In my eyes, the most recent and extreme example is Katie Hopkins, who has appeared on Daybreak and famously made jaw-dropping claims that arguably, have caused public outcry amongst the nation. From then on, she has had a whirlwind of publicity due to what some believe to be her ridiculous and offensive claims, including:
"To call yourself 'plus size' is a euphemism for being fat. And who wants to be fat?"
"Big is not beautiful"
And most famously... “I judge children based on their names.”
We live in a society where so many women and men, from childhood to adulthood are insecure about their weight and feel the need to go on a diet to achieve what they think their perfect body is. The fact is that due to media promotion of skinny celebrities and size 0 models, many young people in particular have a distorted vision of beauty and think that they need to lose weight to be beautiful and ultimately- happy. In my mind, happiness largely comes from self acceptance and I believe some of Hopkins' claims have the dangerous potential to fuel the insecurities further of people that consider themselves to be 'big.'
Some may say Hopkins has a complete misconception of what is beauty, whereas I believe she has made these claims simply for her own publicity, and not because she genuinely believes in what she is saying. Only yesterday, Katie tweeted "The three quarter length white trouser. Should not be sold above a size 10. M & S, cease and desist." If we remember that the average size of a British woman is a size 16, this statement would have angered thousands and just as Hopkins wanted, increased her publicity.
Yet another extreme example of being controversial to gain attention HAS to be none other than Samantha Brick who, in 2012, made the headlines when she claimed that “Women hate me because I’m beautiful.” Whilst Brick’s dream came true and she gained more publicity than she had ever expected, this came at a huge cost. After explaining to the nation that her beauty has its downsides, she was hit by a roller-coaster of hostile online abuse which even escalated to death threats from strangers. Of course, I do not agree with this, but I do know from personal experience that if you write something that others don’t like, they certainly won’t spare any niceties and you should expect to be either criticized or trolled.
What do these women share? Although some may imply they are arrogant and over-opinionated, I have to say (through gritted teeth) that they are both very intelligent. Hopkins and Brick are both very aware that by making statements that will enrage a vast majority, they will ultimately increase their media coverage, even if this means the inevitable downfall of their popularity. However, the question has often popped up in my mind of whether media attention is worth being controversial to these extremes. I know what it is like to have your own work and views criticised, but I honestly cannot imagine the pain that would come from receiving a death threat from a complete stranger, simply due to one bold statement. I will say though, that I admire these women in their strength of character, as it takes a strong person to stand before the nation and say ‘I believe in this’ and then face mass criticism for weeks on end.
Of course, famous figures manipulate their media coverage to different purposes and one man who largely manages to get away with what he says is Top Gear presenter, Jeremy Clarkson. Since the early 1990’s he has been a recognised celebrity and whilst making considerably less extreme statements than Hopkins and Brick, he has more worldwide fame and uses this to his own advantage. What I perceive to be the epitome of Clarkson’s attempts to increase his own publicity is his appearance on the BBC’s The One Show in 2011. Clarkson made comments on the UK’s public sector strike that day, praising London’s empty roads and later stating “I would take them [public sector worker on strike] outside and execute them in front of their families.” Clarkson may have said something that was bound to isolate and offend masses, but nevertheless, he did something quite extraordinary. As expected, the programme apologised for his remarks and the BBC and Clarkson issued further apologises. However, Clarkson’s remarks managed to attract 21,335 complaints to the BBC within just 36 hours, illustrating that his message was widely received by the public, ultimately boosting his publicity to new levels. Surprisingly, the BBC also received 314 messages of support for Clarkson and it is without a doubt that his The One Show appearance had definitely worked in his favour.
What Clarkson has in his controversial nature is very similar to qualities that Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, possesses. Both men have the ability to make tongue in cheek comments that unlike those of Hopkins and Brick, are less offensive and are seen as the funny aspect of the British media. For example, when commenting on using a mobile phone whilst driving Boris Johnson famously said:
"I don't believe that is necessarily any more dangerous than the many other risky things that people do with their free hands while driving - nose-picking, reading the paper, studying the A-Z, beating the children, and so on."
Yes, Johnson is satirising something which has caused so many deaths and traffic accidents worldwide, but because he so casually talks about ‘nose picking…. [and] beating the children’ he is seen as less threatening towards the British public and more as a funny political figure that can provide some entertainment from mocking what are perceived as taboo topics.
If we need another example to justify this, we cannot neglect Prince Philip from this article, who over his lifetime, has made countless racist, sexist and downright offensive comments that have appeared all over the media. But, like Johnson, he manages to get away with what he says because he is viewed upon as harmless and in this instance, someone who would have grown up in a time where casual racist and sexist comments were the norm. I highly doubt that Prince Phillip is making these shocking statements as a means of increasing his publicity because let’s face it….why would a member of the Royal Family, married to Queen Elizabeth 2nd, want any more press coverage than he has already got?
Are controversial and offensive claims worth the extra media coverage? It’s difficult to say. Let’s look at Hopkins, who said that ‘Big is not beautiful.’ How would a potential, future employer feel if they were slightly overweight, knowing that Hopkins did not approve of their lifestyle and thought they weren’t beautiful? Moving swiftly on to Brick, I personally would find it very hard to have any form of admiration for a woman who paraded about, stating that women hated her because of her beauty. But if we look at Clarkson, Johnson and Prince Phillip, they all share the ability of making their comments seem tongue in cheek so that they can provoke more laughs than outcries of offense. Being controversial bodes well for some and is career destroying for others and I feel that if people can find the right balance between being humorous and downright offensive, it will have positive influence on their media coverage.