Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Savile’
Whether or not the Apocalypse is approaching this Friday is speculation that I will leave to the Mayans. As life flashes past us, however, the approaching end of year provides a good opportunity to contemplate the changes that have happened in our world over the course of this past year and some of the PR dilemmas generated by a tsunami of negative memes.
As we have been quaffing the dregs of the Diamond Jubilee and delighting in the now-distant memory of the success of Team GB, a strange transformation has been taking place in the celebrity sphere. Celebrity culture has been punctured by the Post-Savilegate Twitter Trials that now drive the media agenda.
Whether we are looking at the names of those implicated in Operation Yewtree or Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell’s scuff with the Metropolitan Police, it is the ire of the crowd that has dictated, and continues to dictate the narrative – and in some cases – the outcome of the story. Where the old vanguard festers in its own corruption, there is growth, but not of the kind we might anticipate.
Where the post-World War Two working class would turn to professions such as boxing, football or music to seek fame upon the Yellow Brick Road, in recent decades we have seen the emergence of people seeking fame for fame’s sake. The value of culture has been undermined by a sugar rush driven by ten years’ worth of reality TV. Further proof of this generational lust for fame and overarching cultural shift came in the form of an interview earlier this week with Rylan Clark, the X Factor’s latest pantomime Dame. In Rylan’s words, “I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be famous. I didn’t know what I wanted to be famous for. I didn’t care. It was about being, not doing.”
But reality TV and Twitter cannot produce the kind of culture we export around the world. As luminaries argue over the future of the Arts post eBacc, they miss the point. The first question we should be asking is why this type of culture has slid so far down our list of priorities. I can point to one word: ‘elite’.
The word ‘elite’ has become a political power word that plays upon British class sensibilities. What we forget is that the word is not always about exclusivity, but about quality – and the UK is in possession of a cultural elite of which it should be proud.
The daring production and creativity showcased in the Olympic opening ceremony was a brilliant example of this, showing that a risky idea could reinvigorate the nation. It reminded us of just what Brand Britain has to offer in terms of quality of thought across all disciplines. Writing about the event, Frank Cottrell-Boyce reminded us of GK Chesterton’s old adage: “The world shall perish not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder.”
I fear that this prophecy might be the actual Apocalypse we are awaiting. While we laud the efforts of our artists and thinkers at a time when the world’s eyes are upon us, we have failed to create the right circumstances to sustain this creativity in the future. The likes of Danny Boyle were supported by a subsidised sector and institutions that many would now consider ‘elitist’.
The fact that these institutions have failed to defend themselves from such criticisms is a PR disaster not only for these institutions, but ultimately, for all creatives and potential creators of culture that we celebrated this year.
Our EU neighbours don’t appear to suffer from the same problem although they too are feeling the bite of the downturn. Where Angela Merkel is frequently seen at the opera and Germany has increased Arts spending by 8 per cent despite spending cuts, in the UK we continue to peel and pare the Arts out of existence.
While we may be able to reduce Shakespeare to 140 characters, we could never get Shakespeare from 140 characters, and though we may enjoy Rylan’s exploits, I don’t think he could get close to igniting the nation in the way Danny Boyle did.
If I could have one Christmas wish, it would be for our politicians to stop being too embarrassed to stand by culture and support it for fear of being branded ‘elitist’. The Arts are for everyone, and nothing embodies this better than the volunteers who worked tirelessly to create the opening ceremony this summer. Unlike the ultra-ambitious fame junkies like Rylan Clark (though he too has his place), they were not chasing Fame for Fame’s Sake, but Art for Art’s sake: for the people, to be shared by all.
In a world driven by the Twitterati, I can only hope that we start to see some real support for – and investment in – the Arts. If we run away from away from our cultural heritage, what will be left to export? Financial services? Well, we’ve seen where that’s got us.
The most challenging PR brief for 2013 will be how to rehabilitate elite culture and save it from damnation.
What with the recent slew of allegations around Savillegate (and the numerous other stars who’ve faced a barrage of less than savoury attention ), something has been preying on my mind- is a spotless reputation an attainable goal anymore? Eric Schmidt once said that “Now that information is ubiquitous, the obligation changes. It’s no longer okay to not know.” Is it possible to be a hero in the Now Economy?
It’s a pertinent question not just for celebs, but for CEOs. It’s extremely unlikely that anyone is going to be able to run a high-profile career any longer without coming in for some flack. One would hope there aren’t too many CEOs involved in lascivious activities with the young or infirm (though I could probably tell you a few stories), but everyone has a skeleton or two to worry about.
It struck me, however, that the secret of attaining hero status in the Now Economy has to do with accepting this fact, and incorporating the less positive aspects of your persona into your legend. Steve Jobs, arguably the ultimate modern business hero, was allegedly something of a difficult character to be around, and stories about his less than civil treatment of employees and collaborators are rife. However, rather than working to suppress this, those in charge of Jobs’s reputation managed to incorporate his flaws into a highly individual ‘flawed genius’ reputation, which has gone on to propel him further into the realms of myth than he might otherwise have found himself.
There are others: Michael O’Leary, whose insensitivity and an outlook some might call backward have ended up propelling him into the prepared statement hall of fame, arguably even Branson, business celeb among business celebs, wisely took qualities which some would consider arrogant and turned them to his advantage. The ultimate political star of the Now Economy, Boris Johnson, has taken clumsiness and a gift for the gaffe and turned them into art forms.
Consider, then, when building your personal brand for the first time, that streamlining and suppressing no longer work, no matter how savvy you may be. Many negative traits can be forgiven and even idealised by the public if properly balanced with your work and your motivating passions- though possibly not if you’ve been sneaking into hospitals after hours. Then you might still be best place to keep schtum and pray.
Yesterday I took part in the Taming Tabloid Tittle Tattle debate at the brilliant Battle of Ideas at the Barbican. Roy Greenslade and I, loosely defending the right to celebrity privacy, took on Jo Phillips and Patrick Hayes, arguing the case for unrestricted press freedom. I say loosely because what emerged through the very wide ranging discussion was an understanding across the board of the complex nuances of the argument. Phone hacking, naked royals and plebgate were all deftly handled by the able panel, and the ghost of Jimmy Savile was predictably present at the table. I won’t attempt to encapsulate the entire argument- the Battle of Ideas will be posting the full debate on their youtube channel in due course- but a few points are worth drawing out.
Jo Phillips illustrated the tabloid obsession with celebrity when she spoke about her experiences working on the media strategy for Live8 in 2005, and the challenges of striking the balance between focussing press attention on the stars and the rather more serious messages motivating the campaign. The charities involved were concerned that too much attention was being paid to the celebrities. But of course, celebrity sells. It was the stars that gave the campaign its extraordinary reach around the world.
Celebrities are the gods of a secular age. This isn’t driven by the editors, it is driven by the readers who will buy extra issues in their thousands when a particular star appears on the cover. Although the revelations of Leveson may have caused editors to think twice about publishing stories such as the recent Kate Middleton pictures, they seem to have had almost no discernible impact on the reading habits of the Great British public themselves. It was ever thus- I told the story of one of the old ‘penny dreadfuls’ in the 19th Century that published an illustration of ‘life on the moon’, selling 20,000 copies. When the image was inevitably outed as a fake, the title in question was able to print another 40,000 copies due to popular demand. Truth, and ethics, have rarely been the determining factor in our buying choices when it comes to newspapers.
But do we really believe that fame and privacy are incompatible? Have our fabulously wealthy, pampered celebrities entered into a Faustian pact? There are, of course, those celebrities that pursue fame at any cost. It is harder to have sympathy with those that happily profit from the public airing of their dirty laundry: the recent playing out of the Alex Reid/ Chantelle Houghton break up springs to mind. But others chose to manage their fame in a more private, dignified way- as a sometimes wanted, sometimes unwanted, side effect of a career in the public eye. Leveson has revealed the depths to which certain tabloid journalists have sunk in pursuit of sensation. Even those that believe in the unqualified good of a free press must be troubled by Sienna Miller’s account of being pursued down a dark alley by a group of camera wielding men, or the treatment of Charlotte Church’s mother by News of the World after her attempted suicide. This is not simply publishing stories that the individuals concerned might prefer to keep under wraps. In numerous incidents what is being described is concerted campaigns of intimidation and bullying.
Patrick Hayes highlighted the emphasis placed on intrusion into celebrity lives when, in his view, this is a phenomenon common to all of us in the modern world, citing the increasing infringement on private life by the state. Perhaps tabloid intrusion into the private lives of public figures has set a precedent for the way in which we all live now. These are two sides of the same coin: if we are concerned about one, we have to be concerned about the other. Hence the imposition on our privacy by the state is hardly a compelling argument for allowing tabloids to disclose so much of celebrities’ lives to us- unless the former is viewed as an unqualified good.
Roy Greenslade offered the concluding comments, arguing that, as a national newspaper editor, there were occasions when he was faced with compelling reasons to step outside a normal ethical framework. He believes that when a story is genuinely in the national interest, it is justified for a newspaper to do whatever is necessary to uncover it- even if that means breaking the law. But the end must justify the means. And when tawdry but ultimately inconsequential stories about Max Mosley’s sex life traumatise his family to the extent that his son commits suicide, it is rather difficult to argue that anyone is served by the means.