Aussie star Russell Crowe is on the cover of a magazine. His smiling face is next to another smiling face, media personality Fifi Box. And then the words, in big, bold, can’t-miss-it-from-10-miles-away, giant letters “WE’RE SO IN LOVE!” (Just a few weeks earlier he was “TOGETHER AT LAST” with Delta Goodrem. And a while before that, he had announced a “SHOCK WEDDING” with Terri Irwin!) Russell responded on Instagram: “Something is so wrong with the leadership of this magazine. They keep piling on the humiliations. I am not in a relationship with this young lady and never have been.”
It reminded me of the time Prince Harry had to release a statement asking the media to think twice before spouting lies about Meghan Markle, writing abusive stories with racial undertones, harassing her family, friends and co-workers, just for some goss.
And that time George Clooney called out a certain tabloid for that BS about Amal’s mum not wanting them to get married for religious reasons, then falsely claiming Mrs Alamuddin’s religious traditions can call for the death of the bride – “The irresponsibility, in this day and age, to exploit religious differences where none exist, is at the very least negligent and more appropriately dangerous.”
And when Marion Cotillard was forced to release a statement denying she was the reason Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie split up – “I am not used to commenting on things like this nor taking them seriously but as this situation is spiraling and affecting people I love, I have to speak up.”
I am appalled, outraged and embarrassed (as someone who’s worked in celebrity news) that this industry has no conscience. (Side note – I know there are a handful of brilliant entertainment journos out there who do their work with honesty and integrity. This obviously isn’t about them.) You see the problem is, when it comes to writing about famous people, lies are the norm. How many times has Jennifer Aniston been pregnant? How many people has Russell Crowe dated/married/planned a surprise wedding with?
Every other form of ‘news’ requires standards, fact-checking and an ethical code of conduct, so why not the celebrity world? Is it because it’s all just a bit of light-hearted fun? Is it plain, old lazy journalism? Is it because famous people are difficult to access for comment? Is it, like Russell says, a problem of leadership within media organisations, who only care about the dollar signs rather than the integrity of what goes to print?
And if the things written are not outright fabrications, they are irresponsible rumours or sensational claims made by ‘unidentified sources’ that spread like wildfire in the digital age and can have serious consequences for those involved. Rebel Wilson is just one celeb who’d had enough when she made a multi-million dollar defamation claim against an Australian mag that portrayed her as a serial liar, resulting in job losses – she won.
If, on the rare occasion there is some truth to what’s published, words are twisted, images are taken out of context, something is made out of nothing. Like that time Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte was spotted with a blonde woman in the back of a car. True, he was sitting in the back of the car. And true there was a blonde woman there. And surprise! IT WAS HIS SISTER! But just when you think the tabloids would leave it at that, the ridiculous headlines started appearing, “IS LOCHTE HAVING A RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS SISTER?” No you douchebag. He’s sitting in the back of a car with her and she’s blonde and that’s all there is to it.
And let me be clear, this isn’t just about the conscience-less ‘journalists’ – I am equally appalled, outraged and embarrassed as a consumer of entertainment news that our society has gotten to a point where we have such a huge appetite for devastation in other people’s lives. A divorce, an affair, a mental breakdown – this is emotionally shattering stuff and yet it’s played out like light entertainment for the masses.
They’re just celebrities, who cares?
I hear ya, there are more important things to worry about than the fluffy things written about celebrities. But here’s the thing. Those fluffy things trickle down into the real world and become normalised. We wonder why our children bully each other, yet as adults, we are obsessed with this gazillion dollar industry of humiliation, lies, gossip and creepy photos. Yes creepy, because if someone has to hide in the shadows with a long range camera to get that topless shot of you (think Kate Middleton holidaying in a private estate in Provence circa 2012), that’s creepy.
Is it just me or does it all seem so wrong? Have we forgotten (as both media and consumers) that these are real people? With real lives? With real children? And parents? And partners? And friends? And feelings? They feel humiliation, depression, anger and all those things that make us HUMAN.
That photo and headline of Russell and Fifi isn’t just a photo and headline that will sell magazines. It’s something that his 2 sons will be exposed to. That her daughter will see. That actual partners. exes and families will see.
I remember feeling sick hearing Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner speaking at a hearing calling for anti-paparazzi laws in California to protect their CHILDREN. Isn’t it just common sense NOT to stalk, harass and terrorise little kids for a photo?
Ok the kids I get, but the celebrities themselves WANT to be in the spotlight! It’s all part of the deal, right?
Of course they are public figures in the public eye, and there is interest in what they’re doing. But no one, NO ONE, signs up to have outright lies written about them that can damage their relationships, their families, their reputation and their lives. No one thinks, YES! I want to be an actress AND have shit made up about me! No one.
Let me explain this using a statement made by Prince Harry’s people in 2016 shortly after he and Meghan went public with their relationship:
“He is also aware that there is significant curiosity about his private life. He has never been comfortable with this, but he has tried to develop a thick skin about the level of media interest that comes with it. He has rarely taken formal action on the very regular publication of fictional stories that are written about him and he has worked hard to develop a professional relationship with the media, focused on his work and the issues he cares about.”
Did you read that? The bit about “his work and the issues he cares about.” THAT is what actors, musicians, artists (and royals!) sign up to – interest in their work, their movies, their music, their clothing lines, their humanitarian work, their sporting achievements.
And if you’re about to pull the Kardashian card on me, let me say this. I believe – and I know not everyone will agree – there is a big difference between Khloe sharing details of her life on social media or on the latest ep of KUWTK– something she has expressly consented to – and a guy sitting in a car, in the dark, secretly following her boyfriend and filming him through the window of a club, selling the footage to celebrity websites.
Yeah but this stuff is everywhere, what can we do about it?
That’s a hard one. As far as members of the media are concerned, it will be up to each individual to think about what kind of journalist they really want to be. There are obvious cases of crossing the line (you can’t get much worse than hacking someone’s phone and accessing their private conversations, but then again, you never know) and then there are the not-so-obvious cases, perhaps something that just requires a bit of extra thought about the impact of the words being published.
And if, like me, you enjoy reading about your favourite Hollywood stars, maybe it’s time to listen to the celebrities themselves.
Dax Shepard once said, “the power lies with the consumer” – he and wife Kristen Bell were asking us, the lovers of the celebrity world, to make a conscious decision NOT to read publications with photos of their children, taken without consent. You know the ones. They’re usually blurry and no one is looking at the camera.
Bec Judd also has a solution. She came up with the brilliant hashtag #dontclickonthatshit in response to a series of pathetic “news” stories written about fellow media personality Samantha Armytage. It’s pretty simple really. The more we click on those stories, the more stories like that will be published. So break the cycle. Start thinking about what we are clicking on. Think twice about what sort of media organisation your money is going to when you pick up that magazine or newspaper and whether you really want to support their work.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you agree/disagree? Remember to keep the conversation respectful.