The tragic death of Love Island presenter Caroline Flack at age 40 forces us to confront, and not for the first time, the cruelty and relentlessness of the tabloid media – especially when it has a woman in its crosshairs. Flack was considered easy pickings for the red tops after she was arrested for allegedly assaulting her boyfriend in December. A public downfall has been played for end-of-pier giggles, as was evident from a notorious spoof Valentine’s Day card with the headline “I’ll f***ing lamp you”, as brought to widespread attention by The Sun newspaper. Flack’s family have confirmed that she died by suicide. She had insisted her innocence to the assault accusations ahead of a trial next month. But while the court had yet to sit in judgement, elements of the media had already sentenced to her a long, slow humiliation.
“Bedroom Bloodbath” was one of the headlines that followed her arrest, with a nameless source quoted in the story describing the scene of her alleged attack on her boyfriend as resembling a “horror movie”. These and other details were reported in a tone of barely suppressed glee. Over and over, Flack was portrayed as a cartoon monster.
Where the media goes, social media inevitably follows, of course. People love a pile-on and nobody will have felt that more than Flack, who in January went on Instagram to assert that her family was “no longer up for entertainment or gossip”. As the shock fades, will this come to be seen as a tragedy too far for an industry which has made a business model out of chewing up the vaguely famous and spitting them out? And also for those of us who get a vicarious kick out of weighing in on Twitter?
Would a male celebrity have been publicly excoriated in such a fashion? It seems unlikely. As a high-profile woman, Flack had a target painted on her back as far as the gossip industrial complex is concerned. It delights in portraying women as “difficult” where their male equivalent would be described as “determined” and is always sniffing for the hint of diverging views between two female celebrities, in order to frame their relationship as a catty feud.
These attitudes, of course, don’t fall from the clear blue sky. They are a reflection of society’s views on women who dare overachieve and then show a chink of vulnerability. A woman can be successful or she can be flawed and human. She is never permitted to be both.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you can reach out for confidential support at Samaritans by calling 116 123 or visiting their website