As Graham Norton would say, it’s all SOOOOOO exciting! Naomi Campbell has walked victorious from the court with enough damages to buy half a Prada handbag, the Mirror has landed itself with a £200,000 advertising (sorry, legal) bill and the successful prosecution counsel, Keith Schilling, has set himself up for a nice little number as celebrity lawyer number one.
As for the murky business of what’s private, what’s public and who cares anyway, it is more confusing than ever and we are no nearer gaining any understanding of what we should be thinking, doing or saying.
The bottom line has to be that this judgment – adroitly determined to set an equal plague on both celebrity and media houses – amplifies the (probably undeliverable threat) of independent regulation. Immediately, it will give proprietors pause for thought.
The Mirror did well out of the debacle, and probably considers £200K a fair price to pay for all the PR, but it won’t want to pay out that kind of cash every week. And from the media standpoint – with the likes of Mr Schilling proving it is possible for beleaguered stars to earn a miserable (but cost-free) amount of money to (sort of) defend their damaged honour – money will talk and bosses will tell editors to soft-pedal on sex-and-tell stories.
The Murdochs of this world have big back pockets but they don’t want to dip their hands in them too often. And, let’s face it, weeks spent in court ultimately get in the way of running a national newspaper.
They also get in the way of running a glitzy celebrity career, so there is a case for saying there won’t be too many stars opting for the witness stand and and airing their dirty laundry over cases as slight as Campbell’s.
Yet when it comes to bigger issues, there is a more than evens chance the stars will be ready to pay however many Schillings it takes to defend their right to privacy – a right some critics would argue the celebs agreed to forgo when they married the media devil to further their careers in the first place. And this judgment suggests they could win.
For mass circulation tabloids, the uncomfortable caution it will provoke is a caution that could always rebound on celebrities.
After all, even with the biggest names, it’s not just being there that counts from the media point of view, it’s what they are doing there. What they are doing is what the public wants to know. And if the papers are paranoid about reporting it, celebrities won’t be seen in anything but the most anodyne of lights, or they won’t be seen at all. And if there is one thing celebrities don’t like, it is not being seen.
This whole debate shunts back and forth and never goes anywhere except into further the complexities that give all parties a chance to promote themselves a little more.
Actions such as Campbell’s open up opportunities for developing the game but they up the judicial ante in a way that could ultimately damage all parties.
But what about the punters? There’s every chance this will convince them of the absolute unreality of everything. Everything and nothing will be true and stars will just become the pegs for entertaining stories, performers in some soap-style plot that is no less enthralling, banal or addictive because nobody believes it is grounded in fact.
In this scenario, Campbell’s court case can be seen as a particularly expensive episode, which all parties know they need to milk to the maximum to optimise their investment.
So this is it: celebrities will feel a little empowered, the media will feel a little paranoid, the public will get temporarily short-changed, lawyers will open up a nice new earner and the threat of regulation will loom a little larger.
But since there is always an election in the offing, the political will to clamp down on the press and protect people’s privacy simply will not be there.
So all is right with the world and it’s just more sound and fury signifying nothing. Politics has reached the point where the vast majority of people couldn’t care less about the intricacies of who said what to whom – it’s only of interest to the players.
Who is to say celebrity culture isn’t heading the same way, a victim of the same cynicism that underpins most of its machinations.