Borkowski Weekly Media Trends 20-05-22
Wagatha Christie Libel Case & Artists Fight Back Against Label-Imposed TikToks
WAGATHA CHRISTIE SHOWS THAT LIBEL COMES WITH REPUTATION RISKS
The first of two major defamation ‘trials of the century’ currently captivating public attention trundled to a close this week. But while Depp vs Heard continues to paint an increasingly dark picture of a deeply unhappy relationship, from which neither’s career or reputation will likely benefit (although that’s not to say that blame should be apportioned equally), ‘Wagatha Christie’ on the other hand is so trivial and low-stakes that it has provided almost guilt-free entertainment.
But amid the superficial tittle-tattle there is a lesson about the risks of taking the legal path to reputational salvation. Reporters on the trial constantly feel the need to remind the public that Rebekah Vardy brought the action, usually as context for a statement or item of evidence that, however pertinent to her case, did her reputation zero favours.
Vardy claims that Coleen Rooney lied when effectively accusing her of leaking private Instagram stories to The Sun and that this ‘lie’ damaged her reputation. The communications theory underpinning libel law is that if you can sue someone successfully for damaging your reputation using falsehoods, then you have more chance of rebuilding your good name.
There’s an issue though. As long as you haven’t done something criminal or committed gross misconduct, most reputational issues will eventually die down, allowing the subject to relaunch some kind of career. But when you take things to court, you are essentially inviting the original story to be dragged out in painstaking detail, in a very public, newsworthy and media-friendly forum, by highly qualified lawyers who are being paid to rip you apart.
So even if Rebekah Vardy wins Wagatha Christie, will the damages and apparent vindication have been worth so much dirty laundry being exposed in the courtroom? Or will the picture painted by Coleen Rooney’s legal team have done her career and reputation even more damage than the original story? Often even a win on paper is more of a Pyrrhic victory.
Artists Fight Back Against Label-Imposed TikToks
A viral social media post brought an increasing trend of musicians posting content they say has been mandated by their record label. The thread revealed instances of artists such as FKA Twigs, Florence Welch, Zara Larsson and Charli XCX apparently being pressured to post more regularly on TikTok, on the type of content to post, and on how they should portray themselves in that content.
If record labels are really doing that (which they definitely are) and it isn’t an industry in-joke, they’re seriously missing a trick.
One of the key tenets of contemporary fame is authenticity; the cultural backlash against influencers and the associated performative cynicism that has gripped celebrity culture has increased the value we put in public figures having the self-assurance and courage to showcase their real selves.
As an artist it’s much harder to do that if you’re being prescribed content that doesn’t come naturally, on channels that you’re unfamiliar with, or when you’ve got nothing to say. This route either leads to staid, boring milquetoast or the kind of anti-label backlash we are increasingly seeing.
It’s also a reputation issue for labels facing increasing scrutiny for their role in artists’ wellbeing and remuneration. Unfortunately the criticism they face tends to focus on the treatment of artists as commodities, not humans. This portrayal of them using artists as TikTok factories only risks further ire from music fandom.