Hypocrisy as justification, and separating celebrity from reality

This may not come as a big surprise: Piers Morgan was being particularly cretinous yesterday. I heard him on the radio and later saw him on BBC1, both times laying into celebrities who complain about the paparazzi while demanding attention at film premieres. It’s the most common argumentative strategy in the world: cry hypocrisy and claim moral equivalence, as if this addresses the original question in any way.

There’s clearly a good reason behind wanting and giving attention to celebrities at film premieres / whatever they have to promote. Even celebrities who are simply famous-for-being-famous are in a win-win situation with the tabloids – they get exposure, the tabloids sell papers. Why hound them when they don’t want to be hounded? Because it’s clearly advantageous to the papers, not because of ad hoc rationalisations – even if some celebrities are being hypocritical, you still need to justify hiding in their gardens. Nobody would pay any attention to a stalker of Angelina Jolie if he said ‘she wants my attention when promoting her films, it’s hypocritical to say I can’t follow her around in a creepy fashion’. Shopkeepers don’t regularly follow me home, knock on the door and try to sell me kettles just because I want their attention sometimes. Like I said: cretin.

At the other end of the spectrum is Charlie Brooker, who gives every impression of being an entirely decent human being in this column. Addressing Heat magazine’s making fun of Jordan’s disabled child, he says:

This might seem a bit rich coming from someone (ie me) who regularly says cruel things about public figures for comic effect. Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed I scrawled some fairly abusive things about Jordan myself in this weekend’s Screen Burn column in the Guide, for instance. Isn’t Heat effectively doing the same thing, only with more gusto, not to mention photos?

Good question. Thanks for asking. My defence, in as much as I’ve worked it out, runs like this: people on TV aren’t real people. They’re flickering, two-dimensional representations of people, behaving unnaturally and often edited to the point of caricature. They’re fictional characters and it’s easy to hate them. Everybody hates someone on TV. But you never really hate them the way you’d hate, say, a rapist. Because they’re not really there, and with one or two exceptions (TV psychics, say), they’re ultimately harmless. Put Vernon Kay on my screen and I’ll gleefully spit venom at him. Sit me next to him at a dinner party and I’ll probably find him quite charming, unless he does something appalling. That’s not hypocritical, it’s rational.

[tries to resist making sarcastic comment about rational abilities of the average critic]

[T]here’s surely a world of difference between tipping cartoon buckets of shit over someone’s TV persona, and paying a paparazzo to hide behind a bush to take photos of their arse as they stroll down the beach in real life, so you can make your readers feel momentarily better about themselves because ha ha her bumcheeks are flabby and ho ho he’s bald and tee hee she’s sobbing. And even if you accept that degree of intrusion, on the basis that these people rely on the media and yadda yadda yadda, how insanely superior and removed from reality do you have to be to invite your readers to laugh at a photograph of a small disabled boy whose only “crime” is a) being disabled and b) having a famous mum with “SAGGY BOOBS”?

I like Charlie Brooker.