question of the day: Is Jade Goody’s story a condemnation of celebrity culture, or a celebration of it?

If you’re not in the U.K. you may not have heard, but Jade Goody died yesterday. If you’re not in the U.K., you’re saying, “Who?” She was the star of an early incarnation of the British reality show Big Brother in 2002, and managed to stretch her 15 minutes of dubious fame into seven years of celebrity via regular public bad behavior and working-class populism. In what sounds like the crass plot twist of the kind of supposedly unscripted reality shows that made Goody famous, last summer she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and even her illness played out in public. When I was in London last month, I was astonished to see the glee with which her rapid decline was playing out in the tabloid and even the allegedly more respectable press.

Except… it seems the poor woman — who was only 27 years old — did not want to die in peace. She was perfectly content, apparently, to live out her last days in as bright a spotlight as she had the last seven years. The Guardian today ran this headline:

Jade Goody funeral to be a public affair

Reality star will be buried as she lived – in front of the cameras in a ‘Jade Goody production’, publicist says

Some of the attention on Goody’s final days resulted in a surge in interest in the cervical cancer vaccine for young girls, which is undoubtedly a good thing, but of course that was predicated on the fact that Goody had been famous for years by that point. It’s the why of her fame that is a fascinating conundrum. A piece by Lucy Mangan today, also in the Guardian, attempts to figure it out, and it’s full of perceptive insight into public frustration with class and wealth, which, while those distinctions are stronger in the U.K., could also apply to the U.S. as well:

[B]ecause they are so rarely seen in public life it is easy to forget that the people in this country for whom Jade was a peer, not an affront, are in the vast majority. Maybe they won’t have quite her litany of childhood abuses and difficulties, but her experience was still closer to the experience of the many than the lives we usually see held up for examination in public.

But then there’s this:

She continued to film a documentary series, Living with Jade, after her treatment had begun, which caused a fresh eruption of the debate which has rumbled on from the moment she stepped on to the public stage: is she the exploiter of the media or the exploited?

The truth is that she has been both. She has sold huge numbers of papers and magazines, caused endless amounts of internet traffic and both her own and media coffers have swelled as a result.

Is Jade Goody’s story a condemnation of celebrity culture, or a celebration of it? Do you applaud her ability to turn the celebrity culture around to her own benefit, or are you appalled by the whole circus of it?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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Mon, Mar 23, 2009 12:28pm

Good for her for being able to make a buck and have some fun with her celebrity. I think my days of being shocked and appalled at media’s real life characters are pretty much over. It would be great if society could get over it’s obsessive interest in the lives of celebrities, but whatever. That train has left the station. Anyway, sounds like there was some good, some bad in all this. Some due attention was given to the cervical cancer vaccine? Jade herself must have found something theraputic about the whole thing given her choices. Exactly everything I know about Jade’s story I learned from this post, but it doesn’t seem to me a much of a condemnation. Maybe a condemnatoin of the voyeuristic appetites of the public that bought tickets to this circus…

Mon, Mar 23, 2009 12:53pm

I understand that AT THE BEGINNING it was about leaving her family with more money and talking about cervical cancer, but it went far beyond that – daily updates about private conversations just to keep her in the papers, daily photo opportunities set up by her Publicist of her physical degeneration, medical details of what part of her body has failed today. Was the latter part of the publicity cancer awareness? Is this what we need in this country to educate our children or is there something wrong with our culture? I’ve never seen anything like this. Shame on the media for going along with it. OK more people are going for screening but that always happens. People will soon forget after she’s gone.
What’s BRAVE about showing how much pain you’re in to the world? BRAVE is Wendy Richard who was quietly struggling. Her story pushed down our throat constantly. Some poeple must be petrified of cancer now.
Her kids will have constant reminders of just how sick and in pain their mummy was, for ever. Reminded by each press cutting and magazine article. The only dignified person in all this has been the kids’ real father, Jeff.

Mon, Mar 23, 2009 2:03pm

Jade had two young sons and was determined to set them up as best she could. How much of what she did was with that aim and how much was a need to be validated by public attention only Jade and those close to her could know.

If Jade had had a more fortunate upbringing and been better educated perhaps she would have followed up on the abnormal smear test. If this encourages others to do so – those others who might through ignorance have ignored it – whatever Jade’s aims, she has done some good in the world.

Mon, Mar 23, 2009 2:43pm

I’m sorry Gee but I just think the status to which this woman has been elevated to (with her clever Publicist) is rediculous. “she has done some good in the world” – in the world??? As a parent I am scared that in this culture we are promoting the wrong values. Comparing her to someone as caring as Princess Di is just unbelievable. This is what makes me so angry about all this press brainwashing of our young.

Mon, Mar 23, 2009 2:54pm

In the end, I think Jade’s “legacy” won’t only be an increased awareness of the importance of smear tests (and it stops dead anyone who critises the vaccine as “encouraging promiscuity”) but the affect her story will leave on modern media as someone used celebrity culture for her own ends, but who, ultimately, became its biggest victim.

The brazen attitude shown by the papers has been shocking – British newspapers aren’t known for holding back anyway, but this has been in quite a different class. Not a day went by without headlines about how much pain she suffered, how weak she was. It was the ultimate in reality TV and it is sickening that British society lapped it up in the manor that they have.

It is terribly hard to critise Jade’s actions over selling her illness – there but for the Grace of God… and who could fail to understand her desire to provide her two boys the kind of upbringing she never had.

Mon, Mar 23, 2009 3:02pm

I didn’t say that Jade was as caring as Princess Diana. I said that if it makes people follow up on their abnormal smear test results then that has has some beneficial results. If it means that working class women now have the same knowledge that middle class women take for granted, and will act on it instead of putting their heads in the sand, then I think that Jade’s actions have done some good in the world.

I don’t read print newspapers/gossip mags, and am selective about what I read online, so I’ve been saved from this circus, more or less. I am shocked at the appetite there has been for Jade’s story.

Mon, Mar 23, 2009 3:22pm

Gee I can see you are a very sweet person and have a good heart. I appreciate what you are saying but I actually had my daughter sleeping with me after reading all the cancer stuff of the last 2 weeks (apparently it was all available in papers about her screaming with pain etc). She is only 16, not ready to face death, and when these things are printed EVERYWHERE and available to anyone how can you protect them? I blame the media, they dont have to go along with everything Max Clifford says. I think after the wedding at least the pictures should have stopped. PS: I respect your comments.

Mon, Mar 23, 2009 3:31pm

That’s the first time I’ve been called ‘sweet’!! (I am not – I promise you :-) )

Your daughter is fortunate to have reached 16 years old and not have to have faced death yet.

Here’s a bit about the effects of Jade’s publicity.

” He said Jade had a particular appeal to the hard-to-reach lower socioeconomic groups.

“What is interesting is that if you look at the number of people who take up the offers, it is on average 70%.

“If you break that down to socioeconomic groupings it is about 90% in class one – wealthy and educated people – and something like 50% in some geographical areas of Britain where there are predominantly people living in deprivation with poor education,” he said.

“What Jade’s story does is get to groups you can not get to with other methods.

“Putting out a leaflet or an advert on TV just does not work.

“She appeals to socioeconomic groups four and five, people who read the tabloids rather than the broadsheets…”

Mon, Mar 23, 2009 3:52pm

It made me uneasy that the people who called her a fat ignorant pig a couple of years were now praising her to the hilt.

It made me uneasy that her death was commodified and that the newspapers pretty much turned it into a countdown. And that they let her publicist write their front pages for the last couple of weeks.

I can’t blame her for any of those decsions tho.

Mon, Mar 23, 2009 4:21pm

Gee I have just read the article and it is very interesting. I hope that people will continue to go for smears in the future and that it is not a shock reaction. The Government needs to find a good way of “informing” people of every group in the future, there are other cancers, illnesses etc. I wonder if there should be mandatory classes in schools that inform teenagers about prostate cancers, checking yourself, etc. My father is a GP and says that Jade probably had a rarer from of Cervical Cancer (inside the womb)- allegedly please dont sue me. It is very rare for a teenager who is not sexually active to get symptoms. Poor Jade , and all cancer sufferers. What a horrendous disease. Apparently they have found an enzyme that is responsible for spread of cancer from primary site, so hopefully there may be hope for a cure (stopping it getting terminal). One good thing is that her children have a good father with a lucrative career of his own, and I must say he has behaved in a very dignified manner. We never heard much praise for him but ironically I think he is their best asset, rather than the millions. Money is not always the answer to happiness. bye x

Mon, Mar 23, 2009 5:53pm

What burns me about this is how she’s been praised for playing up to her cancer to make money for “herself” (I know it’s for her kids but it’s not exactly charity) when people like Jane Tomlinson fought cancer for years whilst simultaneously raising money and genuine awareness.

Mon, Mar 23, 2009 7:07pm

Like it or not, Jade turned the celebrity notoriety she gained from Big Brother into a business. I don’t think there is anything inherently bad about the way she exploited the media (or they exploited her)..

If you’re disgusted by the coverage.. then don’t read it. I successfully ignored Jade Goody for seven years.

Of the two recent celebrity deaths… Jade’s will probably save more lives (although the ski supplier I bought my helmet from the other day just called to tell me it’s actually out of stock, as Natasha Richardson’s demise has unsurprisingly set off a run on noggin protection).. because as people have already said in this thread, the poorest people, the people who empathised most with Jade, were the least likely to go for a smear in the first place. Her story will save the lives of many young women in Britain.. there is no question of that.

Mon, Mar 23, 2009 8:38pm

I think it is best to raise standard of educatio in this country. Ignorance is not just about Cervical cancer. I agree with comment “OK more people are going for screening but that always happens. People will soon forget after she’s gone.”. Do we need some male celeb to die of prostate cancer to raise awareness in uneducated people? I’m sorry I dont buy all this … how do other countries deal with things like this? It is no good Gordon Brown shrugging things off and thanking Jade for Cervical Cancer Awareness. He has to improve our education system.

Tue, Mar 24, 2009 2:10pm

Isn’t it terrible that we only consider things when they happen to celebrities?

And isn’t it a year ago when every paper was condemning her for being a racist? Now she’s virtually a saint.

Wed, Mar 25, 2009 6:12pm

“It is no good Gordon Brown shrugging things off and thanking Jade for Cervical Cancer Awareness. He has to improve our education system.”

Quoted for truth.