Us Brits are not traditionally touchy, feely folk. Distrustful of the liberal Europeans with their hippy-dippy ways and openly disdainful of the profound American faith in therapy and ‘hugging it out’ our backbone remains stoically upright if forced to awkwardly embrace the subject of mental health.
Positive strides though have at least been made in recent times. Enough empathetic individuals have mocked the ‘pull yourself together’ attitude that used to be so prevalent that it has now become almost a parody of who we used to be whilst a long-overdue acceptance that addiction is an illness has become the majority view.
Regrettably there will always be some who regard a depressive slump or alcoholism almost as a lifestyle choice but by and large we’re getting there; slowly but surely evolving into sentient beings that no longer place such misguided value in stiff upper lips and suffering in silence.
Our media however…well, that’s another story. Is it delusional to expect, or even hope for, a tabloid to ever portray a tale of depression or addiction sensitively and without judgement? After all journalists are not a separate breed immune to such things. They too have relatives incapacitated under a carapace of negative thoughts and friends hopelessly beholden to gambling, drinking or drugs at the cost of a normal and healthy life. Some will have themselves received professional treatment and, it is hoped, were bolstered by the support of their loved ones.
This truth – as banal and blindingly obvious as it is – is also a rather startling one because it reveals to us that our newspaper’s shockingly poor, and often dangerously ill-considered, coverage of mental health is not done through ignorance but due to an adherence to the greater god of sensationalism. A celebrity entering a rehabilitation clinic must still carry the sulphuric whiff of scandal while their plight is routinely almost cartoonised for our entertainment.
It is sick. It is wrong. But I am not naïve enough to believe this will ever change.
The latest example of a troubled individual’s plight being turned into a soap opera irrespective of what damage this might do to the individual in question at a desperately vulnerable and crucial juncture of their life comes from….well, take a guess. You’ve got one. Yup, you’re right first, second and third time. It’s The Sun of course. It always is. The newspaper that, should it ever metamorphosize into human form, would be the snidiest, nastiest pr*** you’ve ever encountered yet is bafflingly read and trusted by millions, has remained true to form and emblazoned Paul Gascoigne’s nadir across its pages with all the maturity of a child telling a fart joke.
First came the revelation that Chris Evans, Piers Morgan and Gary Lineker had donated large sums of money to fly Gazza to a clinic in Arizona after a public appearance revealed the disturbing depths in which the former England great had plummeted. For this scoop dramatic prose and screaming headlines can be excused – within reason. After all, three of our most famous personalities had clubbed together to essentially attempt to save the life of one of our most iconic and beloved footballers. If that isn’t tabloid material I don’t know what is.
But The Sun, as ever, are incapable of restraining themselves to acceptable and sensible reportage. Even when Gazza’s damaged body reacted badly to a drug administered to ward off the threat of seizures and he briefly slipped into intensive care the ever-caring super soaraway Scum were not content to simply plaster this – in purely news terms – astonishing development across their rag. That is what their rivals did but The Sun always have to go that extra yard into the realms of the bombastic to appeal to a readership that expects and demands such ridiculousness. Instead the whoppers from Wapping relied on an old trusted ploy to ensure they could legitimately s***-spray their nonsense under the guise of good intentions – they started up a campaign. Before we go any further please allow me a slight detour:
The Sun likes fewer things more than a good campaign but only it seems if the intended beneficiaries can be deemed as ‘heroes’. The framework for this description as far as I can gather appears to be this – the victims of famine or genocide aren’t heroes because they are foreign. Neither are the poor of Great Britain – instead they are demonised and portrayed as benefit cheats and human flotsam. Soldiers however are heroes. They fight for our freedom and so fund-raisers for them are commonplace. Also too the victims of terrorist attacks are considered heroes whether they be foreign or not depending of course that the atrocity occurred on British soil.
Within the world of football Paul Gascoigne is undeniably a hero. He played with a playground exuberance, his portly frame distended with pride as he dribbled and harried, his face flushed with callow emotion as he adorned the three lions. In 1990 this daft as a brush man-child had the front and bravado to Cruyff-spin the Dutch and once the tears flowed in Turin that was it. We had taken him to our collective hearts and he was ours.
In a previous article on fame I have already touched upon the dangers of that possessive connotation and it is something The Sun invests a great deal of their mandate in.
There are certain celebrities who very much fit the newspaper’s demographic to such an extent they strangely consider these individuals to be a property of themselves and their readers. This is why Princess Diana to Jordan and Michael Barrymore to Liam Gallagher have received such sustained coverage in its pages in recent years, treated as characters rather than actual human beings. Gazza – a working class hero with a soap-operatic personal life who has given his country the very best and very worst of himself very publicly – is a tabloid dream writ large and perfectly epitomises this warped logic. The Sun regard him as theirs, to do with as they wish, and consequently it was this reasoning that prompted them to run with an ill-considered ‘Gazza Aid’ campaign this week, enlisting the financial support of Jack Wilshere, John Terry (another Sun ‘personality’) and others to help pay for the stricken hero’s rehabilitation fees.
But it is critical to remember that it is not Gazza the media creation that is currently undergoing treatment but rather Paul Gascoigne the man. He is a proud man yet also, quite evidently, a man severely damaged, and should he hear of a national newspaper seeking donations from his peers it will only make him feel worthless and a charity case at a crucial time of his recovery. Yes he undeniably needs our support but when it’s offered as a fund-raising circus it will only feed the ego of Gazza the creation and further demolish the fragile security of Paul the man at a time when the latter needs to come to the fore.
Bluntly speaking we are in grave danger of losing a national hero, and The Sun – under the false guise of good intention and with typical crass insensitivity – this week risked sending him on his way.