Hounding J K Rowling and other authors, as celebrities, is just creepy

J. K. Rowling’s revelations about the British media reveal a mind-set in the UK that, to me as a writer and long-standing freelance participant in journalism and magazine media, is flat out disgraceful.

Especially her reported statement that a journalist intercepted her 5-year old’s schoolbag and slipped a letter for Rowling into it. Yuck. If a non-journalist followed a 5-year old and interfered with them in some way – what does that look like?

I can’t even begin to say how appalling this is, and not just from the perspective of professional journalists who have better standards. Stalking of any kind is an author’s worst nightmare. I mean, serious authors don’t write because they crave the publicity or see the limelight as an end goal – those who do that usually aren’t good or lasting writers.

Most of the authors that I know write for the love of writing. Publicity and status are an unwanted side-effect. I know that’s true for me. Indeed, those who have a Myers-Briggs classification that can be reorganised to spell PINT (as in ‘beer’, but pronounced ‘Spock’) find any limelight stressful. And the notion of stalkers with notepads and cameras actually camped outside your door…Argh, noooooo!

The worst of it is that Rowling was evidently not pursued because she is a great author (which she is – more on that anon). She was apparently pursued because she’s well-known and had a new baby.

That reported motive, to me, seems symptomatic  of the problem. Celebrities are chased not for actual abilities or skills, but because they can be targeted with headlines like: ‘Celebrity X’s shock cellulite horror’. They must, it seems, first be presented as physically perfect (which they are not) and then brought down to the level of us ugly people. Worse, they are also presented as behaviourally defective. We are deluged with stories of stars arguing, dumping and making up with each other on a weekly basis – in short, the erratic behaviour of borderline personality disorder, often with classic splitting and co-morbid anorexia/bulimia to boot.

This is driven, of course, by the need to incite reader attention coupled with weekly publication schedules – it tells us nothing about the reality of the stars. However, it does expose a good deal about the reality of our cultural expectations. To me, British tabloid behaviour is symptomatic, rather than causal. Still, it’s rather got out of hand in the face of market forces.

Have any of you had experiences like this? Or been bothered by the media? Personally I’ve never been famous enough as an author to end up at the receiving end of it.

What would I do if I was targeted by inappropriate media conduct? Well, I’ve worked professionally for years in media management and PR, and I write freelance for the main national papers. I know the rules. And New Zealand is not a large place, in terms of its communities.

That said, I’ve had a few issues with non-media stalking. I learned the hard way that some people, including more than one professional academic, define themselves through their interest and ambition to publish same. When I write a book on that topic, some of these folks regard my effort as a personal attack that must be avenged in kind. Engaging their tirades only aggravates them. And a few times I’ve received abusive letters directly at my home address. I’m not discoverable in the phone book, suggesting determined efforts by strangers who have made me the focus of their anger. And that’s scary. I’m not John Lennon, but still…

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2011

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7 comments on “Hounding J K Rowling and other authors, as celebrities, is just creepy

  1. In Hollywood, the paparazzi make life hell for celebs ( of course most celebs aren’t doing themselves any favors either ) but I don’t think this or ‘journalists’ (in quotes because I don’t believe in their existence any more) sneaking notes into elementary school children’s bags would happen if the public didn’t eat it up like candy. The attitude change has to come from the consumers. I think it is changing and that is partly why news media organizations around the world are folding like paper at an oragami festival. I hope we have grown tired of it. I would prefer celebrities have a private life and journalists uncovered political scandals and not celebrity underwear (or lack of).

  2. I’m on the fence with this one. On the one hand, I’m almost excited that Rowling is being treated as a celebrity. She’s a writer – she doesn’t have to bear her skin, or act in flashy movies, or sing sultry songs about boys…she’s being celebrated for her talent in an art that I sometimes fear is being forgotten. 20, 30, 40 years ago, writers just didn’t have that sort of following. There are celebs today that would kill for the droves of fans that Rowling has. I always find it incredible that books were the medium in which she used to garner this sort of attention. We need more people like this.

    With that being said, do I think the journalist was right to do what he did? No, of course not. Never in a million years.

    That subject aside, I agree with the above (Noelle). The media wouldn’t be publishing those stories if the rest of the world didn’t eat it up like they do.

  3. J Holmes says:

    Great article. If someone had attempted to “intercept” my children I would have done something very “American” to them.

    I remember when Princess Di was pregnant and some moron stuck his head in her bathroom window to photograph her experiencing morning sickness. I hope that the security has been improved since then. In the US the Secret Service has a name for people like that,”target practice”

  4. I’d hate to feel the limelight. I write because i love it and I self-publish. I have a small audience, but can engage with them via email, regardless of where they are in the world.

    I feel like my characters write their own story.. As the pen is my tool, I am theirs and they use me to show their story to the world. So, with that logic, I don’t feel like I should ever be the one getting praise of anything. I would much rather just be me.

    If you’re gonna pin my work on someone, let it be the characters within it’s pages…. and may they leave my head when the series is complete

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