Sunday, March 22, 2009

Farewell Darling Jade

And so farewell then, Jade Goody, the brave and brilliant mum who did it all for her family and for victims of cancer, Her story is a parable for our modern times. A death to give us all hope. Read all about it on pages 2,3,4,5,6,7, including Jade’s last words and Jack’s hospital romps with dying star. Ok, I’m making that up - but only just. Every detail of Jade’s final days will no doubt be revealed under the various contracts negotiated by her agents. Her own memorial edition of OK magazine, "Jade Goody, 1981 - 2009, Official Tribute, was published with her consent even before she died. You couldn’t make that up.

The celebrity death watch on this unfortunate young woman was certainly a sign of the times. A defining moment in the history of celebrity culture, a tabloid Passion. After a benediction from the red-top Pope, Max Clifford, plastic surgeons and perfume manufacturers will carry her coffin to lie in state in the diary room, as the paparazzi fire off a 24 bulb salute. Her partner, Jack, will stand in state, accompanied by his probation officers. The Sun has opened a condolence book and is offering cash prizes to the sauciest entries. A statue of Jade Goody will be erected in the Big Brother garden.

I know we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, and I don’t intend to, even though someone who sold their own terminal illness to the popular press can’t expect to be treated lightly by posterity. But in her departure, Jade Goody, did achieve some kind of grace and a certain nobility. The government has promised to review the minimum age for cervical cancer screening, so in a real sense her death may allow others to live. She donated some of the proceeds of her celebrity wedding to charity, so the slumdog millionairess has the moral edge on the scumbag bankers like ‘Sir’ Fred Goodwin.

But the beatification of Jade Goody is something else - it is a dubious celebration of the crass culture of the early 21st Century. The coverage of her decline was as undignified as it was tasteless - death as reality television. The attempts now to elevate her to a kind of underclass sainthood are deeply unattractive, even if they are well intentioned. Jade Goody can only ever be the patron saint of stupid; a product of a media that celebrates ignorance; a reflection of a society devoid of moral purpose. Her place in history is assured as one of the defining characters of the money-for-nothing bubble years when we lost any sense of real worth.

Jade Goody’s life was stranger than any fiction. A former dental nurse who rose to national prominence for thinking East Anglia was abroad and that Rio de Janeiro was a footballer became the ultimate celebrity - famous for being famous. The commercial endorsements followed her appearance on Big Brother in 2002 - where she succeeded in coming fourth - as did the boob jobs and beatings; the therapy and the dysfunctional relationships. After a few years the tabloids began to lose interest in the woman they had taken to calling the “fat pig”. Though she made many millions before her disastrous comeback appearance in 2007.

From being famous for being famous Jade Goody became infamous for being infamous. Her racist taunts of one of the Big Brother contestants, Shilpa Shetty, became a national issue, debated in parliament no less, and led to her being vilified by the media that had invented her. Worse, for a product of the L’Oreal age, she was dropped by the cosmetics industry because she really wasn’t worth it. She tried to rehabilitate herself by appearing on Bollywood Big Brother in India, but here it was that she met her fate, with the discovery that she had cervical cancer.

In a savage irony, this turned out to be Jade Goody’s best career move. As her battle with cancer progressed her earning power recovered. Soon she was Brave Jade, a mother doing all and selling all for her children. But only through death could she achieve tabloid redemption, and as the end drew nigh a macabre auction ensued as various populist organs bid for pieces of her final story. I suppose by the get-rich standards of modern times, her decision to exploit her illness was curiously admirable. If moral worth is to be measured by how much money you make, then what could be more worthy than getting it while you still can?

The scary thing, though, is that an entire generation of young women may now start seeing the late Jade Goody as a role model, as an inspiration. We already know that far too many young people, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, say: “famous”, as if celebrity is a career option. They want to be Paris Hilton or Jordan or any number of attention-seeking surgical freaks. Will young girls now model their careers on Jade Goody? If so, how do you emulate this modern paragon? Presumably by learning nothing, earning anything, making an exhibition of yourself and turning your death into a media circus.

Of course, this is not the time to attack Jade Goody just for being what she was. But it is a time to think very seriously about the society that made her. She was always excused her excesses on the grounds that Jade was ‘just being herself’. Her authenticity was her justification, even though almost everything about her was contrived - even her weight loss was based on lipo-suction rather than the exercise and diet regime she sold in her videos. She may have been dumb, but at public relations she was a genius.

But it all had to end. And as the 21 car funeral cortege winds its way through Bermondsey to the “ultimate party” planned to celebrate her life, comparisons will inevitably be drawn with the funeral of Diana Princess of Wales in 1997. It will be a morbid satire on the entire celebrity industry. Diana was the Peoples Princess, Jade was the Empress of the Estates. May they both rest in peace.

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