Content Warning: This article contains discussion of suicide.
How the media’s greed exploited Caroline Flack until she took her own life.
Caroline Flack’s suicide may be last month’s “news”, but her death will forever remain a relevant lesson. We have witnessed this before, and we will undoubtedly witness it again. Amy Winehouse was endlessly ridiculed by the press that then mourned her death, Jade Goody was used as a money-making opportunity in her final months, and the media has Princess Diana’s blood on their hands. With Caroline, they chewed her up and spat her out over a personal incident that they did not know the ins and outs of. Will this ever end? Is perpetual prying simply expected? And as a society should we stop being so fucking nosy?
I was sceptical on whether to write about Caroline or not; I know no more about her than the next person and her family is still grieving. But, what has happened to Caroline is an incredibly important reminder that as humans we have a responsibility to consider others’ mental health, to be kind both online and off and that we really know nothing about what is going on in someone else’s life. Suicide is, for many, a subject close to home. Maybe that’s why we are still thinking about Caroline; mental health does not discriminate, it affects people in every corner of society, from any walk of life.
When I was younger I remember watching TMi on a Saturday morning with Sam, Mark and Caroline presenting. It was the epitome of early 2000s TV, there were gunge forfeits, competitions, and celebrity guests. Fast forward 10 years and Caroline would be the most sought after presenter: she had The X Factor, Love Island and I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! Yet, when I raked back through old articles, the media was scathing. She was constantly questioned: Why was she still single? Why did she only date younger men? Why did her engagement break down? Was she shagging Olly Murs? Why did she assault her boyfriend? She was branded a cougar in 2012 after dating Harry Styles and by 2019 it seemed she’d had enough of the criticism and decided, in her own words, to wear her cougar title as a “badge of honour.” Perhaps it was her way of regaining control of her personal life; a middle finger to the endless judgement she received.
But at what point does speculation become intrusion? The media can become a very dark place, as her portrayal in the tabloids over December and January exhibits. You need not scroll very far to find some extremely offensive and hurtful articles and social media posts about Caroline, that dare to go beyond simply making cheeky comments about her and her love life.
The Sun published an article mocking Caroline, featuring a Valentine’s Day card drawing of her which read “I’ll fucking lamp you” - a jibe at her assault trial. Not only was this a direct ridicule of Caroline about something extremely personal, but also an open, unapologetic mock of domestic violence. Yet, before she died, many, including myself, would not have looked upon this sort of coverage as so damaging as it blatantly is.
Since her death, an inspiring movement has already been started; hair salons across the country have stopped providing gossip magazines and a petition, started by Stephanie Davis, which aims to safeguard people in the public eye from fake news, revenge porn, and quotes being printed from unreliable sources has reached over 800,000 signatures. For the public, it has provided a wake-up call to be more vigilant in what we are willing to write, read, tweet and share on Facebook. Unfortunately, shrugging off trolling and ridiculing online and its detrimental effects are no longer an option.
As the public, do we have the right to grieve with her friends and family? Yes, we can be sad, we can show respect and we can miss her on our screens. But more importantly, we must stop prying into the lives of celebrities, we must stop condoning the intrusive nature of the paparazzi, and we must appreciate that a lot of what we read online is not only fabricated but destructive for the people who it scrutinises.