Certain people in the public eye are elevated by the media to ‘national treasure’ status and there is an unwritten law that these special few (at least whilst they are in favour) should not be criticised. I was therefore mildly shocked and slightly thrilled to read an article by Will Self in The New Statesman magazine daring to have a go at Clare Balding, the sports presenter who,since the 2012 Olympics is omnipresent at the BBC. With breath-taking bitchiness, Self writes of the reason she has suddenly achieved this position of marvellous heroine of the hour:’ours is a senescent society and, like all the old, it has a tendency to gloat over things it imagines are valuable but are only tat picked up from a cultural car boot sale. With Liz Windsor as the coveted bauble-in-chief, it’s inevitable that the family silver will mostly be electroplated.’ I felt both slightly thrilled and very relieved to read this as I thought it was just me; Ms Balding may be inoffensive but she is far from a superlative broadcaster yet we are made to believe that this is the case. Predictably, many of the comments underneath the online article denounce Will Self, attacking him for his ‘inverted snobbery.’
The list of things that should not be said about the rich and the powerful gets longer. The author Hilary Mantel landed herself in hot water when she had the temerity to offer an opinion on the Duchess of Cambridge which did not chime with the media’s view of ‘our Kate.’ She said, “But Kate Middleton, as she was, appeared to have been designed by a committee and built by craftsmen, with a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished.” A no less valid opinion than those offered by the red-top press who think she is wonderful. Hilary Mantel found herself lambasted almost everywhere and David Cameron even waded in saying, Ms Mantel was “completely misguided and completely wrong”. Says who? But it seems it was ever thus; anybody that has the courage to stick their heads above the parapet and say the unsayable can expect a backlash. The late Labour MP and anti-royalist Willie Hamilton the anti royalist, was labelled a firebrand and agitator because he raised legitimate concerns about the monarchy as an outdated institution. The right wing press would often step up a gear as this was not their view and he would be subjected to vilification. In the same way, it would be a foolhardy person now who criticised Nelson Mandela; it would be unbecoming in the eyes of most people.
But in so many ways isn’t it refreshing to read another point of view, even if it can seem unkind? We are fed a constant drip-drip by all media of how we should think, of who we should perceive as heroes and who villains that it is great to read Will Self, Hilary Mantel, Liz Jones et al bitching about those who are temporarily on pedestals.