Monday, 9 February 2015

When Society Looks in the Mirror, Josie Cunningham Looks Right Back...

Ok - the recent documentary which prompted this piece is here.

Josie Cunningham's back-story, or at least the major landmarks of it in case you're curious - she leaves school at sixteen and while expecting her first child. Bullied by her peers for a distinct lack of clevage, she is eventually allowed cosmetic surgery on the NHS two years ago, choosing the largest possible enhancements (36DD). This leads to a newspaper interview which prompts the headline 'NEW HOOTERS SERVICE' and immediately turns Josie into a figure of notoriety and the recipient of genuine hatred. One 'gentleman' by the name of Robin Armstrong appears to have devoted his life solely to the purpose of hating her. Having had a second in the intervening years, Cunningham then falls pregnant with her third child, the girl she has during the period covered by this documentary. That's when events take a few quirky twists and turns.

Firstly, she sells 'golden tickets' to a maximum of four lucky 'spectators' who want to watch her heaving, gyrating and screaming for several hours until the kid pops out. Quite who would want to watch this in the flesh, let alone pay for the privilege, asides from family connections or close friends, is beyond me. If you're prepared to pay a sum in the thousands of pounds to 'partake' in something as unfortunate as this, then I'd venture that you should probably speak to a psychiatrist about the sick fascination in your head, then put the money to much better use. Unless I've completely misunderstood, some front row seats for this 'event' were actually sold, raising Josie circa £30,000? The phrase 'more money than sense' has never been more appropriate.

I have no idea if geriatric dinosaurs were dancing round their beds, singing "I've got a golden ticket" or not. Only Josie herself could tell you whether or not that happened. Maybe banging four tickets in bars of Dairy Milk and doing a deal with Cadbury would have generated a more favourable public response and a roughly equal amount of money, I dunno?

Perhaps the worst thing she does is, while pregnant, Cunningham declares that she will have the child aborted if it means she can appear in the next series of Celebrity Big Brother. Quite where (and how) you start dissecting that particular brainwave, which of the many angles you come at it from in the first instance...well, off the top of my head, the first thing worth noting is that this poor child will not have to look too far going forward to find out that her Mum gave very serious consideration to having her terminated - not on the grounds that she was unable to provide for the child, or some health reason, but because she wanted to appear on Celebrity Big Brother. As far as motivations for wanting to abort your own child go, doing so in order to appear on a low-rent trash TV programme for the cheap 'fame' that results is amongst the very worst of what would be a pretty worrying list to start with.

Josie eventually has the child, and appears genuinely happy having eventually decided not to go ahead with the abortion plan. The man originally believed to be the father was Hull City and former England under-21 defender Curtis Davies. At least that's who Josie understood him to be - until it turned out he was just a bloke who looked (and to be fair, he did) quite a bit like the Tigers star. Anyone who is the victim of a deception on that scale from someone who they have trusted and allowed into their private space is fully deserving of sympathy, but there's a nagging doubt as to whether Cunningham's outrage is fuelled simply by a sense of having been lied to, or the realisation that the the life of a WAG will remain elusive, at least for a while longer. On a personal level, I'll admit that had you asked me if there was any mileage in being a Curtis Davies tribute act before this strange story blew up, I'd have answered no, definitely not.

Turns out I was wrong. Emphatically wrong. No point pretending otherwise...

You have to wonder if they watched a Hull City match on TV together though, perhaps while the 'real' Davies was injured or something like that. Sorry, I couldn't help it...

When that story broke, I remember engaging in a bit of schadenfreude about it on social media, stating that "it couldn't have happened to a nicer woman" and other comments of that ilk. A lot of people hate Cunningham and you have to wonder if the Geordie and self-appointed arch-enemy Robin Armstrong, could perhaps devote the time to being better at telesales, following the Toon Army, memorising lines from old episodes of 'Our Friends in the North' or listening to Jimmy Nail. Perhaps he is wasting his life by essentially dedicating himself to the intense hatred of a woman he will almost certainly never meet? On the 'golden tickets' saga, Armstrong suggests "I'd pay ten grand to watch her fired into a fucking volcano", which is funny in a limited and somewhat twisted way. Honestly, hands up if there's nobody in your life you would ever have wanted to see shot out of a cannon in the general direction of Mount Etna...

However, it adds to a lingering sense that just about nobody comes out of anything surrounding this woman with any credit. Cunningham herself, her friends and relatives who seem capable only of seeing everything through the lens of what she suffered as a child (and I'm the last person to trivialise the scars that can be left by the cruelty of others, having had a rough adolescence myself). Her haters whose unhealthy obsession with her poses just as many questions as it makes any attempt to answer, while inadvertently feeding the public profile of this person they'd clearly like to see fade into obscurity. Then there's her shallow and vacuous agent, Rob, turning every minute into an opportunity to get something on Twitter, preferably something deliberately spelt wrong. The girl gives birth and his immediate, in fact his only concern is 'the celebrity angle'. This is some fucked up and seriously sick shit.

And what of the rest of us?

It's worth remembering that nobody 'becomes' famous or achieves a public profile. The rest of us, mere plebs as Andrew Mitchell might (or might not, just for legal reasons) call us, buy tickets to the matches, shows, concerts, pay our own hard-earned money for the albums, the DVDs, the replica shirts and souvenir mugs. We own the T-shirts with their photograph on the front, buy magazines and newspapers simply because he or she is being interviewed or is the subject of a feature in them. We talk about them with our friends and relatives, actively seek out others who hold them in the same regard we do, post on internet forums devoted to their talent or genius and engage in a collective form of dopamine-inspired euphoria as we fawn over his or her brililance with the like-minded. Others with equally impeccable taste, right?

If only so many of us hadn't rendered ourselves dopey and complicit with the mainstream media in terms of being told who and what to like, we'd realise it's one of the few bits of power we have left - the ability to decide who does and does not become famous. This 'sheep phenomenon' is something I have noted and observed getting slowly worse over the last fifteen years or so. A television programme in the mould of the X Factor, Britain's Got Talent or the Voice has absolutely no artistic merit and, by rights, should not exist. If only enough of us followed our noses and changed the channel, then the highwaymen trying to pass off C-list holiday camp cabaret as the new Elvis would be out of business within about ten minutes. Instead, I've worked in more than one office where I've been in the distinct minority not remotely interested in this shit. A minority refusing to buy what it's told to buy - and they thought I was weird, fancy that...

In the case of Josie Cunningham, it's even easier as there are no CDs to 'not buy', no live shows or tours to avoid. It is, quite simply, a case of not paying your own money for the trash-rags that run stories featuring her (read them for free online and ignore the ads if you must!!). Don't engage with her Twitter account, or any other form of social media where she's the topic of discussion. If she's on the television then change the channel. Stop watching programmes like 'this Morning' that take her seriously. Then Josie, the social media creation with its own agent and marketing strategy, courting controversy and making money on the notoriety generated by it, will die. Josie the single Mum from Leeds will then have a choice to make, between getting some sort of 'normal' job or a life on benefits. As it stands, like many of those who choose not to work, she's made the most rational choice available, which begs the question, who are the real mugs?

Even in the dysfunctional society that is 21st century Britain, the phenomenon of Josie Cunningham remains something of a rare one, possible only because of a fusion of numerous quirks and circumstances. The fact that breast enhancements were available to her at the expense of the taxpayer, the decision to get 'massive bangers' and cash in on the controversy as a form of 'therapy' for the 'flat chested' bullying she got as a teenager. That she lives in a society where the connection between fame and being half-decent at something, anything, has been broken. The ability of the talentless to collude with the media and, it would seem, tell people "look at me, I'm famous now" and the lemming-like tendency of the masses to swallow whatever the mainstream media and Twitter tells them is trending. I swear in fifty years time Kang and Kodos will watch us from space running around in our hamster wheels and wonder what the fuck went wrong.

Without all of this coming together, she would be nobody's nothing. Perhaps another subject of her fifteen minutes of fame for dancing topless in a bar in Rhodes and sent home by the authorities - no idea where I got that idea from. Ah yes, this is where...

Strange that Sarah was from Sheffield and Josie's from Leeds - what is it they put in the water over the Pennines?

And then there's Josie herself - I'm always unsettled by the sight of anyone crying (must be my inner bleeding heart, but please don't tell anyone) and it's quite apparent from the emotion she displays that Josie does love her kids, regardless of the rather fucked-up ways in which that love would appear to sometimes manifest itself. The real problem would appear to be one of reconciling that regard for her offspring with an unhealthy desire to 'get famous' in the ultimate equal opportunities society, where stupidity and a lack of ability to be good at basically anything is no barrier to having a public profile. She doesn't want to be 'a scrounger' but clearly has less than zero interest in taking some sort of 'normal' job, as hundreds of thousands of other single parents do, even if her 'fame' puts the kids she clearly loves in danger of by proxy abuse and attacks. However much those kids might mean to her, Josie's fame is clearly 'the non-negotiable bit', despite her pleas to the contrary.

Maybe all of us are to blame in one way or another - the legions of Twitter followers and haters, those sheep who watch 'famous for being famous' shows like Celebrity Big Brother, which create the space in which the talentless create a public profile for themselves. Observers like myself for watching documentaries like this against my better judgement, pausing to take notes and then writing thousands of words about why she's not worth the oxygen - yes, I'm totally aware of the irony but thankyou for pointing it out. Those in the alleged profession of journalism, which has become little more than the indulgence of existing pop culture and the regurgitation of the fake 'news' fed to them by Reuters and other agencies. Proper, investigative journalism where the truth is paramount appears no longer to be with us on a scale capable of making a difference, Then there's Josie Cunningham herself, obsessed with fame above all other considerations.

Anyway, what was that about life imitating art and not the other way around? Here's the quite hilarious Fran Chappell from the brilliant 2000s TV series, Monkey Dust.

Dunno why it seemed appropriate but...take care and I'll catch you soon.

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