Blewcoat School, London
With a heart full of love and a belly bursting with warming winter food, it’s time to make the long journey home to the last of the summer days in the southern hemisphere. I’m very ready to get back to the special people in my life, now that I’ve had my fill of love on the emerald isle. I’m glad to be leaving behind the harsh winter weather that soaked into my shoes and stole up my spine. It had been 15 years since I’d been in the northern hemisphere in the month of February hence why I’d forgotten to pack appropriately.
Celebrate Good Times
Every minute of my trip was memorable, but the best part of all was being back in the bosom of my family to celebrate eighty years of Dad. I feel truly blessed that all five of my siblings made it to home to mark this auspicious occasion.
Blogging in the sky
I’m writing this week’s blog on board the Qantas Dreamliner bound for Perth after a surprisingly smooth journey from central London to Heathrow airport despite the travel chaos caused by the recent weather conditions. Parts of the UK were hit badly by flooding and 100km winds that wreaked havoc for many. The flight is jam-packed as the same flight yesterday was actually cancelled. Just before take-off the pilot announced that, thanks to a strong tailwind, we should be home in around 16 hours. You can imagine how lucky I am feeling right now. Especially considering the outward journey took 18 hours due to a headwind all the way.
As I was travelling on the Heathrow Express train on my way to the airport I passed the time watching the BBC breakfast news. Admittedly, it was just a 15-minute train journey and an expensive one at that! At over $30 for a one-way ticket, I would expect nothing less than a decent TV screen. Anyway, I digress. Making the headlines today was the story of Caroline Flack who sadly took her own life in the past few days. She came to fame in recent years as a presenter on the TV show Love Island which attracts huge ratings because of its promise of fame and fortune for both the contestants and the presenters. For those of you not familiar with the show, it’s a reality TV show that thrusts a collection of twentysomethings into close quarters in a holiday villa for about eight weeks. During that time, the contestants are given the task of pairing up, going on staged “dates” and strutting around in beachwear. Every week, the public vote on which couples they want to boot off, while opportunities to recouple also arise, which can lead to some conflict when contestants blatantly leave their lover for another islander. The show has become synonymous with creating overnight successes out of young people who have no idea what they are letting themselves in for. Caroline was considered by many to be a talented and ambitious UK radio and TV presenter who had made a name for herself in her twenties when she worked for Channel 4. She gained a huge following as a result of her involvement with Love Island. Having worked in the fickle world of media myself, I have seen just how quickly people can go from being loved, to being hated by audiences, reporters and the unscrupulous paparazzi. It all goes swimmingly while they’re being adored by the masses. They apparently thrive on the attention but gain a false sense of self-esteem from the millions of followers on social media without giving much thought to the fact they have inadvertently become public property. Then all it takes is for them to put a foot out of place, to reveal their fragility, make a mistake and boom! As quick as their rise to fame was, so is their fall from grace. They are pounced upon and vilified. And that’s what happened to Caroline. One minute she was the darling of the media and the next she was being thrown to the wolves for having made a mistake that had nothing to do with anyone but her and her partner. Sadly, she was so terrified by the wolves that she escaped before they could get her.
Her heartbreaking story has a lot to teach us about the toxic nature of the media and the massive impact their reporting has on people like Caroline. It all stems from the media’s obsession with ratings, their greed for market share which they achieve by preying on people’s vulnerabilities and feeding the public stories that allow their audience to escape their own mediocre lives. And it isn’t just the media that attacked Caroline. It was also the ugly, ignorant trolls who find it too easy to attack people while they hide away behind their computers in their dark holes.
Thankfully there are plenty of caring people out there who are rising up and demanding change. An online petition named ‘Caroline’s Law’ has gone viral in the past 24 hours and has already achieved over 500,000 signatures that aims to make it a criminal offence for the British media to “knowingly and relentlessly bully a person, whether they be in the public eye or not, up to the point that they take their own life.” It also seeks to have social media platforms make it illegal to abuse people online and make it a requirement for people creating social media accounts to provide an ID to prove who they are and their age.
The description of the petition says: “We’ll never truly know all of the things that were going on in Caroline’s mind when she made the decision to take her life”. It also suggests sections of the media were happy to “drag her life through the wringer purely in order to sell a few more papers”. It’s about bloody time that the media were brought to account for sensationalising the misfortune of people to the catastrophic detriment of their mental health.
Young and impressionable
I hadn’t heard of Love Island before recently returning to the British Isles as I’m not a big TV viewer, but I’ve heard all I need to know about it in the past few days. I watched it briefly in Ireland where it has become compulsive viewing amongst the 15 to 30 age group. The first thing that struck me was the ridiculous appearance of the young girls – made up to the nines, on a mission to find fame and fortune, acting grown up but clearly young and foolish. They all look alike with their puffy, pouty lips that scream of fillers and eyelashes that look like they’ve been plucked off a creepy spider and glued on to their lids. Their make-up renders them doll-like and their hair unnaturally groomed to perfection to the point it no longer looks real.
Now, I realise that I might come across as a jealous, fifty-something, wrinkled, old-fashioned, out-of-touch whinger but I can assure you I am not. There is ample opportunity for me, if I so wish, to invest my time, money and energy in delaying the signs of ageing. But experience has taught me that happiness comes from the inside and growing old gracefully suits me better. Alright, perhaps I could make more of an effort, but that’s another story.
Putting my own ego and projections to one side, I am genuinely concerned for the youth of today. They don’t have the wisdom of the years to guide them and to allow them to understand what a meaningful life looks like. And so, they become bait for the TV executives who only care about ratings and profit. To these young people, making it onto reality TV is a dream come true but a dream that hasn’t really been thought through very well. Before they know it, they become nothing more than objects of obsession for viewers who drool over their scantily-clad, toned, bronzed, skinny bodies. All the girls I saw on the recent episode of Love Island were of a similar body type which definitely does not represent the real world yet is presented as the most desirable way to be. Imagine the damage this does to the minds and aspirations of the youngsters glued to the TV every week.
Before I boarded my flight, I managed to get on to the internet to research the show as I was interested to know how ITV recruits their contestants for the show. I was gobsmacked to read that more young people applied to appear on the latest season of Love Island than applied to attend either Oxford or Cambridge. The report I read stated that 23, 521 UK residents applied to Oxbridge colleges last year whereas ITV said they received 104,000 applications from wannabe contestants. But little do these naïve wannabes realise that there is a team of ITV producers trawling through Instagram and visiting nightclubs searching for potential cast members who are more likely to bring with them a following to help lift the ratings even further. It’s a big business and one that will suit itself with little regard for the people who put themselves, naively, on the line in the hope of making it big.
It’s time to stop glamorising these dreadful reality TV shows and educate our youngsters about what’s really important.
I know I can’t control everything my kids watch but I can talk to them about the dangers of giving too much credence to the crap they are exposed to. It’s a conversation we need to be having in order to drive home that beauty comes from the inside and body image is far less important than being a decent human being.
I love this quote from the American author and political activist, Helen Keller:
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.
Until next week, all the best to you.