Wednesday, 4 April 2012
The woman in this picture looks delightful. She is sitting happily with her dog in the summer sunshine, joy and contentment shining from her face. Most people would look at it and think 'she's pretty'.
The photograph appeared at the bottom of a Mail Online article by Samantha Brick on the horrendous 24 hours she had suffered since daring to write that her looks inspired spontaneous acts of kindness and generosity from strangers (men) and jealousy and backbiting from friends and colleagues (women).
How interesting that this picture was right at the end of the article. The original piece published yesterday was accompanied by seven photographs; today's fightback by five, plus the original from Tuesday's print edition. Eleven of the twelve pictures are unnatural, with forced smiles, ungainly poses. This is the only one in which Ms Brick looks relaxed and is thus the only one in which she looks remotely attractive. So why is it at the bottom? Why was it not the main picture for the original article?
I was not alone yesterday in suggesting that she had been set up, and - like others - I did seriously wonder if 'People hate me because I'm beautiful' was an April fool's joke that fell off the weekend schedule and ended up being published a couple of days late.
In today's piece about the backlash, Ms Brick states that she had, indeed, pitched the idea herself and that she had known she risked setting herself up for a fall.
Let's strip away the arrogance and egotism for a moment. Does she have a point? Do women behave badly towards their more attractive friends? Do good looks hold a woman back?
It's a counter-intuitive argument, nicely brought into perspective this morning by that BBC dinosaur Michael Cole (whose opinion we must respect, since he was not only once a newsreader, but also acted as an apologist for Mohamed al Fayed). He says today that some women newsreaders are on screen only because they look good, wear nice jackets and can read an autocue.
Looks matter, he says, under the lights. Middle-aged women should stop carping as though they had a right to a permanent place in front of the camera. And, poor lamb, he tells us that he too suffered for his looks: he "endured five years of rejection because he looked too young".
So Ms Brick isn't appreciated because she's too pretty; Mr Cole wasn't appreciated because he was too boyish.
It's an old issue - shallow Britain can't see beyond appearances - yet it may still be one worth rehearsing on a quiet day. But for goodness' sake, 'I'm so beautiful, everyone hates me' is not the way to go about it.
Where is the editing in all this? Did Ms Brick insist that she wanted to write the piece from this perspective? If so, the editors will have been licking their lips. They may be many things at the Mail, but they're not daft. They let this silly woman witter on, then deliberately illustrated her nonsense with pictures that invited the response 'Who does she think she is? She's not that special.'
I'm not defending either article. I think they are both complete tripe. I'm sure Ms Brick had a torrid day yesterday and didn't like 'global condemnation' she provoked. But she might pause to reflect for a moment on the contradictions within and between her two pieces.
She bragged about how people she didn't know would send her champagne, pay her rail fares, rush to thrust flowers upon her in the street like that old Impulse ad. It didn't occur to her that this had as much to do with the men being nice as with her being beautiful; she just accepted it as her right, the natural order of things, the way it had always been. She has admitted that she flirts to get on; but doesn't see that some of those charming blokes might also be flirts ready to turn to the next pretty woman once she was off the scene.
Yesterday it was fine and dandy to accept the compliments and generosity of strangers. Today it is outrageous for people 'who don't even know me' even to express an opinion - if that opinion happens to be 'Actually, girl, you're not as hot as you think you are'.
It's also bad, apparently, for friends to gossip about her. Well, that's what friends do when one of the group is in the limelight. And true friends will tell you when you're making an ass of yourself. That's the point of them.
However self-inflicted this torrent of digital abuse may have been, you can't help but feel sorry for the woman. She has demonstrated a spectacular lack of self-awareness, but it is a failing that has proved a boon for those Mail executives who chose to run with the original piece and then sat back and smiled as the cash rolled in with every internet hit.
It is the role of columnists to be provocative, and they should be ready to take the consequences of their words. But there also has to be some level of responsibility in the glass offices. The Mail executives let her walk over a bear trap and when she fell into the pit, they threw her not a lifeline, but a spade so that she could carry on digging.
Let's go back to her original pitch: pretty women get a raw deal. Ms Brick refers in her piece to Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Victoria Beckham. There are millions of women out there who are beautiful, not all of them in the public eye. Why didn't those editors say 'Yes, Sam. Great idea. Why don't you go and talk to some good lookers and see what stories they have to tell?'
The result might have been a series of interesting and enlightening anecdotes to prove or disprove the point. The feature could have been illustrated with an assortment of pictures of the women quoted. And they could have used that pretty picture at the top of this blog for the byline: a subtle way of saying 'I know of which I write' without the overt simpering vanity.
But of course, that wouldn't have had Twitter alight all day or brought in more than a million hits, 5,000 online comments, 24 hours of free publicity - and up to £100,000 in hard cash.
I said yesterday that Ms Brick was either astonishingly vain or a Mail patsy. It turns out she was both.
Thank you for sticking with it to the end. Please do share your thoughts below. And please take a look at the other posts. They are all media related.
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The world's gone mad Don Draper returns and the drooling thirtysomethings go into overdrive But does anybody watch the show? (But there is more Whipple in this post!)