Sunday 16 February 2020

Caroline Flack and Social Murder

To read about the circumstances surrounding the sad passing of Love Island's Caroline Flack is to learn it was entirely avoidable. Flack was dropped by ITV from the show and its spin off, After Sun once the story emerged that she had been involved in and charged with assaulting her partner. She was banned from any contact with him prior to the trial next month, despite his opposition to the CPS decision to proceed. By any token, Flack was a troubled woman who needed help and support. But instead, she suffered the usual gossip, character assassination, and vilification from the gutter snipes of the tabloid sewer. Take The Sun as a particularly egregious example. As a number of people on Twitter have pointed out, Rupert's minions have spent their Saturday afternoons busily deleting what they've written about her. These deletions include a story from Friday reporting how a "jokey" Caroline Flack-themed Valentine's card had gone on sale. Imagine if you were her, getting trolled day after day by the country's best selling newspaper and one of its biggest celebrity news sites. It wouldn't do your mental health much good either.

And then you have the disgusting hypocrisy of self-identified friends. Consider Dan Wootton, who's spent his afternoon tweeting out his horror at what has happened to Flack. Quick to blame ITV for their shabby treatment of her, quick to tweet about how she had lost everything, and quick to retweet support from Boy George blaming this on "others" who enjoy their pound of flesh, and the Brexit Party's David Bull who's pinning it on social media. Wootton has protested his "complete loyalty" to Flack and talked about their "regular contact", but this isn't any old Sun hack. He's a columnist and the paper's executive editor. Or to put it another way, this vile shit of a human being was making her troubles worse by giving stories the go ahead that only could only have contributed to her misery. And if you want the measure of the man, just scroll down his Twitter feed. Literally the last thing he put out before tweeting a broken heart emoji was something by Julia Hartley-Brewer mocking Jameela Jamil's experience of mental illness.

I expect this won't trouble his conscience too much. He comes from a press culture that saw nothing wrong with hacking the phone of a murdered teenager, after all. But creatures like Wootton and the content he decides on preceded him, and will no doubt post-date him now his buddies are secure in Number 10. Moving into the impersonal, as we noted on the occasion Peaches Geldof passed away prematurely, celebrity is individually and collectively experienced. The media creates a simulated collapse of social distance where it is possible to have a relationship of sorts with a pantheon of celebrities. Complete strangers appear close and distant simultaneously, and with the coming of social media this effect is both amplified and shortened further. Not only do celebrities now enjoy a means of communicating directly with fans, they are also forced to endure "feedback" - some of it adulatory, a lot of it abusive. And especially so if celebrities are women, are of colour, are disabled, or are lesbians or gay men. And none of this takes place in a vacuum. You don't need tabloid press coverage to be an arsehole online, but when stories are dredged up about foibles and failings, relationships and affairs, selfishness and revenge porn at the behest of these papers, and then get the first dabs on the stories, decide the edit and the consistency with which they are reported on/revisited, and so a monster is fed. Their coverage sets the tone and determines the contours of the feedback a celebrity is likely to receive.

Writing in the 1840s, Fred Engels noted how substandard housing, poor food and sanitation, overcrowded districts, and dangerous working conditions contributed to the premature deaths of thousands. The builder responsible for the housing, the authorities responsible for the built environment, the shopkeepers and bakers responsible for adulterated food and worse, and the employers whose wages barely covered the necessaries while forcing people to work in the shadow of permanent injury or death, these were not accidents of fate. It was in their gift to do something about an infrastructure that conspired to send workers to early graves, and yet they didn't. As Engels puts it, if these authorities and business people "knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual ...".

This is the situation we're in when it comes to our mental health crisis. Leaving aside the wider issues of the relationship between it and social media, in the narrow case of celebrity, the opinion formers - the gossip columnists, paps, and editors who shape showbiz coverage - know they are constantly heaping on the stress and misery, making public what should stay private, and helping drive people to drink, drugs, and despair. And, on occasion, someone takes their life. Like Caroline Flack and two previous Love Island contestants, Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis. When this happens the media sometimes shakes off its convenient short-sightedness and accepts culpability - as we saw following the axing of Jeremy Kyle. But mostly it's brushed away with the sort of touching tribute they would never have printed while the person in question was still alive. Celebrity coverage therefore is structurally harmful, and yet it carries on as it does, grinding out the money and conferring profile to commentators and editors who determine its comings and goings. When tragedy strikes repeatedly, we can only conclude social murder is still very much with us - updated and thriving in a set of media practices utterly toxic to the mental health of its subjects. And like their 19th century forebears, those in charge don't give a damn about the people they destroy.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

Perhaps our blogger's implicit assumption could be that Flack's death is another example of feminicide as press hounding of men when they use domestic violence against women is their just deserts, but since women never use domestic violence against men, as it is always self-defense against male abuse, her hounding was entirely undeserved.

Phil said...

With a dickhead take like that, I'm not surprised you want to stay anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Really good analysis of this tragedy. She was also on anti-depressants at one time in recent years, and had a bad reaction to them (as many do). This has been reported in the media. Whether she was on anti-depressants, or any other prescribed drugs (sleeping pills, benzos etc) at the time of her suicide - is unknown at this time, and perhaps we will never know (as often inquests don't reveal prescribed drugs - just illegal ones).
The Sun, and the tabloids, certainly played their part in causing her immense distress, and they should be ashamed of themselves- That's for sure. However, what seems to be missing from the coverage of her death is how 'mental health services' have also failed her. It seems she had said that she would kill herself to police. She had a history of depression, and anxiety etc. Why was she not getting adequate care?, and by care I mean- compassion, talk therapy, or even a good friend to call in on her, she if she was ok- give her a hug!. It seems she was failed by those around her in general, and especially in terms of her 'mental health'. By accounts in the media, she seems to have had a terrible time on anti-depressants, and often these drugs (I know from experience) can make people worse. I would be surprised if she wasn't on some kind of psychiatric drugs at the time of her death. It seems she also was drinking at the time of the alleged assault- if she was on an antidepressant too- this would be a recipe for disaster too- the two can't be mixed. She spoke of how 'numb' the antidepressants made her (this is a common side effect/effect that can increase suicidal risks also). Again, I don't know whether she was still on psych drugs at the time of her death, but it is possible. I didn't know much about her, until I heard of her death in the media, but having been through depression, anxiety, and the terrible 'mental health services' that throw numbing psychiatric drugs at people, instead of 'compassion' and 'real care' my heart goes out to this beautiful young woman. She seemed like such a bright, loving woman with so much to live for, and was unfortunate to be treated so shabbily by the gutter press, and the vicious industry that she gave her life to. I hope her soul is at peace now.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I've long thought his smarmy, slimey delight when trashing people on Lorraine is nauseous. Not great when you're trying to eat breakfast.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps to some progressives it may seem strange to read the lionizing of a domestic violence abuser by miraculously repainting them into victims of murder. A lot of women and men who suffered and continue to suffer from domestic violence may not be feel encouraged by that. What next? A memorial by public subscription to Epstein who also killed themselves after a vicious hounding?

Anonymous said...

«but having been through depression, anxiety, and the terrible 'mental health services' that throw numbing psychiatric drugs at people, instead of 'compassion' and 'real care' my heart goes out to this beautiful young woman.»

Are there any excuses that ever hold for domestic violence? Like being drunk, on psychiatric drugs, and good looking?
What about “'compassion' and 'real care'” for the victims of domestic violence rather than for the perpetrators, even if (and that is still sad) they kill themselves to escape their shame and guilt?

Deviation From The Mean said...

Here is my take.

When someone screws up there is always a baying mob who say this or that person should be immediately sacked or hung out to dry. And I am sorry to say this but it is true, this sack em and throw away the key mentality is usually aimed at men who step out of line with some inappropriate un-pc comment they made 30 years previously. You usually get sponsors who threaten to pull out if said person is not strung up from the nearest lamppost and instead of being concerned about the power of sponsors we all praise the sponsor’s as socially responsible. I am against the sack em and throw away the key mentality. So I do not see why Caroline Flack should have been sacked. We also need sympathy for the perpetrators along with their victims, even those who commit domestic abuse.

The CPS decision is not really an issue unless it can be proved that the CPS only brought this to trial because it was a celebrity and they wanted the publicity. After all it shouldn’t matter if the victim doesn’t want to press charges, the CPS may say, well this person is potentially dangerous to others so we need to progress this even if the victim doesn’t like it.

My last point is the celebrities themselves. Their new motto is be kind! Be kind! In that case can we please have a re-run of the general election and maybe this time you lot vote for Corbyn and not the proto fascistic Tory party and maybe this time Philip Schofield you don’t post selfies with Boris Johnson, the leader of a part responsible for the biggest mass killing of Brits, some 130,000+ in the last 10 years. And as Engels said, that mass murder was premeditated. In fact the Tories to this day pat themselves on the back at how successful their austerity policies have been!

And guess what I didn’t hear any of the celebrities on twitter saying be kind after some unknown worker had died on the job a day after the Tory fascists told him he was fit for work!

And if the celebrities want to be kind maybe they should work to create a society that doesn’t allow one individual to earn in a month what others take a lifetime to earn

Be kind, they are having a laugh! Don’t know about you but they just make you want to start shouting at them on twitter!