Archive for June, 2012

20th Jun 2012

Fathers, Sons, Celebrity Ambitions

Last week, in the build up to Father’s Day, I acted as a consultant to a PR agency working with a client that had surveyed dads on their future wishes for their sons and daughters. The research showed how traditional ideas about success – becoming a doctor, owning a big business – had been superseded by the media-driven, talent-show cult of celebrity. This was my brief response to the survey findings…

Talent shows of the past, like Opportunity Knocks, were viewed as light entertainment. Audiences were not really interested in the performers themselves but what they could act out or sing. Today’s talent shows are taken far more seriously by performers, judges and audiences. The human interest dimension, stirred up by tabloids and glossies, can sometimes elevate relatively talentless people – the miming Cheryl Cole type – onto the media rostrum.

Adults are just as vulnerable as children to this illusory version of success. Although it may appear, year after year, series after series, that more and more people are finding fame and fortune via the talent-show platform, in reality very few succeed, even fewer make a living, and many fall by the wayside before they’ve had a chance to shine. Fewer than one in a million makes it big time. One gets born every minute – but many more succumb to a speedy death.

The fact that over half of fathers would rather see their children win The Voice than become a speech therapist, however, tells us more about the limited ambitions of contemporary manhood than it does about the unhealthy influence of Sir Tom Jones et al. In twenty-first-century Britain, unlike the previous century, boys do less well at school than girls, obtain lower qualifications, are more likely to turn to crime as a source of income, and very often find themselves being out-performed and out-recruited by their female peers. Many of the macho heavy-industry jobs of yesteryear – those that required muscle over mind – no longer provide a get-out either. No wonder that boys and men turn to the stage as a potential escape route from the call centre or supermarket. Perhaps we should change the title of that Noel Coward song to Don’t Put Your Son on the Stage, Mr Worthington!


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04th Jun 2012

Royalty and the Media: a 3-G Model

The Diamond Jubilee River Thames Pageant wasn’t really spoilt by the wet weather. For the million or so people lining the banks of the river it was a damp squip - but for the billions of people watching the event worldwide on television or the web, the spectacular camera shots from above, across and below would have looked much the same come rain or shine.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether the Monarchy has a role to play in twentieth-first-century Britain, I’d like to propose a 3-G model for understanding the relationship between members of the Royal Family and Her Majesty’s Press/Broadcasters. By 3-G I refer to the three generations of accession to the throne (we await the fourth with baited breath – and no, Tweeters, she’s not pregnant yet!).

First up, and highest of them all, the Queen herself - and the Duke of Edinburgh, still smiling after all these years. Quite rightly, their relationship with the media can be summed up in one word: indifference. The Queen rarely smiles, when she does it’s genuine and not put on for the cameras, and most of the time she looks downright unimpressed. Good on Her Majesty! In these days of PR-spun-media-plasticity, it’s deeply refreshing and reassuring to witness this great Queen, in her nineth decade, caring little for public opinion… and even less for the tabloids.

Second in line – still waiting after all these years – is Prince Charles, the Crown Prince (if only he had his hands on it). Charles and his faithful companion Camilla are more conscious of press intrusion than their elders. Both have had their fair share of media and public criticism, the ghost of Diana forever haunting their communion, but their actions in front of the camera remain, to all intents and purposes, reasonably authentic. Indeed, a series of recent media appearances show Charles looking happier and more relaxed than ever before. His BBC Weather forecast is one such example. He enjoys the carnival atmosphere and plays up to the orchestra – a true man of the theatre, though not of the National Theatre (which he famously likened to a nuclear power station).

For the third generation, however, authenticity of action is closer to the televisual than the theatrical. For William and Kate (and Harry, sort of with them, but not quite knowing where to stand) the whole emphasis is on the body, or the dress, or the gesture – but movement and audience-participation are strictly controlled. No street-partying and public hugging permitted here. These royal junveniles hand-pick their encounters and work hard at doing not very much at all – except looking great and smiling on cue.

So that’s the 3-G model: genuinely media-oblivious (first generation); theatrically authentic (second); televisually spun (third). If the Monarchy is to survive and retain the respect it enjoys today, the youngsters must learn from the grandparents this basic rule… that appearances are everything, and nothing. After all, an unelected Monarch can do whatever she or he likes – so let’s keep things aloof!

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