By Kelly O’Hanlon, senior lecturer in PR at Birmingham City University’s School of Media

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and panto season seems to be in full swing – that is, if you believe the familiar stories and array of villains we are seeing paraded on TV in the nation’s favourite reality shows in the lead up to the day itself. Nothing says ‘Christmas prime time’ quite like celebrities eating kangaroo testicles in the jungle or a fantastic dancer being accused of diva behaviour and being lampooned in the media, does it?

At this time of year, we have become accustomed to the reality show hat trick of The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. One after the other begins, a cast of grinning and gurning presenters and judges appear and an ensemble of famous-ish / soon-to-be-infamous faces flash across our screens to our gasps and boos, all in the name of entertainment.

These shows have almost become parodies of their former selves and we all know the formula; dancers will dance, singers will sing, celebs will do unappetising things, and they will be judged for it. And not just by the appointed judges on the shows themselves, but by the public. And of course, the media. Shows like this are designed to send the Twittersphere into a frenzy and every man and his dog, whether they actively watch the programmes or not, will no doubt have heard about the events and will have some kind of opinion. The media perpetuate any whiff of scandal or controversy and it seems that the public can’t get enough of the juicy gossip.

As I say, it is panto season after all, and perhaps at this time of year, we are more hungry to have a good villain to boo at and a hero or heroine to raise up. These reality shows undoubtedly serve to fuel our appetite and unfortunately, Alexandra Burke is appears to be the focus of the media attention in this year’s Strictly. She has become the focus of a hate fuelled media agenda, with news story upon news story critiquing and challenging and stirring up anything and everything possible to paint her in a bad light. For what purpose? What has she done to deserve it? Aside from accepting a big BBC pay cheque, and donning her dancing shoes morning, noon and night for the past few months. In doing so, she signed up for more than just the cha-cha – but the reason for the outpouring of hatred is actually quite beyond me. Watch her on the show, and she is no different than any of her celebrity competitors behind the scenes and she dances up a storm every Saturday – but still has found herself in the bottom two more than once. The sheer volume of media coverage attributed to her compared to the rest of the show surely must be fuelling the fire of public opinion.

Founded or not, the public will no doubt think ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ when reading about her diva behaviour or so-called ‘embarrassing’ moments being dragged up from the past, and will buy into the hype whipped up by the media, who also love a good bad guy, and will vote her out as a result.

The good thing for people in Alexandra’s position is that the feeding frenzy will soon pass and these shows do have a shelf life. Come Boxing Day when we’re eating turkey leftovers, Alexandra and her team will be looking at what is left over from her reputation and previous public standing, to see what can be salvaged and how to move on to gain public support once more. As much as this could all be a storm in a Strictly teacup, there’s no doubt that her appearance on the show has both positively and negatively impacted on her public persona and to get back in the driving seat, she will probably hit the media circuit to draw attention to the unfair portrayal she was subjected to.

I don’t mean to be cynical here, I would actually be in support of Alexandra doing something like this and can see why, as a PR exercise in damage limitation and to build her reputation in her own terms, this is almost a necessary endeavour. There is a trend for people in the public eye to call out injustice or unfair reporting in the media of late and this is another instance where a strong-minded personality such as Alexandra could be seen to take a stand against such ferocious attacks and question why indeed the media, or perhaps ourselves, feel the need to vilify celebrities who are actually good at what they do and aren’t apologetic for it. There’s certainly more at play here than your typical panto.

 

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