Borkowski Weekly Media Trends 19.02.21

Demi Lovato & Fame | 'The War on Woke' | EdFringe | Texas Freeze

This week’s audio debrief features special guest Lottie Wilkins, our head of Corporate PR. (Plus, listen all the way to the end to hear Mark Borkowski’s Trend of the Week!)

The perils of fame

Demi Lovato has become the latest celebrity to create a tell-all documentary about their life in the limelight (think Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana on her struggle with her public image; Jesy Nelson: Odd One Out on the body shaming she endured whilst in Little Mix) – ostensibly to set the record straight about her experience.
The trailer for Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil, which will release as a Youtube Original in March, sees clips of interviews with Demi, her friends, family and fellow celebrities, cut with footage showing Demi’s ascent to stardom, and her public struggles with mental health and addiction – culminating with a near-fatal overdose in 2018 that, the trailer reveals, gave Demi ‘three strokes and a heart attack’. It’s a soundbite that has already earned international coverage.

It’s an understandable move by Demi to reclaim her narrative when, like so many other stars, the media has dictated the discourse around her life—her career, health, body and all—for years. But there is an inevitable tension here. Demi’s documentary is a critique of fame and the damage it can cause, and yet it is also a publicity exercise in itself: the more publicity the documentary drives, the more Demi’s critique of the fame and the media will be heard. And, importantly, the more airtime Demi’s upcoming music projects will get.

Is Demi playing the media at their own game, or submitting to the system that broke her? It is undoubtedly both at once. It feels poignant in a week that saw the release of Framing Britney Spears, which tells a similar story with a wholly different outcome. Britney, manipulated and demonized by the media, attempted to lash out against the system, and found herself paying the price: her autonomy was taken away from her.
We must ask if Britney’s story would’ve been different if she had found fame ten years later. As Demi’s story shows, maybe. Social media has always given Demi and her peers a voice in a way that Britney never had, though not without them sacrificing some part of themselves to the industry. It remains to be seen how the child stars of today cope.

Deplatforming the deplatformers

The right-wing punditry are gathering around the Tory government’s ‘War on Woke’. Charities are being summoned to the headmaster's office to explain why they criticize Britain’s colonial past. (Mentioning that Churchill was PM during the Bengal Famine which killed 3 million is evidently not the message that a “proud and confident nation” projects.) Boris has announced plans for a free speech czar who will clamp down on progressive Student Unions to make sure they don’t get to tell their teachers who speaks on campus. And the MailOnline now have a front page section featuring triumphant Victories from the ‘War on Woke’.

Despite some stalwart conservative voices (not least among them Lord Ed Vaizey) warning that the war on woke is one that the Tories can’t win, the Tories evidently see an opportunity to provoke further outrage about statue iconoclasm. Though we are sympathetic to some of the concerns about cancel culture and de-platforming, these are aspects of a larger escalation of dogmatism on both sides of the political spectrum, which are the result, and not the cause of, the collapse of public fora for debate. Because ‘free speech’ can also be used as a blunt weapon to muzzle… speakers, the Tories’ actions further fracture the body politic (while the real baddies—who literally profit from division—escape stage left.)

Here’s the rub: Oliver Dowden claims that we must not ‘purge uncomfortable events from our past’—meaning, don’t tear down statues to ambivalent figures. Let people see them and decide. He’s right. But history also comes pre-purged of complexity. The statue itself, as a form, is perhaps the least historically complex document that there is. To grasp what makes a society good or worth being part of, people must escape the ideological blindness that accumulates around national symbols. To be sure, the present-day does not have an exclusive claim on moral goodness. To think so would be dangerous and wrong, and amongst Winston Churchill’s badnesses there were no doubt a good many goodnesses. But at the same time, to appreciate the good in a person or a nation means having the capacity to feel ashamed when they have done wrong. Shame is not opposed to pride; it’s the necessary condition for it. Maybe Dowden is right, in that default shame, without historical context, can be masochistic. It’s certainly depressing. But patriotism without the possibility of shame is nationalism.

EdFringe recruits Phoebe to Bridge gap on streaming giants

The arts and culture landscape was transforming irreversibly long before COVID, and an already culturally and popularly-dominant home entertainment scene now utterly dwarfs a live sector that has been dormant for a year.

In this new world the streaming giants – Netflix, Amazon, Disney, HBO, you could count the BBC too – have taken on an almost godlike role when it comes to influencing tastes, starting trends and creating stars.

Photograph by Richard Davenport

This is the reality facing the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which retains its billing as the world’s biggest arts festival even as its influence wanes to the extent that some major London-based media outlets no longer even consider it national, let alone global, news.

This week the Fringe appointed Phoebe Waller-Bridge as its first President—a newly-created ambassadorial role aimed at exerting soft power on the festival’s behalf as its organisers look to recover from a missed 2020 and a likely-diminished 2021.

The strategy is clear, Waller-Bridge is an Edinburgh legend, a Fringe fairytale—transported (albeit with the support of some powerful cultural operators) from a 60 seat studio in a cave to Hollywood in a few short years. Crucially, she is known and respected by the industry’s giants, and part of her ambassadorship will be to persuade them that the Fringe is still the place to find the next PWB or the next Fleabag.

It’s not a bad plan but it has its limits. On one hand PWB symbolises the status of the Fringe as a breeding ground for world class talent, but on the other she (through no fault of her own) symbolises a lot of the attributes for which the Fringe is most heavily criticised; she’s posh, she’s white and (although this criticism is mostly localised to the most belligerent Scottish nationalists) she’s English.

The Fringe has a diversity problem, and in an era when all the kingmakers in the entertainment industry are scrambling to platform a wider range of voices, Edinburgh in August isn’t currently seen as the place to find them. It might be where you find the PWB’s but it’s not where they’ll find the next Michaela Coel. Popular though she may be, Phoebe Waller-Bridge isn’t going to alter that perception.

Cruz Flees Storm But Twitter Storm Is The Real Winner

Texas is currently in a state of emergency as a huge storm is sweeping across southern America killing nearly 50 people, leaving millions without power.

As Texans’ attempt to weather the storm, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is weathering a totally different storm… Twitter. Cruz drew widespread criticism after attempting to flee the country mid-crisis. He also appeared to deflect blame by using his daughters as an excuse to flee AND it emerged that he’d left his dog Snowflake behind.

A quite extraordinary decision, from a man who is no stranger to Twitter conflict, recently spatting with Seth Rogen who has relaunched the beef following his response to leaving Texans to ‘freeze to death’.

It’s the way social media has reacted that is most interesting – using memes to raise awareness of Cruz’s clinic on how not to deal with a crisis – documenting the various stages of his disappearance.

The shareability of memes creates astronomical virality for these sorts of events – more so than any news articles or broadcast can do. The way memes morph and mutate as stories progress almost timestamp blunders and Cruz have, once again, been at the heart of the joke. This story has been taken over by the meme and long may it continue!