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.)