On Saturday 15th February news broke of the tragic death of ex-Love Island presenter, Caroline Flack. The weeks following her arrest for domestic abuse in December 2019 were filled with incessant amounts of online harassment and the press’ ‘assassination’ of the TV presenter’s character. It is this ‘assassination’ by the press that has come under intense scrutiny in the days following her death, with many blaming UK tabloids for the struggles that ultimately led Flack to take her own life.
So, is the press to blame? Talking about celebrity mental health, given the uniquely delicate history of Love Island contestants and the struggles related with being in the spotlight, makes this topic particularly difficult. The deaths of two of the show’s contestants – Sophie Gradon (32) in 2018, and Mike Thalssitis (26) in 2019 – have once again raised old concerns about the impact of public media scrutiny on mental health.
Last week, an online petition was launched requesting a formal inquiry into the press’ treatment of Caroline. What is concerning is that in 2011 a similar petition was started, which led to a governmental inquiry into the ethics, practices and intrusive culture of the UK press. Nothing substantial came out as a result of the 2011 inquiry, with questions regarding celebrity privacy and free speech in the media still up in the air.
Caroline had been vocal about the struggles she faced, and the strain media coverage was placing on her mental health. And while there are many factors that could have ultimately led her to commit suicide, it seems clear the British press played at least some part in it. The UK’s widespread consumption of tabloid newspapers has led to a ‘tabloidisation’ of the news, filled with heavily opinionated pieces judging the lives of celebrities. Outlets like The Sun and Daily Mirror have been receiving criticism on their mistreatment and slander of celebrities. Meghan Markle, Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears, and Princess Diana have all been victims of the demonisation of celebrities and reality-tv personalities by the press – and all have suffered gravely as a result. Unfortunately, the common factor among tabloid treatment of celebrities is the complete lack of empathy awarded to them when they are anything less than perfect.
What is it that attracts us about wounded and imperfect celebrities (or rather, women), that leads us to create a market for headlines like ‘Caroline Whack’? And does the responsibility lie on the news outlets who nit-pick at the details of a celebrity’s life, or on the readers who finance these outlets?
Rather than play the blame game, it is perhaps time for both readers and news outlets to step up and denounce a business model that profits off other people’s pain and loss of privacy. It is only in their death that celebrities become ‘human’ to us once again. Only once the victims are no longer with us are we concerned for their mental health. How long, and how many more lives will celebrity cancel culture take before things change?