Posts Tagged ‘amy winehouse’

Jimmy Saville and the Fleet Street Gravediggers

Savillegate rages on today, with Mike Smith’s impassioned and lengthy
rebuttal of claims of institutional sexism at the Beeb made over the
weekend during an hour long appearance on Richard Bacon’s Radio 1 show.
With accusations of child-abuse against the TV presenter mounting day by
day, it is becoming apparent that the true character of Saville is
woefully far removed from the national icon he was considered during his
As Seth Godin says: ‘Now that information is ubiquitous, theobligation
changes. It’s no longer okay to not know.’
As someone who has spent his career as a custodian of reputations (though
not, thank goodness, of Saville’s- it’s unlikely I’d be sitting down
writing this if I were), I’m fascinated by lurid revelations and
posthumous attacks. Though the staggering extent of Saville’s crimes
cannot be ignored, the case raises wider questions about stories of a
similar nature, and why they hold such fascination for journalists.
Are these corrections of long-held injustice, or are they salubrious paper
The answer is- it depends. I’d divide the post-hoc tabloid revelation into
two key types:
Type 1 consists of pointless (but paper selling) revelations which benefit
nobody. Usually, the accused is dead AND the circumstance in which they
operated is now long-corrected. So, for example, when it emerged in 2007
that Arthur Miller had a secret son who suffered from Down’s syndrome
locked away in an institution, the way in which it was splashed all over
the papers was arguably in poor taste, in spite of the moral outrage it
naturally evoked. Miller was long dead, the son had long since been
reunited with Miller’s non-disabled daughter, and people with Down’s are
now treated with considerably more understanding. Why dredge it up at all?
Type 2 can be hard to distinguish, but it consists of revelations which,
whilst sometimes over-enthusiastic and morbid, can be justified in that
they will contribute to the overturning of injustice which continues. In
these cases, the accused can be dead or alive, so long as the context of
their misdemeanours still exists. While lurid, the posthumous airing of
Amy Winehouse’s dirty laundry was useful in so far as it de-romanticised
alcohol and drug abuse for a generation in which such abuse has reached
epidemic proportions.
Jimmy Saville’s victims must have the space to air their grievances. But
beyond that, the true relevance of this story lies in the extent to which
it speaks of the culture in the television industry today. Ask the interns and runners of the BBC, ITV et al what goes on in those dressing rooms now. If the answer is less
than pleasant, then perhaps a bit of collateral luvvie damage is necessary to
expose the corrupt power systems that comfortable institutions so often

After Amy: The Changing Nature of Fame

Lady Gaga was quoted yesterday as issuing a warning to the public on the death of Amy Winehouse: ‘It’s a lesson to the world,’ she said: ‘Don’t kill the superstar, take care of her soul.’ it’s worth considering just who did kill Amy Winehouse? The drug dealers? The hungry media? Her zealous fans? Or could it simply be that fame itself is toxic – or has become so.
My book, The Fame Formula, dealt with the forgotten entertainment icons killed by a similar process back in the early Hollywood era. These lessons have been burried under tons of newsprint and few feel the lesson are relevant any more. However, it never pays to completely ignore the past.

Amy Winehouse’s contemporary iconography (part self-created, part media-inflicted) encompassed, all at the same time, a drive toward an idealised image which would grant her immortality in name and a constant reminder of her frailty, her mortality in body.

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Skaggs, Blags and Rags: Hoaxes and the Press

If you want proof that stunts are an art form, your best bet is to head down to the Tate Modern’s Pop exhibition and take a long, hard look at the Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons exhibits. Here are two prime examples of early stops at one of the stations of the cross of Consumerism, part of its steady progress to becoming the prime 21st Century religion.

And proof is needed that stunts are an art form – they are making something of a comeback at the moment, but the latest examples – the Starsuckers film and Balloon Boy – are in need of a bit of spit and polish if they are to really shine. Despite all this, there has been not one mention of the master of the hoax, Joey Skaggs, the master Culture Jammer whose hoaxes have always had a pertinent point to make. This is a pity because the Starsuckers team could learn a trick or two from him.

Take, for example, Skaggs’s Celebrity Sperm Bank hoax from 1976. Skaggs organised a sperm bank auction in New York, then arranged for the sperm bank to be robbed with the semen supposedly being taken hostage. Or the Dog Meat Soup hoax from 1994, in which Skaggs portrayed Kim Yung Soo, a butcher who wanted to purchase dogs for food, to expose cultural intolerance and the media’s tendency to overreact. These are the stunts of a master and they are works of art.

There has been considerable attention for the hoaxes at the heart of the new film Starsuckers – the film’s makers created a series of hoax stories about celebrities that they then pushed on the tabloids. The aim was to point out how easily one could dupe journalists at the tabloids into taking patently ridiculous stories about celebrities and in this they succeeded. Reports of Amy Winehouse’s beehive catching fire, Avril Lavigne falling asleep in a nightclub and Russell Brand’s secret childhood desire to be a banker all made the tabloids – and some made it round the world.

But filmmakers’ aim, which was to expose how the whole of the news industry is running stories without checking their facts, has not been achieved. This was not a sublime act of Culture Jamming – celebrity journalism and hard news are quite different animals (most of the time at least) and the hoax story they tried to push on the media that came closest to qualifying as real news, in which G20 protestors were apparently planning to dump tonnes of sugar on Alan Sugar’s drive, was not picked up.

Telling everybody that it’s easy to pass off nonsense about celebrities to the papers is hardly news in itself – most reporting of the lives of celebrities verges on the nonsensical as it is and most people know this and don’t care, so far gone is their addiction to celebrity soap. The team behind Starsuckers are going to have to work harder if they are to achieve what they want.

Balloon Boy is another matter again. A family in Colorado claimed that they thought their son had been carried off by a weather balloon – he was found “hiding” in the attic after an expensive two hour cross country chase in full view of the world’s media. I suspect that this was a stunt by a publicity-hungry family of stormchasers keen to further promote themselves after appearing on American Wife Swap. I also suspect that the only reason that the police aren’t treating this as a hoax is to save face.

None of this has stopped a full-scale media hoo-ha and #balloon boy trending on Twitter. There’s been reams of analysis in the medi and newscasters claiming they’d burst into tears as a result, followed by a backlash after the six year old boy was found in the attic at home. As my pal Mark Solomons says: “He’s a falcon liar, that’s what he is. The father put the con in Falcon. It’s like the Bart-Simpson-down-the-well episode. If the balloon had been up any longer, they could have had Sting do a charity record.”

We know that the media are willing consumers of all kinds of storytelling, but it would be good to see more artfulness and careful thought going into any future hoaxes. More Skaggs less blags, perhaps?

Not Rocking the BRITS

Where have all the rebellious heroes of British music gone? If the Brit Awards are anything to go by, there is pretty much no such animal anymore, just a parade of no-marks who are too wary of upsetting Mastercard, the sponsors, and the TV executives to do anything interesting.

The fact that the inoffensive Welsh songstress Duffy, a fine singer if you like your music to hark back to a supposedly innocent era where everyone was happy and no one rocked the boat, has been crowned the overall winner of this year’s Brits merely reinforces the corporate sheen of the modern awards, and where no alcohol is served whilst the TV show is filmed in case of trouble. No trouble is allowed, of course, in case it interferes with the mundane business of rewarding money with more money.

As recently as a decade ago, there was an inevitability about some sort of mischievous prank being pulled at the Brits; the award ceremony could be relied upon to provide at least one instance of much-needed end-of-winter anarchy in the TV schedules, be it Chumbawamba dousing John Prescott in water and changing the lyrics of Tubthumping to support the Liverpool dockers, Jarvis Cocker waving his arse at Michael Jackson or the KLF firing blanks at the crowd from the stage before depositing a dead sheep outside the venue.

Even Mick Fleetwood and Sam Fox’s notoriously bad presentation style at the 1989 Brits seems like a paragon of rock ‘n’ roll anarchy now, in an era when all we get by way of mischief and outrage is the crawling skeleton that is Amy Winehouse abasing herself in the Caribbean.

Of course, it was Fleetwood and Fox’s reign of autocue terror on the show that stopped it from being broadcast live; the first step in a steady progression of limitations that saw the Brits become less a celebration of modern music and more of a corporate jolly at a seaside resort, shackling British rock music to the tedious format that spawned it simply by reacting violently against it: the 1950s variety show.

Watching the Brits now, it’s as if the Beatles never went to Hamburg or discovered acid, as if the Rolling Stones never scared the parents of the Baby Boomer generation. Everyone plays nicely and the nation’s passion for music dribbles away.

The Brits, and pop music in general, need adventure, excitement, mischief, stunts and anarchy. Someone needs to be rewarded for all of the above, not just for toeing the line and practising the art of appeasement with big business and the company bosses. Rock ‘n’ roll demands bad behaviour. It’s great that Iron Maiden were awarded Best Live Act – here was one band in the line up who have always pushed the boundaries of publicity, moved forward and never just caved in to industry pressure, thanks in great part to their excellent manager Rod Smallwood.

The same can’t be said for the other winners. Girls Aloud are, without doubt, a nice bunch of women who perform cheery, upbeat songs, but they have no serious agenda; they are part of a celebrity money machine that is dying on its feet as the world of high finance implodes and people discover that they want more serious, cerebral and inventive things in their lives.

Sales of broadsheets are up, The Economist is experiencing a surge in sales. In the face of coming hardship, people are bound to want their entertainment to mean something again, to have a story behind it that is more than a metaphor for the excesses of the banking world. Amy Winehouse drinking herself into oblivion is not rebellion; what the rock and pop scene needs is a good selection of agent provocateurs amongst their ranks, unsettling the stale corporate shindig that is the Brits with something a little more radical and exciting.

Good music PR cannot just rely on churning out the latest set of sound-a-likes and hoping they’ll do something stupid or crazy (within a certain set of limits) for the press. In a digital download age, where music is becoming as ubiquitous as breakfast cereal, acts that want to break through with credibility intact are going to have to think very hard about what they have to say, what their music has to say and how they want to go about promoting it.

Winehouse in good publicity shock

All publicity is good publicity, the cliché tells us. In fact the cliché jumps up and down and insists that this is so and has been known to stamp its foot if anyone disagrees, as news from St. Lucia proves.

The Caribbean island, as any celebrity-watcher should be able to tell you, is the latest haunt of choice of Amy Winehouse, who has been taking her leisure there in the form of imbibing copious amounts of alcohol, crawling around the hotel, begging for drinks from other guests of the Le Sport Spa (where she claims to have gone for her health), singing loudly from her balcony (reports do not state if crowds gathered) falling out of her bikini and going topless.

This is the sort of behaviour that has enthralled and appalled the British press for over a year, the usual Amy Winehouse rigmarole of drunken hi jinks. Not what you would call good publicity, for her, for Le Sport Spa or for St Lucia.

But St. Lucia’s government thinks otherwise; they have sent Winehouse a basket of local produce to thank her for bringing St. Lucia to international attention. According to The Hindi: “Tourism Minister Allen Chastanet said every photograph of Winehouse had shown her smiling or interacting with the locals, and claimed the overall impact of her stay had been positive.”

It’s certainly an upbeat take on the singer’s stay, although I cannot help but wonder what the basket of local produce contains; it could be bananas or it could be rum. Whichever it is, the government’s PR department knows how to make the best of a bad situation.

I’m not sure that Le Sport Spa will agree, however – they pride themselves on selling relaxing holidays that treat the guests to any number of holistic treatments and they are almost certain to disagree with anyone who claims that witnessing Amy Winehouse erupting out of her swimwear on their volcanic sand beach is going to cause mass relaxation. Except the paparazzi who followed her to the resort and whose pay-cheques rely on such behaviour; perhaps they should be sending Winehouse baskets of goodies?