Okay, enough. The disappearance/abduction and death/murder of Nicola Bulley was unquestionably a tragic affair that saw a 45-year-old ordinary mother of two vanish when walking her dog beside a river in the Lancashire village she knew as home before her mortal remains were discovered in the same body of water just under a month later. Yes, you heard right – Nicola Bulley was ordinary. And I don’t use that word as a putdown or a sneering criticism; most people are ordinary, which is why extraordinary folk stand out; they’ve got plenty to be measured against. When David Bowie passed away in 2016, there was a global outpouring of emotion that reflected the impact this great artist had had upon the lives of millions of people he never met in person for the best part of half-a-century; it’s not unusual for the death of a pop cultural colossus to provoke such a reaction. In the last 100 years, we’ve seen it happen with everyone from Rudolph Valentino to Elvis Presley or from James Dean to John Lennon. The growth of the mass media during these characters’ lifetimes enabled their particular talents to touch individuals from all walks of life, way beyond their own inner circles; as consumers, we develop a uniquely intimate relationship with such figures and naturally mourn their loss as though they were personal friends.
Within hours of Bowie’s death, a mural appeared on a wall in his birthplace of Brixton, one that portrayed him in his iconic Aladdin Sane guise; to me, as a Bowie fan, this didn’t seem like some vicarious exercise on the part of the anonymous artist; I didn’t feel as though they were getting off on someone else’s grief, muscling in on the private mourning of family and friends like some voyeuristic vampire; it seemed to exemplify the fact that Bowie as an artist meant a hell of a lot to a hell of a lot of people and it was understandable that the more creative amongst them might seek to express that meaning through their art. Besides, there was the David Bowie his confidantes knew and there was the David Bowie the general public knew; the former were familiar with a man the rest of us weren’t; we had Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane or Major Tom or the Thin White Duke, and that’s who we were mourning, tied-up as those personas were with different stages of our own lives, as much a part of our collective growing-up as any genuine personal friends who constituted the cast of characters around us at the time. There’s a difference between marking the passing of an extraordinary person like David Bowie by painting a mural in his hometown and doing likewise by painting a mural of Nicola Bulley in hers.
Such a mural appeared last week in Essex, and one that it has to be said wasn’t exactly a flattering or especially accurate portrait of the deceased 45-year-old. To be honest, it was pretty awful going by the photograph at the head of this post. But, even taking poor artistry into consideration, one has to wonder what prompted that kind of misguided ‘tribute’. The artist himself had a tenuous connection to Bulley, having attended the same school as her and apparently being an acquaintance of her sister, though why he felt compelled to make such a public statement is perhaps a sign of our times. This swiftly-assembled makeshift shrine is destined to draw strangers to it like moths to the proverbial flame, armed with candles for a vigil evoking the spirit of other recent victims selected as posthumous media darlings such as Sarah Everard. Considering the vast numbers of people who must vanish without a trace every year – some of whom are not notably photogenic – it’s interesting how the media hones in on a small handful and decides which of them makes the final round of canonization, like a pseudo-Sugar/Cowell panel of judges on some grotesque reality show.
Unlike David Bowie, there was no public face of Nicola Bulley during her lifetime; she touched the lives of nobody beyond those she had met in person until she disappeared and her tellingly attractive features began to be plastered across every media platform, both mainstream and social. If we accept she was already dead by the time her face became public property in the manner of a billboard campaign for a chic perfume, the fact is Nicola Bulley had done nothing to warrant such excessive overexposure; she only became known to those outside of her small world when she was gone, which again emphasises that it is not Nicola Bulley the person who is being mourned by the general public, but the media creation who probably bears little resemblance to the actual human being who allegedly met her fate by the River Wyre. Nicola Bulley herself had no hand in her sudden transformation into the latest media craze, which makes it all the more sad that whoever she happened to be has been permanently buried beneath the bullshit. Those who actually knew the person rather than the hurriedly-manufactured new pin-up girl for the cult of victimhood are currently in mourning in the same way thousands are in mourning every day for the loss of loved ones, yet the family and friends of Nicola Bulley have to contend with the intrusion of not only the MSM and their notorious lack of sensitivity, but online ghouls who have claimed a woman they never met as yet another post-Diana instant saint.
Facebook and Twitter exchanges between those who wasted little time in elevating the ghost of Nicola Bulley to her saintly status and those who find the whole circus nauseating and somewhat sick have been perversely entertaining, if a sorry barometer of where we are now. The rush to promote the Bulley franchise – the swift manufacturing of T-shirts and placards and the speedy setting-up of a GoFundMe platform encouraging complete strangers to pay for the funeral – has been achieved with undignified haste, a well-oiled machine primed to respond to such OTT coverage. It gives the unsettling impression that everything Nicola Bulley might have done in the privacy of her 45 years has been posthumously reduced to the level of a packet of fish fingers or a tin of baked beans, her face sold in the public arena in the same cold, cynical way as an inanimate object gathering dust on a supermarket shelf. But, again, this is not unique. It happens with every chosen victim both the MSM and social media take a shine to; barely a month ago, the murder of transgender teenager Brianna Grey in Warrington was seized upon by Trans activists, her sad ending stolen from her family and friends and claimed by those who only saw her horrible death as a new cause to attach their rainbow ribbons to.
In a way, it seems almost fitting when one takes the nature of the reporting on, and the fallout from, the Nicola Bulley case that somebody was arrested and then named and shamed for shooting footage on their phone of police retrieving Bulley’s body from the river before inevitably uploading it online. Is anyone truly surprised that whoever shot such footage either did so or saw fit to upload it when Nicola Bulley had already been stripped of her humanity and her basic ordinariness and rebranded as a hip dead icon ala Bruce Lee? That’s all this reprehensible individual saw, a way to grab a piece of the media action after non-stop 24/7 coverage for the best part of a month; how were their awful actions any different from the endless, distasteful Fleet Street speculation or the lyrical waxing on social media of St Nicola by bandwagon-jumping disciples who were only made aware of a normal, anonymous middle-aged mother once her death mask became the face of ’23?
I’ve no doubt the mainstream media’s mutation into a beast that never sleeps as a means of competing with the even more unscrupulous medium of social media is as responsible for this current situation as newspapers desperate to reverse dwindling circulation figures; Fleet Street has always had a hard-faced survival instinct that will see it chase whatever story it thinks will spare it from death row, and when an unfortunate ordinary woman is nominated as this year’s model, there’s nothing anyone who actually knew her can do about it anymore.
© The Editor
2 thoughts on “THE FACE OF ’23”
Again, there’s nothing I can usefully add to this, the death of Bowie being the only celebrity (and I hate using that word in relation to Bowie, it debases him somewhat) that has affected me as I felt that an idea as much as a person and extreme talent had died, and idea of how I personally liked to view the world as this sort of benign conflict leading to a blend of styles, ideas and viewpoints rather than the “intolerance of tolerance” we see now. This, well, circus, surrounding the disappearance of some poor woman who could well have not wished to be known wider than her immediate circle has been one of the most unedifying spectacles of recent times, and yes, I appreciate that takes some doing. It seems that the natural impulse to wonder what has happened has been perverted into some new media entrepreneurialism trying to be the next new big social media thing. As for the MSM, well, playing both sides to the lowest common denominator is true to type, but for the individual protagonists in this sad story of social media amateur sleuthing but as with a lot of things nowadays, where is the empathy? Sadly cast aside in this as so many aspects of life nowadays.
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One sometimes wonders how much of the whipped-up national hysteria is influenced by the victim being mildly attractive. Like Sarah Everard before her, Nicola Bulley was not unattractive and the ability to append an appealing image to any coverage seems to add legs to what would otherwise be just another desperately sad personal tragedy.
As connor36 above observes, where is the empathy? These, along with any similar tragic deaths of ugly people, should evoke empathy rather than the prurience we see in the reportage. And why so many ‘civilians’ feel it appropriate to clamber onto the bandwagon under whatever spurious guise they choose to adopt, gives us more reason to fear for the mentality of those tasteless ambulance-chasers. They really should get a life, rather than glorifying in the tragic loss of another’s.
Every violent death is a tragedy, usually an unnecessary one, where the victims and their close ones deserve respect, privacy and sympathy as they deal with what is still, fortunately, a relatively rare event. To have that enforced period of shock, grief and mourning compromised by both the media and the gurning masses is another tragedy, but one which it should never be necessary to endure.
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