We’ve never underestimated the power that celebrity and pop culture holds over us, but now that the delicate egos of the A-List are working their way into the actual corridors of power, the media is about to experience an unprecedented assault on its freedom – and from every possible direction.
When Popbitch first started sending out a weekly mailout in 2000, the point was to bring people some of the stories that journalists were telling each other in the pub but not putting in print. Stories that PR people go to great lengths to get scrubbed. Stories that editors spike to spare unnecessary trouble. Stories that writers can’t put their names to.
For the most part, they’re silly little things. Snatches of gossip. Bits of chit-chat. Snapshots of what the whole celebrity world really looks like behind its glossy veneer. Sometimes it’s these seemingly inconsequential things that end up highlighting issues of much bigger significance.
From time to time we get thundering letters from someone’s lawyers demanding a retraction for something or other. A bruised ego wanting an apology or a date in court. Usually we’re able to bat them away. Other times we’ve got things wrong and we’ve had to say sorry.
We’ve been slapped with a superinjunction. We’ve been threatened with jail, with penury – on the odd occasion even with death.
But that’s all part of the rough and tumble.
We’ve sat in court rooms, lecture halls, TV studios – you name it – defending what we do. High-minded folk shook their heads at us, laughing at our claims that what celebrities did could have an impact in wider society, and that they shouldn’t ignore it. We patiently tried to explain that this is where today’s big paradigm shifts were taking place.
In the sixteen years we’ve been doing it, things have been changing. Where they once had a nebulous, abstract influence over popular discourse, the celebrity class is now starting to literally take things over – and 2016 has seen their biggest power grab to date.
In the last year alone:
– A former WWE wrestler has landed the heaviest blow to the First Amendment of the US Constitution in decades
– A celebrity we still can’t name holds an injunction that is currently being co-opted in two others cases to prevent the UK press from reporting on alleged sexual assaults and potential criminal fraud
– A star of the cable TV show Suits is a couple of correctly answered questions away from becoming a member of the British Royal Family
– The host of The Apprentice is President-Elect of the United States Of America
These four seemingly-unconnected incidents form part of a larger pattern in which we see celebrities finally getting the upper hand on the press. Aided in no small part by money-men, lawyers and some self-styled anti-establishment members of The Establishment, the firestorm they’ve been promising to rain down on the media has never been closer to breaking.
What is the current state of affairs as we approach the end of 2016? We’ll try to map it out as plainly as we can in four (and a bit) parts.