Monthly Archives: December 2013

Harry Styles’ deal with the devil


harry styles, where have you come from. amazing

Q: So what’s all this about Harry Styles? He’s taken out an injunction. What’s that?

A: An injunction is a court order or warning, restraining people from continuing an action that threatens the legal right of another. Harry says photographers follow him and invade his personal space.

Q: Which is?

A: 50 metres. So now photographers can’t stake out or loiter within distance of him.

Q: He’s not the first celebrity to do this, is he?

A: No. There have been several. Cheryl Cole won a similar high court order last year after complaining about the “intense and very annoying” experience of photographers camping outside her home. Lily Allen too. And the late Amy Winehouse. In 2008, when Britney Spears was taken to hospital, the ambulance needed at least 12 police motorcycles to escort it through a swarm of photographers.

Q: So you can understand why they get annoyed.

A: You can. But it’s like a professor getting annoyed by persistent students who are always asking questions, calling him at home and constantly asking for reviews of drafts. The students might be a bit annoying, but without them the professor would be sunk.

Q: You’re not serious. That’s a ridiculous comparison.

A: Follow my logic. Without students, a professor has no one to educate, no one to read his or her books and articles, no one who is interested in learning, no one to lecture. So the prof might get the occasional student who calls at inconvenient times or bombards him or her with drafts of essays. But that goes with the job. It’s not 9 till 5. Celebs need exposure: they become famous because the media, especially the paps, give them phenomenal publicity. Someone like Harry has been elevated to stardom courtesy of television (he shot to fame with One Direction on The X Factor) and has been in the public eye ever since. His band’s records sell in their millions and their concerts sell out. But can you imagine what would happen if the global media decided to ignore them?

Q: All their fans, the “Directioners” would kick up a fuss and … well, I’m not sure what would happen after that. What?

A: We’d all forget about them, stop buying records and all the other merchandise. Television shows would lose interest and stop booking them. And twitter traffic would eventually slow down. The band would still make a living, but, without the kind of media attention 1D now enjoys, it would be headed for oblivion.

Q: You say, “enjoys” but clearly the band, or at least Harry, isn’t enjoying all the attention, is he?

A: Apparently, not. Though the phrase “goes with the territory” should mean something to him. The band has shot to global fame in a relatively short period of time. They appeared in the 2010 X Factor. Harry is still only 19, remember. The band finished in third place behind Rebecca Ferguson, and winner Matt Cardle, neither of whom has made nearly as much impact as 1D. Imagine if they commanded the same kind of attention as Aiden Grimshaw or Katie Waissel, both of whom were in show’s finals, but never registered with the media. I think that when people go on a show like The X Factor, they strike a kind of Faustian bargain: they trade in their right to a private life in exchange for a shot at fame, riches and A-list status. In 1D’s case, the deal came off and the boy band got what it wanted. But Harry seems to want to renege on the deal.

Q: A bit harsh, isn’t it?

A: It sounds it, but surely anyone who contemplates fame – and a great many people, young and old, do – must know that being followed by paps is part of the definition. Being a celeb means that the media are going to chronicle your every move and convey this to consumers. If they lose interest, then chances are fans have either already lost interest or soon will. That’s just the nature of celebrity culture nowadays.

Q: So what will happen?

A: Either this is an astute career move for Harry and he is intent of becoming the most prominent member of the band. He probably already is. Or he could scare off the paps and they will just ignore him. I think the former is more likely. Interest in the band is inevitably limited by time. In a couple of years, fans will move on: look at JLS. But my suspicion is that Harry will try eventually to establish himself independently of the band. @elliscashmore


More questions than answers



4 teammates after the ball

Q: What’s all this about banning sport for children under 14. It’s a joke, right?

A:  No, it’s a serious proposal. A couple of years ago, a member of a high school board in New Hampshire, in the USA, created a fuss when he claimed American football was too dangerous and should be banned from the school. He didn’t get anywhere, of course. But he made some intelligent points. “A game that uses the head as a battering ram is not a smart game to allow a youngster to play,” he said. The National Football League (NFL) has been exercised by the problem of repetitive concussions in the professional game, so you have to believe this is a hazardous sport for kids. Check this video of the guy, making his argument.

Q: So why has this bounced back into play now?

A: Because ex-pro wrestler Chris Nowinski (pictured below), who himself underwent treatment for brain trauma, was on BBC Radio and argued: “We know that the brain is much more fragile when they’re young and we know that the damage can be much longer lasting and change their development and they never become the person they were supposed to; so my concuss doctor, who treated me, said no sport should have repetitive brain trauma and tolerate it before high school – 14 – and that’s something I agree with.” You can check his audio. 


Q: This has been tried before, hasn’t it? But for different reasons: I can remember a Guardian article about ten years ago arguing much the same thing, but because of the detrimental psychological effects of sport on kids who were just not interested in competition.

A: Correct. All manner of reasons have been advanced. But successive governments promote sports as a force for good. For example, it combats obesity, perpetuates the Olympic legacy and provides a good preparation for life.

Q: Hang on a second … “good preparation for life”?

A: Competition. In some people’s eyes, the world is a competitive, dog-eats-dog environment and a child who is habituated to competition in one sphere (like school sport) is well-equipped for the world outside. This is only an argument, I should add. I’m a sociologist, so I realize society is the product of cooperation, interdependence, joint action and, generally, working together. There is an element of competition, but societies are based on collaboration. In this sense, I guess you can argue that team sports are useful; but there is no evidence that success in sports at school translates into success beyond school.

Q: Let’s get this straight: kids under, say, the age of 14 are vulnerable to brain trauma in any sport where collision is likely. That includes football, rugby and, obviously, boxing. And the competition they become accustomed to is not going to be of much value to them in the longterm. Any other downsides?

A: I suppose you could think about the pushy parents who attend school sports and scream obscenities at the ref and rival competitors. If you banned sports for under-14s, the intimidating parents would have to shut up.

Q: I’m detecting that you have sympathies with the argument, then. So when England get eliminated from next year’s World Cup, you won’t be wringing your hands and wondering what we should be doing at grassroots level.

A: No: I’ll probably say it’s a good sign that we are ordering our priorities. I don’t mind a generation who prefer Xboxes to playing football, and tweeting rather than running school cross-country races. I think we place too much importance on sport, especially at school level. Having said that, most of the sports we follow as adults started as school sports. I’m including football and rugby. Boxing is one of the few sports that had adult origins.

Q: While you’re here, what did you make of the Jan Vertonghen (below) story? The Tottenham player will have some of his blood removed, spun in one of those CSI-type centrifuges, have the platelets – the cells that assist the healing process – separated, and injected back into the injured area. The technique, known as PRP (platelet-rich plasma), is supposed to improve injury recovery time. Is this fair?

Jan Vertonghen

A: Apparently, though I find it odd that we can approve of this, while banning blood doping, which is essentially the same manoeuvre, with blood transfused out and then back in. With blood doping, an athlete will go to a training camp at altitude where the oxygen is rare (e.g in Colorado, which over a mile above sea level); the body responds by producing more haemoglobin, which is very handy for endurance events. A sample of the haemoglobin rich blood is taken out, stored, then transfused back into the athlete’s body immediately before a big race. This is banned.

Q: I don’t see the difference. If anything, the Vertonghen process would seem more artificial because you need a machine to spin the blood.

A: This is sport. Who told you it was fair? @elliscashmore




Our parasocial affair with Nigella


Nigella Lawson

Why do we know so much yet so little about Nigella Lawson (above), the domestic goddess who brought sensual pleasure to the mundane domestic chore of cooking? It seems only yesterday, she was a regular in our homes. Now, we’re not so sure know her at all. We thought we knew her. But it seems we didn’t know the first thing about her. While neither she nor her ex-husband Charles Saatchi is in the dock, for the past few days, they have been the centre of attention: she and her marriage have been opened up for public inspection. Nigella’s court case, which started last month, is actually the trial of the celebrity couple’s two personal assistants, Italian sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, who worked as Nigella’s and her husband’s personal assistants. The Grillos are accused of fraudulently using the credit cards of Saatchi’s private company. But they have barely been considered: all attention is on Nigella. Every day, it seems we have learned something new about her private life that has systematically disabused us of any fanciful notion we knew the first thing about her. It started last June with the release of a picture of her being, it seemed, throttled by Saatchi. Since then, her relationship with Saatchi has been methodically cut up and its internal parts displayed.

Celebrity relationships have been dissected publicly before, of course; usually as they happen. Brangelina and Bennifer were narratives the media asked us to share. But the analysis of Nigella’s multi-dysfunctional relationship — Nigella characterized it as “intimate terrorism” — is particularly enlightening: it’s taught how little we really know about people with whom we feel close. This is a condition of today: we assume we know people from the two-dimensional images we see of them. Let me explain how this happened.

During the second half of the twentieth century, television transformed the way we thought and behaved. It affected the way we relaxed, the way we learned, the way we communicated. The complete cultural landscape was transfigured by television, to the point where we can’t recognize its presence. So much of what we know about the world is gleaned from tv that we find it tough to think where else we find out about some event or other. The internet has, of course, emerged as an alternative. It barely needs stating that Nigella or the celebrity culture she inhabits wouldn’t have been possible without television. Prior to its acceptance as a domestic appliance in the 1950s, we knew about prominent figures mainly by their names or artist’s impressions, still photographs or newsreels shown at the movies. “Television, bringing famous faces and sounds into our homes, has created different kinds of celebrity,” writes the social psychologist David Giles in his book Illusions of Immortality.

Television brought with it intimacy: we were able to see moving images and hear voices — in our own homes. It also brought replication: those images and sounds were not just one-offs: they could be repeated time and again, exposing us to the famous in a way that stirred us to new interest. We saw people that were previously remote and perhaps unknowable as ordinary humans with the same kinds of mannerisms, faults and maybe foibles as the rest of us. Giles argues that the proliferation of media, specifically television, in the late twentieth century expanded the opportunities for people to become famous. In material terms, there were more tv screens on which they could appear and become known. Viewers could not only see and hear a new array of people: they could almost reach out and touch them. In a way, they could almost swear they knew them. The more they felt they knew them, the more they became entranced.

Giles invokes a term from to a 1956 article in the journal Psychiatry to capture the emerging relationship between tv figures and viewers: “parasocial interaction.” The 1950s was the decade of growth for television: at the start, few households had a tv; by the end over 90 percent of household in the USA and 70 percent in the UK had at least one set. Viewers were forming unusual attachments. They were developing “friendships” with television characters, some fictional and others real (like announcers, or weather forecasters). They also “hated” some of them. Familiarity led to a sense of intimacy. Viewers actually thought they knew the figures they saw on their screens. They interacted with them parasocially. The relationships were and still are strictly one-way. It’s called parasocial because para means beyond, as in paranormal. The attachment might only have been as strong as a beam of light from a cathode ray tube. Yet it was experienced as strong and meaningful. Viewers actually felt they knew people they had never met, probably never seen in the flesh and who knew nothing of their existence. So there is no actual interaction (inter means between): it’s oneway. This doesn’t stop viewers feeling like there’s a genuine interaction. In this sense, it’s an interesting term that captures the way we think and feel about people we don’t know and who don’t know us but who sometimes unwittingly and unknowingly move us to act, occasionally in erratic and irrational ways.

Since 1999 when she appeared on our screens in Nigella Bites, the domestic goddess has been in our homes, our kitchens even. This is, I think, the reason why we assumed we knew her so well: seeing celebs on stage, in movie roles or even in the contrived circumstances of reality tv shows is one thing; but seeing them in the kitchen doing nothing more sensational than preparing food, contributes to an especially close parasocial relationship. @elliscashmore


More questions than answers …


Tom Daley

Q: So what’s all the fuss about Tom Daley, the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist?

A: He’s recently announced via a tweeted video that he’s gay.

Q: I thought we already knew that.

A: Well, there have been rumours circulating for a while and many people have, I think, assumed it. But Daley reckons the rumours have turned nasty, so he thought he’d go on record, so to speak.

Q: Will it hurt him?

A:  Not at all. His fans are not going to desert him. The advertisers who use him to endorse their products won’t drop him. And itv will appreciate the publicity bonus for the new series of Splash!

Q: So again, why the fuss?

A: Because there is still a degree of risk involved when an athlete, or, for that matter, actor, rock singer, politician or any person in the public eye comes out. They can’t be 100 per cent sure there is going to be approval. For instance, Britain’s first sex-change parliamentarian, the UKIP MEP Nikki Sinclaire has told how she was born a boy but had gender reassignment surgery on the NHS 18 years ago. This was big news and, let’s faces it, with some justification: it was unusual. But Sinclaire has not been on the end of a sharp backlash, has she?

Q: So you think the days of bigotry and homophobia are gone?

A: I didn’t say that. Enlightenment hasn’t spread to all parts of the world. In Qatar, where they are intending to play a football World Cup, homosexuality is still a punishable offence. In Russia, where there is going to be a winter Olympics, there are laws against which people have been protesting recently. And there are many other parts of the world mired in old-fashioned prejudices. I guess you have to believe that sport can be a force for good and work to change the mentality in such parts of the world.

Q: Football is the most popular sport in Britain and, indeed, the world. Yet, to my knowledge there is only one openly gay player and he’s playing in California in a league that doesn’t really have much impact. Right?

A: Yes, Robbie Rogers plays in Major League Soccer. Previously, he’d played for Leeds United. Now if he had chosen to come out while at Leeds, it would have been interesting to discover what the reaction would’ve been. My guess is that it would have encouraged some acerbic banter from opposing fans, but nothing too malicious. I’ve done research on this subject and over 90 per cent of football fans oppose homophobia and want to get rid of this reputation they have for being homophobes. The only way they can prove this is by not responding to a gay player in the way many people expect.

Q: You have to be kidding. You’re not seriously suggesting that a player in the Premier League or Championship could declare himself to be gay and not get what football fans call “stick,” are you?

A: Stick is typically bantering. OK it can be a bit caustic at times, but it is generally good-humoured and often quite witty. Fans visiting Brighton often chant, “Does your boyfriend know you’re here?” or, “You’re standing up ‘cause you can’t sit down!” I don’t think these are malicious. And frankly I don’t think gay people are offended by this kind of ribaldry.

Q: One more question: would advertisers run a mile?

A: Quite the opposite: imagine the brand value of “the Premier League’s first gay player.” I would think any gay player who comes out as gay would have great marketing potential. Anyway we’ll find out soon. I predict a gay footballer in Britain will come out over the next couple of years. @elliscashmore




Entertainment and advertising — the same thing?


Britney Spears

Children and young people are being encouraged to try electronic cigarettes by social media and celebrity culture. At least that was the conclusion of a recent report by Cancer Research UK. The organization doesn’t want e-cigarettes banned. As many ex-smokers confirm, e-cigarettes help wean them off the smoking habit. But Cancer Research UK argues that children should be protected from what it calls the “unregulated marketing” of the products. This has got me thinking: what is “unregulated advertising”? In fact, what isn’t advertising today?

First let’s distinguish between the different types of advertising that surround us. Above the line advertising, often abbreviated to ATL, refers to what most of us understand as advertising: paid-for ads in publications, physical and online, commercials on television or at the movies, and hoardings, posters and street installations. This type of advertising is regulated and is usually clear; in other words, we see recognize it as advertising and know its purpose – to make us buy stuff. Below the line, or BTL, advertising is a little more difficult to identify and this is, presumably, the kind of surreptitiously invasive advertising that concerns Cancer Research UK. It covers all sorts of advertising that can’t, in practice, be regulated. For example, earned media means positioning a brand or product in the public eye, not by paying for advertising space or time, but just by creating or responding to news in an interesting enough way gets the attention of the media. This is valuable exposure and many companies hire public relations (pr) companies with the simple remit to get the company namechecked in the media as frequently as possible.

BTL advertising also includes sponsorships, which ensure a brand name appears in mentions of an event or on the physical presences of people involved (like on the shirts of footballers). This is paid-for, rather than earned, but it’s thinly disguised as something other than advertising. That’s the trick of BTL advertising: to convince consumers they are being agreeably engaged while subtly promoting a brand in their consciousness, though not in a way they would find offensive. But I don’t think Cancer Research UK has any of these in mind. BTL incorporates product placement: watch any movie with a pen-and-paper or your tablet at the ready and take note of every branded product you see on the screen. You will end up with at least 20 names and, in a Bond movie or a Hollywood blockbuster, many more. Car-makers, soft drink manufacturers and IT companies are among the thousands of advertisers who pay to have their products placed prominently in films. The bigger the boxoffice potential of the film, the more valuable the product placement. Television is also fertile territory for product placement: watch for the capital “P” in the corner of the screen, which alerts viewers that branded products will soon be in view. Again, I’m not sure Cancer Research UK have this method in mind.

The organization could be thinking of tweeted endorsements: this involves companies paying celebrities to use twitter to rhapsodize over certain products. Celebrities are paid to tweet enthusiastically about a product. Bosses at itv recently denied allegations that some Coronation Street actors had received gifts or been involved in any “unlawful marketing promotion.” An actor like Brooke Vincent, who has a twitter following of about 400,000 and can boast a certain influential cachet among fans, could be a valuable resource for advertisers. Strictly speaking this form of advertising is now allowed, though it is, for all practical purposes, impossible to regulate: how do you distinguish between a celebrity who genuinely likes a product and wishes to name it, and a celeb who is just paid to namecheck a brand? Unless, of course, you have evidence of pay-offs, which is rare. I don’t know of any tweets extolling the virtues of e-cigarettes though. So what is Cancer Research UK talking about?

The organization has named online promotions, including competitions, apps on phones and discounts of e-cigarettes. But is this a problem? It’s obvious that this is advertising. Were I charged with the responsibility of discouraging smoking, my concern would be with the manner in which the habit is still associated with glamour, elegance, self-confidence and all-round coolness. These associations have held sway since the golden age of Hollywood in the 1940s, when stars such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Clark Gable used cigarettes to enhance their alluring, slinky desirability – and were paid by tobacco companies to do so. Despite all the negative connotations attributed to smoking in subsequent decades, it seems to have retained attractive qualities. What Cancer Research UK might be concerned with is breaking this association. This is no easy task, especially when we think of A-list celebs who make no bones about smoking: Britney Spears (pictured above), Johnny Depp, Paris Hilton are among those celebs. Some will argue that, as role models, they should set a good example. I personally think they can do as they please. But the problem for Cancer Research UK remains.

Whether we like it or not, these celebrities are living, moving advertisements for smoking. But, if I can broaden my point: advertising is simply inescapable today. And I mean BTL advertising that manages to sneaks under our awareness. I’ve mentioned product placement in films and tv shows; but have you ever wondered what’s happening when you watch a game of football? Advertising hoardings at the stadium are in full view, the logos of sponsors are plastered across players’ shirts, the competition probably bears the name of a brand, which is usually referenced by the commentators. If the game is shown on Sky Sports or itv, there are ATL commercials before, after and during halftime. So are you watching a sport or being subjected to a two-hour advertisement? Like an alien abductee, you’re held captive while the advertisers stealthily invade your consciousness. Think about this next time you’re enjoying the game.

Cancer Research UK will be heartened by the new movie Saving Mr. Banks, which not only deliberately avoids product placement for cigarettes, but changes history to accommodate its clean image: the film is about Walt Disney, who was an inveterate smoker, and is played by Tom Hanks. The film has been made by Disney, a studio that operates an absolute ban on screen smoking. Rather than flout its own policy, the studio has chosen never to show its founder lighting up or smoking cigarettes, though he is seen stubbing out a ciggie. Disney also favoured scotch and was famously potty-mouthed, but the film painlessly renders him a more wholesome figure by not featuring him having a drink or uttering a swear word. @elliscashmore