An Age of Permanent Markers

BY ALEXIA JAMES

I was enjoying a meal with friends this week in a Mexican restaurant in West Sussex when the conversation turned to the current crop of talking heads doing the rounds. Several friends – with views from pretty much across the whole political spectrum – were there and the usual suspects cropped up including Katie Hopkins and Will Self.

One of the girls present used to read the news on Sky, so we were pressing her for any titbits of intel on politicos or celebs when the Sky sofa and talking heads cropped up.

My friend Theo then mentioned the feminist and leftie Laurie Penny and I was surprised that only half the group knew who she was. “Penny Red,” Theo urged us all to recall, “surely you know her?”

It was only when Theo mentioned, “You know the woman – the one who picked her nose” that everyone gathered did a collective “Ah her” and remembered who Laurie Penny was.

I thought at the time how dreadful it must be to be remembered for such an indiscretion. Feminism and Leftism reduced to second place behind a bogey. How times have changed in many ways for the worse.

For in the past you needed a News of the World headline to be tarred for life with engaging in Nazi orgies or having sex with a mistress in a Chelsea shirt. How true such events were we shall likely never know, but the newspaper headlines turned them into permanent markers associated with the beleaguered victims.

Nowadays, in an age of high definition and CCTV there is simply no escape.

I think of World Cup winning German football coach Joachim Löw who, in spite of his super-impressive achievements with the Deutsche Mannschaft is perhaps more easily remembered for his disgusting penchant for sniffing.

I think of Labour MP Richard Burgon who managed to gas the Labour benches into submission during a session in the House of Commons – at least he took the blame.

I think of the extraordinary marathon and long distance runner Paula Radcliffe who, in pub conversations across the length and breadth of Britain, features not as the courageous and prolific British female athlete but as the woman who got caught short rather publicly during just one of hundreds of races.

It seems somewhat unfair that individuals of note – even Laurie Penny – should have their images etched on the public consciousness via such grim memory jerking. Yet etched on the public consciousness their faux pas are. They will not be able to escape their horrible associations as long as they live.

Just as Ken Livingstone will be remembered for hiding in a loo when pursued by the Press over anti-Semitism, Cameron will never escape the pig’s head. The footballer Luis Suarez may one day become as talented as Ronaldo or Messi but will forever be known as the biter just as Hugh Grant will never escape the mugshot bestowed on him via the lips of Divine Brown. Just as Mark Oaten will never escape the … well, let’s just not go there.

The public stage is an intolerant and cruel place for any thrust onto it or who use it out of choice.

It is worth remembering the cruelty of the public arena as we fast approach 2017; as some wish to rewrite their own sordid histories which they blame Britain’s free press for. Because what used to be the whipping stick of the newspapers has metamorphosed – spurred on by technology – into something far more uncontrollable. A beyond-regulation phenomenon.

Such Press inhibitors as IMPRESS would be better off spending their money on courses entitled, “How not to get stained permanently in the Public Eye” rather than mistaking the Public Eye for the Press who, in years gone by, decided what should and should not be thrust into Public vision.

Most people have a grim habit or two. Best reserved for home. Away from camera phones, CCTV and other such weaponries used in this modern era to permanently mark targets.

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