We are all to blame for the death of Caroline Flack. Even those of us who choose not to enter into the toxic fuelling of clickbait narratives with their ravaged commentary and opinion, still often view from afar and with an opinion. Our cultural addiction begins with popular soaps like Coronation Street, and the undeniable fact that ratings always soar when a character is going through the mill. The truth is we feed on drama and the frailties of character, fact or fiction. As humans, we relish a window in on fame and the human checks and balances alongside, but now we starkly know that clickbait kills. Celebrity isn’t fun; it’s the grinning mug of media capitalism and a seductive force, both heaven and hell but hyper stylised. But will things change?
I spent years researching my book ‘The Fame Formula’ and I quickly realised that the fame game has always been toxic, throwing up tragic figures, early deaths and falls from grace. We play a role in building up our celebrities and then tear them down without regard when they no longer fit our projection of them. We remember their careers with affection when it’s all over, but kick them on the way down.
When things take a tragic path as they did this weekend, we are all culpable, not just the media. The truth is that fame and the media have always needed one another, and like it or not as individuals, we are a part of the narratives we perpetuate. The economics of fame fuel clickbait and the tabloids and we play our part in keeping the industry going. Social media, in particular, is fed by negativity. You could argue that they print/report what we, as consumers and readers want and why not? Supply and demand they call it. We must be responsible for what we buy and contribute into before it’s all too late. Broadcasters and agents must also be more aware of fame’s slippery slope and do more to ensure the well being of their stars both in and out of the heat.
Those in the public eye walk a very thin line between public and private and only those with the surest sense of self or the thickest skin can survive unscathed. For those who stand under the spotlight, sought after, written about, photographed, revered and often woefully ill-prepared and protected, it’s difficult to understand the other side. Once the spotlight turns, the heat and light disappear. We, as bystanders suffer from short term amnesia and long term memory loss. As such we are not helping.
The tragic case of Caroline Flack should have us all questioning our part in her story. Her open and impulsive nature, sense of fun and attractiveness were just one side of her. The “bankable’ side. But she was also a deeply troubled woman, long since the subject of as many negative as positive stories, fighting to perhaps escape a self-inflicted sense of self and shame and the possibility that her career was about to falter with an impending court case likely to have shattered her happy-go-lucky image forever.
Only the strongest amongst us could stand firm with the ugly prospect of our frailties being exposed. And for what? For simply being human?
It’s an irony that we now feel deeply regretful Caroline has passed, with pleas a-plenty for kindness and understanding and support for mental health. It’s tragically too late for Caroline but not too late for those of us in and around the media to set forth a radical change of behaviour. Those of us who act on behalf of celebrities must do more to prepare and protect them from the vagaries of fame and those in the media must act with more caution when reporting to dampen the vitriol of the trolls. Social media regulation is a very long way off as long as clickbait fuels economics.
Perhaps if we act to do this, whilst fame will not cease to be a toxic game, those seeking it will be able to navigate its moves with a surer footing. This calls for a radical change of human behaviour of course, so I am not immediately hopeful.