The Good and the Bad: Death, the UK media, Jade and Natasha

I have been somewhat slack these last few weeks in posting ANYTHING ANYWHERE. Mainly because I have been so caught up in planning a magazine or two as part of the assessment for my course. My apologies. Now with cup of tea in hand (and dunked biscuit heading for my jeans), I shall resume.

There’s been an interesting media reaction to the death of two very different celebrities over the past two weeks.

Firstly, Natasha Richardson’s unexpected death on March 18 2009.

Initial reports spoke of Natasha’s admission to the intensive care unit of Sacré Coeur Hospital, in Montreal, Canada, after a skiing accident on the slopes. Later the story was even more tragic as news arrived that the 45 year old actress was ‘brain-dead’. Natasha Richardson ‘brain-dead’ after skiing accident – Times online

There were tributes, obituaries and a few front pages (notably The Sun’s Neeson’s Natasha Dead and The Mirror’s 1am special Liam’s Grief as Natasha Dies). Natasha’s death was completely out of the blue. No one could have predicted it.

While the mass media reported the accident and then her death, the event almost passed by un-noticed. It was tragic and totally unexpected, yet coverage was humbly small and handled in a very respectable, news-worthy way.

Natasha was a member of the Redgrave clan, one of the most distinguished British acting families, and this should have deemed more column inches in reporting her surprise death. However, such family background is, perhaps, why Natasha’s death was not more widely exposed. Subsequent stories ran concerning the funeral and her organs being donated. We were fed information about her death and necessary extras in an unobtrusive fashion. So much so, if you weren’t paying attention over the last two weeks you could easily have missed it altogether.

Walk into your newsagents this week and only a handful of magazines have run tributes to the British actress; Hello! being one of them.

Instead, most (like OK! and New) covered the other major “celebrity” death in the last week: Jade Goody’s final exit. (Which, in a rather cynical view, couldn’t have been better timed even if Max had planned it himself). Even those who have run with a main cover focus on Natasha still have a designated Jade corner (Hello! I’m looking at you).

In contrast to Natasha, Jade’s face has been plastered across more magazine racks and newspaper stands in the week she’s been dead than when she was alive. There is no way you can miss that Jade Goody died – unless perhaps you happen to be a hermit living on a remote Scottish isle with no form of modern communication.

Forgive me for sounding callous, but I’m a bit relived Jade finally passed away. For her it means no more suffering (having seen what cancer and its treatment does to a person, makes you, in a way, glad when the ordeal is over even if it ends in death). It also means that I do not have to put up with Jade’s constant clamouring for the limelight. I wouldn’t wish death on anyone, but I was definitely suffering from a chronic case of Jade-fatigue.

That said, I admire what Jade has done since she discovered her terminal cancer. Skeptical as I was about the way in which she chose to go about dealing with it, I don’t blame her for using the media to get as much money as she could for her boys. Then there’s the way in which, intentionally or otherwise, the profile of cervical cancer and the need for cervical screening has been raised.

Jade will always be a controversial topic, even years from now. There will be media experts discussing the “Jade effect”, examining what it shows of our media centric society.

When Jade’s cancer was confirmed as terminal, radio reports opened with “Reality TV celebrity”. Now the papers are attempting to call her a “people’s princess”. Please stop. She was no “star” or “celebrity”, she was an insecure young women searching for affirmation in what people thought of her. That is not a healthy way to live. It means that when people think ill of you, as happened to Jade with the Celebrity Big Brother racism saga, your self-esteem and self-confidence take a massive beating.

Ultimately the media are responsible for the way Jade died. They encouraged (forced) her to live her death out on screen, in magazines and newspapers. Her story sells, it draws readers, viewers and internet users. It’s sad that a young woman, who let’s face it didn’t amount to much more than “that Essex girl off Big Brother” and then “that racist one off Celebrity Big Brother”, let herself be exploited by a celebrity orientated media for nearly a third of her short life. That is no way to die.

I wondered what her boys will think of her when they are older. Will they, like Wills and Harry, sons of Diana “The People’s Princess”, seemingly respect her and want to up hold the good things she did in her lifetime, admiring her as a mother? Or will they wish that she had never set foot on the set of Big Brother all those years ago?

If I had been in Jade’s shoes I would have preferred coverage of my death to have been like that of Natasha Richardson’s. But then I would have been me in Jade’s shoes, not Jade in Jade’s life, and the way she went out was most apt to her persistent pursuit of fame and glory throughout her twenties. The media pandered to her and she pandered to the media.

Regardless of their coverage, both Jade’s and Natasha’s deaths, have enabled the media to expose other issues and ultimately could save lives in the long term.

The revelations surrounding Natasha’s accident – that the first ambulance was turned away and, had Natasha been wearing a helmet when she was skiing, she could well have lived – warn us of the need to follow safety precautions.

Jade’s battle with cancer raised questions as to why young women in England are not screened for cervical cancer until they are over 25, five years later than in Scotland and Wales. Screening women younger could mean the signs of cancer, which is prevalent in women under 35, are spotted earlier and lives saved.

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