Gail Platt, Jade Goody and Cyber Bullying: Just A Laugh?

Gail Platt aka Helen Worth
Gail Platt aka Helen Worth

Coronation Street (famous and long running UK soap).

Like many soaps I can take it or leave it though if you’re wanting a confession then I’ll confess that of all the soaps it’s the one I would probably be most likely to watch. Doesn’t make me a bad person okay!

I was browsing Twitter a few nights back, as you do when you have other things you ought to be doing, and saw that #GailPlatt was trending. For no other reason than sheer curiosity (and the fact that there were other things I should be doing) I clicked the link to see why she was trending.

I was, I confess, somewhat taken aback. The sole reason Gail Platt, aka Helen Worth, was trending, was so that people could have a go at her for the way she looks. The vast majority of the comments were disparaging and sarcastic about her appearance, her face in particular. I admit I was a bit disturbed by this. Disturbed by the existence of a group of people whose sole membership of their Twitter ‘group’ had the purpose of being nasty about one woman’s appearance. Some comments were along the lines of comparing her to ET, others along the lines of ‘imagine waking up next to that’ and others which went further and more extreme.

It’s not a new thing. It happens all the time and some parts of the media both feed off it and feed it. But the fact remains that it’s a ‘social activity’ of people joining up to poke ‘fun’ at another person. I was troubled by it.

So tonight I watched Corrie and afterwards did a quick check on the Twitter trends. #GailPlatt wasn’t actually trending when I looked but when I typed #GailPlatt and hit ‘Enter’, the same disparaging,   sarcastic and highly unflattering comments were there again, having been tweeted during tonight’s episode.

It reminded me of the school playground. Sometimes it’s true that no groups of humans can be so cutting, so rude, so unkind and hurtful as kids. It’s an imperfect illustration but I couldn’t help thinking of a group of adults standing in a circle shouting at Gail Platt, who stood in the middle of the circle unable to escape until the crowd either became bored, the school bell rang or a teacher came to the rescue.

I know many people make jokes about other people’s appearance. I know that many people do this not intending to be purposely hurtful or insulting but rather genuinely think they are just ‘having a laugh’ and ‘no harm done’. I’ve done it myself. I once had a conversation with a friend about someone else and said the infamous line, “Face only a mother could love.” I didn’t actually feel great saying it and it troubled me afterwards but I have to admit I said it.


It makes me wonder where the line is between ‘acceptable’ name calling and unacceptable insults, the kind that can actually do damage to a person’s mindset and self-esteem? Is there such a thing as ‘acceptable’ name calling? People have called me an “eejit” and I’ve thought nothing of it, it hasn’t affected me in the slightest. But then that wasn’t a direct attack on my physical appearance. Someone once looked at me and said, “Dragged through a hedge backwards today?” and I replied, “Looked in the mirror yourself this morning?” Neither of us took it too personally (though I did check my appearance in a mirror shortly afterwards…) and we went on working together. We felt that was part of the ‘tug of war’ of shop floor banter.

It’s true that celebrities, media personalities, people in the public eye generally, have to have thick skin, it’s part of the media world they live in, ‘goes with the territory’. Even ‘normal everyday’ people need a thick skin but does that make such name calling acceptable?

Maybe I notice it a little more because I had a few comments made about my own appearance in school and the person who called me the names clearly thought it was funny and they were ‘just having a laugh’. What they didn’t know (or didn’t care) was that it made me feel bad about myself and they repeated it on a fairly regular basis. I was a shy person anyway, a bit introverted and didn’t have it in me to fight back. Looking back now there’s part of me that thinks if they said the same today I’d probably give as good as I got (rightly or wrongly). I’d also have a much thicker skin and not be so easily offended.

Jade Goody
Jade Goody

I remember watching Top Gear one night (TV show where they talk about cars, for anyone who doesn’t know). Presenter Jeremy Clarkson, never the most subtle of people anyway, made a comment about Jade Goody, a women famous from appearing on reality TV and the centre of controversy over apparently racist comments, for which she made several apologies. Many people made jokes about her appearance and for many she was a figure to poke fun at. There must have been some topic with a connection to Jade Goody under discussion on Top Gear that night. I don’t remember the exact words Clarkson used but I remember enough to be very confident in saying that the general idea he conveying was that, “Jade Goody has a face like a pig.” I was disgusted, totally disgusted. I confess I’d never been Jade Goody’s greatest fan but to call her that shocked me. I think some of the audience on the show laughed although I also detected some nervous laughter. I remember being surprised afterwards that no-one had commented on it. Jade Goody went on to be diagnosed with cervical cancer and died in March 2009. Her public battle with cancer helped raise awareness of it and aided the battle against it.

Going back to the disparaging tweets about Gail Platt, it still makes me feel uneasy. Maybe I’m being too easily offended but I don’t think so. I can take a bit of fun banter, I can accept the place of humour in public discussion but I am troubled by such personal attacks on a person’s physical appearance.

What do you think?

Be nice, be contrary, but don't be rude :-)

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