Idol Chatter

jade-goody.jpgYou may not have heard of British reality TV star Jade Goody, best known for her appearances on the UK Big Brother series, but she is now inspiring writers from Time Magazine to the New York Times to pick up their pens. The former dental assistant with a big mouth–and even bigger ambition–is dying and doing it rather publicly.

A poor man’s Paris Hilton, someone who is famous for merely being famous, the 27-year-old daughter of drug addicts has been the beloved object of the UK media’s derision and the British public’s fascination.  Initially, the tabloids ridiculed her for having astounding gaps in her basic knowledge of Britain and its history, but then they took her to task for using racially offensive language while harassing Indian actress Shilpa Shetty, a fellow housemate on Celebrity Big Brother.

Hoping to shed her reputation of being a racist, Goody appeared on India’s version of Big Brother, only to be told three days after filming that she had late-stage cervical cancer. Since then, Goody has continued to film a series of reality shows with Living TV.  Even though the shows began filming prior to her diagnosis, the shows now follow the progress of her cancer treatment.  Sadly, the self-made star was told the day before Valentine’s Day that she had only weeks to live the day.

“I’ve lived in front of the cameras. And maybe I’ll die in front of them,” Goody told the News of the World after hearing the crushing news. “And I know some people don’t like what I’m doing, but at this point I really don’t care what other people think.”  Goody’s publicist has confirmed that her actual death would not be filmed.  At least one report says that the filming will stop with her star-studded wedding, which happened this past weekend.

London Journal” columnist Sarah Lyall, who writes the New York Times, didn’t appreciate Goody’s comment.  “This is reality television carried out to its most extreme, grotesque conclusion, one not even envisioned in the film “The Truman Show” all those years ago,” Lyall said.

Personally, I disagree. How is the Goody reality TV coverage any different from PBS documentaries on palliative care of terminally ill individuals? Even the fabulous Tammy Faye had a documentary, “Tammy Faye: Death Defying,” chronicle her recurrence of colon cancer.  By following families as they deal with the impending demise of loved ones until the moment of death, Goody’s shows educate viewers about the reality of death and dying, a reality that is often hidden in the hospital.

Perhaps Goody’s shows are being ridiculed because they’re airing on the wrong type of networks, and they are being called reality shows instead of a documentaries.  Or, is there money involved? I have a sneaking suspicion it’s the latter. Many can’t help but see the hypocrisy of a press who made money deriding the reality star but who are now cashing in on sympathetic coverage of her dying. Yet Goody has also said to the press that she is securing her sons’ futures with her reality show contracts.  She also has entrepreneurial projects  such as perfume, exercise videos, and autobiographies.  So, perhaps there is mutual exploitation.

Coverage of Goody’s plight has also been educational to British women, spurring a dramatic uptick of women being screened for cervical cancer. Doctors have dubbed this the “Jade Goody effect.”

“Jade will certainly be earning hundreds of thousands of pounds over the next few weeks,” her publicist Max Clifford tells the Daily Mail. “But she is arranging her affairs to make sure her sons get the best possible start in life. And she is genuinely thrilled to hear that, because of her, the numbers of women being tested for cervical cancer have gone up by 21 per cent.”

Sarah Lyall also wrote that critics want Goody to “reclaim some of the dignity she sold years ago by doing her dying at home, alone.” In her own way, I think, Jade is reclaiming her dignity–for a woman so ridiculed for her lack of education, she certainly is educating a nation.

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