It’s been one year since the passing of Caroline Flack.
On February 15, 2020 the TV presenter was found dead in her home in London. She had been in the middle of an incredibly public domestic abuse case, one that had been widely reported on by the media and scrutinised by the public.
Caroline’s trial had not commenced and yet the speculation around what happened between her and former partner Lewis Burton was rife. As was the assassination of her character, a trend that has become all too familiar and almost expected when considering a person in the public eye of a certain celebrity status.
Some time before her death, Caroline shared a post to Instagram asking people to “be kind.” In the wake of her passing, the ask became a mantra, one that friends, family, and fans alike adopted as a means of urging others to think before they report, post, and trivialise.
It wasn’t long before #BeKind was trending on Twitter, a frequent reminder for the days that it was topical that despite their status, celebrities are people too. They read comments, they are flawed, and they hurt.
Caroline’s suicide didn’t just send tremors across social media, it also asked the media to take a look at itself, how it operates, and who it is truly serving. While it might be in our interest to know that our favourite TV presenter is facing assault charges, it generally is not in our interest to speculate about what exactly has or hasn’t happened behind closed doors.
Afterwards there was a recognisable shift in the way that a considerable number of people treated celebrities (actively not including trolls or people in MailOnline comment sections, of course). The most glaring example comes in the recent surge of support for the Free Britney movement following the release of the New York Times’ documentary, Framing Britney Spears.
The film, airing on Irish TV this week, details Britney’s life under her father’s conservatorship as well as the struggles she faced in the media following her split from Justin Timberlake, and the added scrutiny she was subjected to for simply being a woman.
Britney’s dealings with the press were questionable but they were not unique. Following the release of the documentary, viewers pointed to actors like Lindsay Lohan as further proof of the strain that is often put on women in the public eye who are not inherently “good.”
The documentary may not offer anything new, but it did string together a collection of events detailing how a person’s life and personal struggles can be moulded into entertainment, especially when she is a young woman in a vulnerable place.
As is to be expected, the #BeKind movement did not come without its pitfalls. The end of 2020 saw a considerable number of reality stars and influencers alike travel abroad in the midst of the pandemic – some “for work purposes,” some not.
Irrespective of their reasons for travel, people were angry. Not just because somebody else was getting to go on holiday during Covid-19, but because somebody else was claiming their journey was essential.
Later, some influencers caught in the crossfire urged their followers to “be kind,” successfully hijacking a movement that was meant to discourage online bullying and stop people dying, not act as a Get Out of Jail Free card for a person who desperately needed to fly to Dubai that week.
Celebrities shouldn’t be immune from criticism. Just like real people, their behaviour should be questioned, their morales considered. A portion of their lives is being projected to millions of people. They may not all be role models, but their audience reach means that they are influencing people every day. They have a responsibility. But then again, so do we.
What happened to Caroline wasn’t simple and nor was it fair. There are no doubt a plethora of reasons as to why she died on February 15, each one as complex as the next.
We didn’t know what happened in her personal life, or exactly what state her mental health was in, but we did know that public opinion and the press had turned against her, and that all she could do was sit alone in her home, be consistently hounded by paparazzi, and watch it all unfold.
#BeKind was a call to action, but it was not a solution. Although the way some of us view the pressures of celebrity life may be changing, for others it meant nothing – it was a hashtag, and after a few weeks, it had stopped trending.
In some circles it appears the celebrity tide of slowly turning. We are unlearning our presumptions, we are more empathic. We close social media when we are angry or confused or looking for someone to blame.
Elsewhere, progress is yet to be made. Most tabloid comment sections are still filled with vitriol and misogyny predominantly aimed at young women with large followings. Similarly, a lot of these stories are still constructed based on the actions of these women, what they’re wearing, who they’re sleeping with, and what wrongs they might have committed.
A lot of work is needed before real change is seen, but we’d all do well to remember Caroline in the process.