Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Jade Goody Phenomenon

Jade Goody was one of the biggest media stories of 2009. For those who don't know who she was, Jade was a reality television star that frequented several several reality shows including Big Brother, during which she became a controversial figure in the house for her lack of knowledge and racist comments towards Indian actress Shilpa Shetty which resulted in Jade being kicked off the show and over 50,000 consumer complaints to the networks. Jade continued to be a prominent figure in reality television shows and became a big star in the UK, having been part of numerous books (including a biography) and headlines and sold many products despite many polls suggesting most people had a negative opinion of her. While doing the reality TV gig "Bigg Boss" in India, Jade received the call that she had cervical cancer and left the show. She eventually found out the cancer was terminal and continued to live her life in the spotlight, heavily relying on the media to cover her every move and making a documentary as the disease ravaged her body. Jade gave interviews and allowed the media to tape and photograph her throughout the last months of her life. Jade even sold her wedding photos (marrying long-term reality TV star and criminal Jack Tweed) to the tabloids. Jade justified such behavior by saying that she was saving the money for her children, Bobby and Freddie, despite the huge salary and assets Jade already had as a result of her career choices. The media descended on Jade and public tide for her flipped, resulting in the public fixating on every morbid detail of her last days and elevating her into a somewhat saintly figure. Her husband Jack was able to get a significant portion of time out of jail (for assault) to spend time with her during her final months. Sadly, Jade Goody passed away on March 22, 2009, at age 27 on Mother's Day. Her home was flooded with flowers and cards of sympathy and mass public outcry (somewhat like the events that transpired after Princess Diana's demise, on a smaller scale).

Jade Goody made many enemies during her years for her racist views and comments and aroused antagonism from many in life as well as with the choices she made in handling the last month of her life so publicly. When Jade got cancer, public polls went from strong disagreement to a positive image and even many of Jade's detractors began to think of her as a wonderful person and forgot how much they had disliked her. They watched her deteriorate and die like bloodthirsty hounds, anxious for every new development. Even OK! magazine leaked the cover of their tribute issue with the years of her birth and death before she even died. The British public couldn't seem to get enough of Jade Goody.

I am astounded that the public could change their opinion so widely about someone because they became terminally ill. The truth is that cancer or any terminal illness is a horrible fate not to be wished upon anyone. I am appauled by the hypocrisy of the public for sanctifying Jade Goody after their constantly ridiculing her. I am disturbed that the public salivated for new photos of her and grisly details about her last days and that magazines and newspapers kept feeding the public very private details and fueling an inappropriate fire. I am completely baffled by the fact that Jack Tweed was able to get a get-out-of-jail-free card to be with her. As much as the public romanticized these two, the man committed serious crimes of assault and shouldn't have been given special privilege regardless of the circumstances as other criminals don't receive such treatment. Part of the punishment of being in jail is not being able to be there for milestones. As much as the public sympathized with Jade and wanted Jack by her side, it is unbelievable that he was shown such leniency and exception in the matter when that option is not available to anyone else in any similar situation. I am surprised that a disliked public figure and her criminal husband could be perceived as one of the great romances of the year. There are many wonderful couples who never receive such unprecedented attention who have a far more positive story to tell and many cancer patients and terminally ill stars who deserve to have their stories told as well and never get that chance, even if they were far better an example. I'm am not a fan of Jade's decision to live the end of her life in the public eye to raise money for her sons, but I can see both sides of the argument. I think it's noble to try to ensure her sons have a good life but she already was banking quite a bit of money and her husband was a TV presenter and the children weren't going to live poorly by any means already. Marrying someone guilty of assault and exposing your sons constantly to that person doesn't seem to be an idea of great foresight. Sure, we all make mistakes (though most of us never on that scale). However, Jack Tweed committed assault twice, once against a 16 year old boy. Fortunately, the children will spend most of the time with their father (who is not Jack Tweed). Jade Goody's short life and death is a great example of the media's exploitation of human suffering and the public's incessant and unnecessary "need to know" as well as the concept of elevating someone to a status they don't deserve just to sell papers.

I am glad Jade Goody is no longer suffering and is finally at peace. I may not have been fond of her but I was sad to hear she got cancer and I hoped it would not be fatal. I hope the media and public can finally leave her alone, even though I am aware she invited much of that attention. It just all went too far. My only consolation is that the rates of cervical cancer screenings in the UK went up 40%. Perhaps something good comes out of tragedy after all.

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