Monthly Archives: July 2011

Amy Winehouse: We shouldn’t celebrate. We should mourn.

Is ‘iconicise’ a word? I can imagine the Collins concise grandly defining “a post-mortem process whereby the image of the deceased undergoes the transition from sustained tabloid ridicule into a figure of deep popular cultural import.”  Don’t look it up.    It won’t say that.   It just should.

It’s a sorry national boast that nobody else can’ iconicise’ like us Brits.  Think Diana.  Think Jade.  Pity Amy.

The script wrote itself and all the actors compliantly played their roles:  This time it was a rock-and-roll star – talented, but tortured by her demons. The press – well, at least the redtops and glossy mags – first shifted years of copy by trading on her tragic real-life soap opera.  When the inevitable end came, as always, there has to be one last frenzied orgy of schadenfreude.  None of the tragic final details will be too insignificant to be passed up by Fleet Street’s ‘finest’ for our eager consumption.  It’s been ever thus,  “all the papers had to say was that Marilyn was found in the nude” even back when Elton was a lad.

The fans know their role too.  That need for the spontaneous vigil.  The teddy bears on railings, the flowers, the candles, heartfelt messages scrawled on tear-stained cards.  Oh, and bottles of Malibu and packets of fags, obviously.

This ‘impromptu shrine’ stage then kick-starts the metamorphosis.  In a blink, the recent object of ridicule is romanticised, often by the biggest pushers of the earlier ridicule.  With premature death the good become ‘saints’, the talented elevate to ‘genius’.  There will be tribute records or back-catalogue rereleases and they will fly in the charts.  T-shirts will be worn by A-level students in 20 years time, just as this year’s crop of sixth-formers can be seen occasionally sporting a Cobain top.   And people will bang on about the immortal ’27’ club.   The iconicising will be complete.

I have a theory that our media ‘iconicise’ to assuage their guilt.  We let them, and buy into it, to assuage ours.  Let’s be frank, for the tabloids and glossies the tragic demise of Winehouse over the last few years has been a source of popular entertainment.  The coverage of her recent gig in Serbia was pitched in most news outlets much as Victorians may have reported on the curious bearded lady at the touring circus.   Yes, there was the mock hint of sympathy – but not quite enough sympathy to choose not to fill column inches giving her the focus.

I know I sound like a cold cynic.   I’m not.   I never met her, nor knew her.  I know only from the limited bits of her work  I have heard she had genuine talent, but as to whether she was smart, or without the make-up attractive, or funny, or bitchy or whatever else from the human condition pick-and-mix I have no idea.   What I do know is that the pictures of her father Mitch with that raw, almost hopeless, emptiness in his eyes will resonate with anyone who has ever had ‘the phonecall’ or ‘the knock-on-the-door’ .  I know from those photos that Amy was a human being who was loved.  I know that when the family release a statement describing themselves as ‘bereft’  it isn’t spin or an easy  soundbite.   It is just the gut-wrenching way it is.

And I hate that that as we let icons become cemented through this media theatre, we almost celebrate the flaws ahead of the talent.  We reinforce the idea that drink,  drugs and addiction are just an inevitable part of rock-and-roll.  They are not.   This is a tragic loss of life.  There is nothing to celebrate.  Nothing to glamourize.   We shouldn’t iconicise Amy.   Instead, we should mourn for her.

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What was this ‘Wilful Blindness’ Stuff?

Midway through their mammoth testimony, long before the custard pie, James Murdoch was asked if he had ever heard of ‘Wilful Blindness’?  He gave an out-of-place smirk and shrugged.  His father chipped-in that whilst he’d heard of it “we’ve never been guilty of it”.   Hold that thought.

Later, during Rebekah Brooks testimony, she was asked how payments to private detectives were authorised.  The gist of her reply was that News International set an overall budget for a newspaper,   the editor would then allocate budgets downward to ‘managing editors’, they would fund individual reporters and so long as everyone stayed within their authorised threshold they were accountable for their own spend.  Underlings were trusted.  If you were within your limits it seems no questions would be asked.  None of the witnesses had any idea as to the actual transactional mechanisms -cash, invoices or whatever – that allowed their reporters to pay private detectives (or actual detectives come to that).

Now, I’m no lawyer.  I’m not clear on the line that has to be crossed in corporate governance or financial control arrangements before executives fall legally foul of neglecting their duties.  However, I’m pretty sure the MPs were trying to establish if the delegated payment authorities were so piss poor as to appear manufactured to ensure there wasn’t visibility of how junior staff were spending the company’s money.  Our inquisitive MPs danced around this.  The questions, though never framed in such direct terms, were steering them to infer they had therefore allowed ‘plausible deniability’ to become institutionalised at the News of the World.  No wonder they  introduced James Murdoch to the phrase ‘wilful blindness’.  In the US folk go to jail for that sort of thing.   If the committee smelt blood on this point they chose not to go for the kill.  For now.

Regardless, the testimony painted a picture of executives who simply didn’t grasp whole chunks of the detail you might expect. I’m happy that they wouldn’t have been in the micro-detail at the time, but troubled that given the magnitude of what has happened they still didn’t seem to have really drilled in on it since. The more mundane narrative to explain this  is that the Murdochs and Brooks had a lax grip on the internal controls in their company, they delegated to the wrong people (you can delegate responsibility, you can’t delegate accountability) and they failed to assure a culture of ethics, audit and active management on a high profile part of their stable.   If it isn’t conspiracy (and to be honest, on balance I don’t think it is) then there is still a measure of old fashioned incompetence.  Either way,  it is no wonder Rupert feels humbled.

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A Glimpse Inside the Red Head of Rebekah Brooks

My first post for Dale & Co:  link here to the original.  Posted here for archive purposes.

There’s one doing the rounds on Twitter that recalls David Brent gathering his staff for the good news and bad news.  ” The bad news is a lot of you are going to be redundant.  The good news is I still have a great job”.  Flash forward a decade, swap Gervais for Brooks, shift to the NOTW newsroom and you’ve got the gist of what went on yesterday.

Anyone reasonably bright who has followed the UK media for any length of time will have grown a little radar that just knows when the tipping point has been reached and there’s no way back  for someone in the press’s sights.  This little radar has been bleeping solidly for at least three days.  There will be no other outcome than Brooks being toast.  It isn’t ‘if’, it is ‘when’.

And yet again, we see this strange paradox where one of the very people trumpeted as the most media savvy in the land seems to be lacking this basic radar and hangs on too long.   Think Mandelson, Campbell and Coulson by way of examples.  Now add Brooks.

I can only think that in all these cases they are so drunk on fancying themselves as Masters-of-the-Universe they believe they are somehow immune to the dark powers they made their living unleashing.  Like the lion-master at the circus who gets cocky with his own beast before a gory end.

Spare me this ‘she has offered her resignation and we refused’ nonsense.  Her delay has already dragged a whole staff of blameless people down with her.  If she cares about News International she should know that it is in their best remaining interests for her to walk regardless of anything James Murdoch should say.

Even if her drivers are entirely boxed around her own self-interest another lesson obvious to the rest of us mortals is that the quicker you jump the quicker the way back.   The best example on her career path that there can be a life, of sorts, after this would be Piers Morgan.

Hang on, Piers Morgan?  ….  no wonder she isn’t shifting.

 

 

 

 

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Chipping in at Dale & Co.

Today the uber-blogger Iain Dale launches his new site ‘Dale & Co.’   I’ll be chipping in for him on various topics from time to time.  I’m still going to going to use guythemac.com for my more mundane, everyday witterings, I’ll just make sure I put my more considered stuff over on the new site where it will get more eyes.   I’ll link anything I write over there, over here, so that everything remains archived.

Anyway you can check it out at: http://iaindale.com

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