To watch a (dying) reality star

Before TV shined its warped light on her,Jade Goody was surely destined for a life of hardship and obscurity.

Written by New York Times | Published:February 22, 2009 10:26 pm

Before TV shined its warped light on her,Jade Goody was surely destined for a life of hardship and obscurity. Crude-talking,hard-drinking,overweight,barely educated,in debt,the child of drug addicts,she appeared on the reality show Big Brother in 2002 as a kind of token lowlife.

But something about Goody,then 21,struck a chord—even if it was a patronising one—in a restless nation searching for ways to allay its millennial boredom. She became a bona fide media star,a working-class Paris Hilton. Britons devoured every detail of her life,no matter how banal. They worked out to her exercise videos,bought her perfume,read her autobiography and,when she made racist remarks,angrily turned against her.

Now they are watching her die. Goody,who has two young sons,learned she had cervical cancer last August. The cancer has since spread and her doctors have told her there was nothing more they could do.

“I’ve lived my whole adult life talking about my life,” she explained in The News of the World,one of the media outlets that have bought the rights to her end-of-life story. “I’ve lived in front of the cameras. And maybe I’ll die in front of them.”

This is reality television carried out to its most extreme,grotesque conclusion. Many newspapers have been intermittently nasty about Goody,holding her up as a sorry symbol of vulgarian,instant-gratification Britain,“someone who achieved a sort of fame for having displayed her incalculable stupidity on television,” as Rod Liddle wrote in The Spectator.

Now that she is dying,many of the same papers are now squirming with unease at their collusion in the endless building up,knocking down and exploitation of a woman they always counted on to increase their own sales.

Every time Goody,now 27,leaves the hospital,the cameras are there to watch. They were there when her 21-year-old boyfriend,Jack Tweed—recently released from prison after serving time for assault,and wearing an electronic ankle bracelet—proposed to her after hearing her grim prognosis. They were there when the couple went to Harrods to pick out her wedding dress,and to Tiffany to pick out their rings.

The wedding is scheduled for today,and OK! has reportedly paid more than $1 million for the rights to cover it. Elton John has reportedly offered the use of one of his houses for their honeymoon,if there is one. The whole thing is to be filmed by the cable channel that is following Goody’s struggle.

“The whole country will be worried and anxious about her health,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

Goody’s publicist,Max Clifford,said that there were no plans to broadcast the moment of his client’s death. He explained that she had three reasons for wanting to spend her last days in public: to earn money to leave to her children; to keep busy through the horror of dying; and to alert young women to the need to have regular tests to detect early signs of cervical cancer.

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