Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Victory Is Ours!

Sometimes blogging feels like a meaningless exercise, a futile, insignificant self-indulgence, read by few and cared about by even fewer, absurd, trivial, unnecessary, fruitless. No fruit for Shades Of Caruso. Thank the benevolent constellations for moments like these, then, when we find evidence – concrete evidence – that all this isn’t just pointless gratification. The world reads; the world understands; the world takes action.

In February this year, I reviewed Heat magazine, the publication that arguably triggered the explosion in celebrity culture in the UK as it exists today. While generally in favour of the magazine’s attitude towards famous people, its readers and itself, I highlighted one or two aspects of Heat that were not so likeable, and suggested that these were responsible for its reputation as a force for social destruction and source of negative body image issues. The Circle Of Shame section was one such.

It’s unsettling the way Heat seems to relish identifying all the tiniest celebrity flaws and mistakes and foibles in this section. This is a fairly tame instalment, but the mag still finds time to rag on Eva Mendes for wearing – gasp! – a white bra under a black top and Serena Williams for having – no! – a perceptible sweat patch (an athlete!). Some of them are just ridiculous – a picture of Kelly Brook with one sunglass lens missing and evidently giggling about how silly it looks has zero to do with shame – but it’s easy to perceive an undercurrent of malice in all these pictures, a desperation to point out that not only are celebrities flawed just like us, they’re risible, moronic creatures who don’t know how to dress themselves.

I think it’s the use of the adjective “shame” that I object to most. Most of the mockery in the mag is lighthearted, superficial, harmless – but describing these trifling gaffes as sources of shame suggests contempt, disgust, even humiliation. The editorial line would no doubt be that readers lap this sort of thing up, and they’re just giving their audience what it wants. If Heat didn’t give the readers these pictures, would readers be calling and emailing demanding to see celebrities called out and shamed? Although one of the less vicious editions, this is still unpleasant, and it sits uneasily alongside the soft ribbing found elsewhere in the mag.

... [T]here’s an overall sense of fun that runs through the whole mag, and it certainly doesn’t leave the sour taste that reading, say, the Daily Mail does. The disagreeable Circle Of Shame is the exception to the general rule. Perhaps Heat would do well to quietly ditch it.

In calling for this action, I naturally assumed I was just shouting into an abyss, with no hope of ever being heard. But I recently picked up a copy of Heat again and was astonished at what I found.

Readers, Circle Of Shame has been quietly ditched! Granted, the essence of the concept has not disappeared – Heat is still gleefully pointing out celebrities’ shortcomings and sniggering behind its hand – but the part to which I objected most strongly, the ludicrously harsh term “shame”, has been dropped. (By the way, I am pretending that I did not describe said noun as an adjective in my previous post, and I’m sure you’re happy to do the same.) The feature has also shrunk in length by a third and, although I don’t have the issue I originally critiqued to hand, I believe the point size of the captions has decreased as well. These now seem almost hesitant, as if distancing themselves from the previous, “shaming” incarnation of the feature. They didn’t mean it. They’re sorry. It’s just a bit of fun.

Hoop Of Horror is far more appropriate, a silly bit of obvious hyperbole – no-one is actually horrified by anything on these pages, least of all Amy Winehouse with some white powder around her nose – and fits much better with the mag’s tone. Naturally, though, the best thing about the change is that it is clearly a direct response to Shades Of Caruso’s criticisms. Heat didn’t want to remove the feature altogether, so closely is it identified with the magazine’s brand, but it has excised the nauseatingly judgmental aspect of it, and reined in its shrieky excesses. Well done, Heat. And thank you.

Of course, the truly great thing about blogging on an occasion such as this is that I can blithely assume that someone in Heat’s Very Important Decision-Making Department read my blog, choked on his cigar smoke, underwent a combination of a moment of clarity and a crisis of conscience, and passed an edict to the editorial staff insisting that they come up with an alternative toute de fricking suite. If I was any sort of conscientious professional journalist, I’d have to phone up Heat and try to ferret out the reason why the offending section was altered – if, say, it was a decision from the outgoing editor Mark Frith, who stepped down earlier this year, or the first action taken by new editor Julian Linley (who takes over officially in September), trying to put his mark on the mag. Or indeed if it was summarily demanded by the stereotypical cigar-chomping executive I invented a couple of sentences ago. But the happy fact – or as we bloggers say to make things truer, FACT – is that it was all down to Shades Of Caruso. We did it. We were the agent of change. We made a difference. And the world will never be the same again.

Unrelated media news factoid of the day: Heat’s circulation dropped 15.8 per cent year-on-year in the recently announced magazine sales figures for the first half of 2008.


Gorilla Bananas said...

Without doubt, you shamed into dropping 'Circle of Shame'. The pen is mightier than the penis, as we say in the jungle.

Douglas said...

It appears that others felt the same way (but took longer to write about it!)