It takes a while to work out exactly why this column from Alison doesn’t sit right, and it’s almost entirely the fault of whoever wrote the headline.
“Finally, Jade’s sad life has a purpose”
suggests one of two things. Either it claims an insight into Jade’s internal world that it couldn’t possibly have by asserting that, for example, the raising of her children or the connecting with her public was not considered a purpose for her; or it claims that Jade, and by extension all public figures and possibly every individual, only has value for others (Jade’s being as some sort of memento mori or cautionary tale). The first is a slur, the second a denigration of humanity. Given the implausibility of the first, we seem to be driven to the second and we could, being charitable, see it as an easy trap to fall into – Jade has lived her life since appearing before the public eye essentially as a fictional character, a communal writing project which started with the producers of Big Brother and continues down to Alison’s column. Fictional characters serve some sort of narrative purpose – count the number of times Jade’s life is compared in the next few days to a soap opera, pantomime, tragedy or morality tale – and so it is easy for the headline writer to slip into to the narrow grooves her story has been run along to date and rejoice, as they seem to be, in the fact the story finally has a conclusion and a moral. The reason it sits so badly is that Jade is not fully fictional, which is one of the things that has made her story so compelling for those writing and reading it. Jade is a human being. Human beings determine their own values and the values of their own lives. Which is what makes the headline so horrible.
By and large, Alison admirably fails to live up to the headline, favouring instead the narrative approach that casts her as an observer rather than an author. As an approach, it’s innocuous enough, until we get to:
“We may all have thought we were nothing like Jade Goody. Now we know what we have in common. She cares about her kids more than anything in the world.”
Now, although this is getting at what the readers should have realised all along, the way this truth is presented is “You know what – she was human all along”. It’s the reveal in the novel when you realise that the supposed villain was actually the person funding the orphanage – and it’s too late to feel guilty for your persecution of them. Instead we’re meant to feel touched that we finally realised the error of our ways. Notice the emphasis: “WE may have thought that WE” – Alison is thinking in the same terms as the headline writer, of what Jade does for us. The divide between the reality of Jade as human and Jade as character carried through from the headline is painful. The very fact that she is and always has been a human being exactly as we are demands empathy, all we are given is a too-easy, saccharine moral that reinforces the sense of superiority that we had all along.
While Alison talks about legacies, she misses what should have been the most obvious and is the most pressing – to reconnect us with the reality of our own shared humanity. She misses it because she can’t let go of the fiction, or worse, see that it is one. Jade’s story will end, and we will have Lindsay Lohan’s, and Madonna’s, and celebrities’ as yet unknown to take her place. We will vilify or adore them in exactly the same way. We will learn nothing, because the story-tellers have learnt nothing.