unity and responsibility in getting through this, the media tells us the worst is yet to come, then behind us, then the worst ever, and no one is looking further than their own nose.

But it is going to take trust, more than anything, to turn this situation around. Only by putting faith in the people paid/elected to do their jobs right will this issue be addressed. If people actually thought, for one moment, 'hang on, what if I do something about it?' and changed the negative attitudes, put some belief (and some money) back into the banks and the economy, rather than cursing that damned 'someone' whose fault this all is, then things would be brighter based on a collective unity and effort to right the wrongs.

Yes mistakes have been made by few in high places, and everyone now has to suffer the consequences. But the consequences have now become so vast that everyone will have to pick up the pieces, not just for themselves but for others, to reverse the sliding global economy. It's going to require trust in each other to pull together for a greater good, instead of individual short-term safety (which has thus far done nothing but bad - for anyone). The bigger picture needs repairing through the changed views of millions of little pictures. But when the public can't seem to see the wood for the trees, I don't trust anyone else to think the same way.