09 December 2012
Some years ago while promoting my book Aliens I appeared on a TV morning show ‘hosted’ by Fern Britton and Phillip Schofield. On the sofa with me was a woman who claimed she had been abducted by aliens. She was pleasant, nervous and obviously disturbed. (I should say I don’t for a moment believe she had been abducted.) Schofield gave her a hard time, playing bad cop while Fern, the good cop, smiled sweetly. The woman was suffering and confused. It was horrible and, to this day, I hate myself for not shouting Schofield down and walking out. He, I concluded, was a grade A jerk, an impression lately reinforced by his trashy little scam when he handed Cameron a list of supposed paedophiles, picked up from internet rumours.
Then the two Australian DJs do their prank call to the King Edward VII hospital and one of the nurses who was pranked kills herself. I know, I know, we don’t have the full facts and this has made some, understandably, reluctant to judge. But look at what we do know. The Duchess of Cambridge had a condition that could have made her miscarry, this was a hospital, a place full of very sick people and, finally, the two DJs thought it reasonable to trick nurses looking after these people for the purposes of the cheapest and nastiest imaginable entertainment. Under the circumstances, I have no choice but to add these two DJs to my list of Grade A jerks.
But I wasn’t, I confess, that shocked when I heard of the prank. Probably most people weren’t. We all know about prank calls and the way they form part of ‘pop’ culture. We’ve probably all laughed at a few in our time. When the nurse died, however, I realised I had unthinkingly accepted the idea that the media had a right to do such things and that it was funny to be cruel.
There’s a long history of this. Candid Camera made a success out of making the public look silly; in fact, it was that show that made it part of the media language. That, however, is no reason to accept, rather it is a reason to ask what is actually going on. The answer is casual cruelty perpetrated by a petty elite who regard such behaviour as an essential aspect of their own cool, hip, right-on personae.
So this is just to say: there’s a lot of it about, life is short, we’re all in the same boat and who the fuck do these people think they are? Who the fuck do we think we are?