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